Most nights I don’t sleep very well. Some nights will be pretty good, and I’ll manage to get up to seven hours of sleep. But most aren’t like that, and many nights I end up getting only two or four. Sometimes it’s none.
Now, before I solicit tons of advice – some medical, some emotional, some spiritual – let me just set the record straight up front. I’ve done prescriptions, I’ve done (and am doing) herbs, I’m too happy and too mellow to be depressed or stressed, I don’t have any underlying medical conditions, and I’m abiding in Christ. It’s just a thing I go through. It’s a thing I’ve gone through my whole life. My mom went through it, and my sons go through it, though to a lesser degree.
Today didn’t get off to a good start. I had slept only enough during the night to constitute a catnap, and I had to be up at 6 a.m. On a good day, I’m allergic to 6 a.m. On a bad day, I practically need an Epi pen to get myself going. It’s rough.
That was only the beginning of my marathon day. The first half of the day was spent wallowing in self-pity and caffeine. The second half of the day was spent working in fast-forward so the day would just go away.
That brings me here. Call me slow, but late it in the day it occurred to me that my sleep deprivation had been a major joy-killer today, especially at the front end of a day that’s busy enough to land me on my back side. God and I have had some serious talks about my sleeplessness. He hasn’t told me why I go through this. But He has told me how to go through it.
“Rejoice always!” He commands me (1 Thessalonians 5:16). The Lord knows I don’t want to rejoice right now. I just want to sleep. But Proverbs 17:22 tells me to put on a happy face and get over myself because otherwise my health will really suffer: “A joyful heart is good medicine; a crushed spirit dries up the bones.” I’ll take fatigue over crushed bones any day, so I’ll force myself to smile through it all.
Knowing that a smile on the outside can change how I feel inside, I’ve always approached sleeplessness as we should approach fasting. Quite by divine providence, my quiet time this morning was spent in Matthew 6, where Jesus gives us instructions on fasting. “When you fast,” He told us, “do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show men they are fasting. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that it will not be obvious to men that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen; and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.” (FYI: I substitute makeup for oil, just in case you’re wondering.)
Then He tells me to “give thanks in everything” (1 Thessalonians 5:18, emphasis mine). Everything, Lord? Even this? Yes, He tells me, “for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” How could I possibly thank Him for endless wakeful hours? Well, for one thing, I pray way more than the average person because I have more expendable hours. Some of you may be thankful for that. I choose to be as well. (Notice I say “choose.” We talk here a lot about choices we all make.) And that crosses off another thing on my life: “Pray constantly” (1 Thessalonians 5:17). Maybe I’m not perfect at the “constantly” thing, but I’m sure working on it.
When I start off my day in the self-pity and defeat, I’m giving the devil a foothold, something I’m supposed to avoid (Ephesians 4:27). Such victories are a consolation prize for our adversary, who has lost out on the grand prize of the souls of those who have committed their lives to Christ. “Resist the devil, and he will flee from you,” James 4:17 promises me – and you. If resisting is pressing on, then I’m resisting. By His grace, I’ll keep resisting.
So much in my Christian life – which is my whole life – comes down to my thoughts. What thoughts am I nurturing? One of my very favorite verses is 2 Corinthians 10:5-6: “We demolish arguments and every high-minded thing that is raised up against the knowledge of God, taking every thought captive to obey Christ.” When I first feel that self-pity creeping in like a dark cloud over the morning sun, I must take that thought captive to make it obedient to Christ. And Christ tells me to count it all joy (James 1:2).
I don’t know what your battles are. Satan is clever at finding chinks in our armor and thus customizing our trials. In 2 Corinthians 12:7, Paul spoke of a thorn in his flesh, “a messenger of Satan to buffet me.” Paul asked three times for the Lord to take it away, “but He said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Despite his thorn, Paul was the world’s all-time greatest evangelist and church planter.
Somehow I suspect that Paul’s sufferings – and the thorn was one on a long list – were a little more substantial than my chronic fatigue. But Paul put on his happy face and moved on with his life and his calling. Why? “I consider that these present sufferings are not worth comparing to the glory that will be revealed in us,” he wrote in Romans 8:18.
These present sufferings are a blip on the eternal horizon. Remember that.
And on that note, I say goodnight.