Letters From the Fire9:
“What I Learned About God from 13 Years of Struggling with Insomnia”
Lisa Story has a different take on trials in her song called “Blessings.” She posits that trials “are God’s mercies in disguise.” She goes on to further clarify what she is getting at by a line in her chorus . . .“perhaps a thousand sleepless nights are what it takes to know you’re near.” That very verse grabbed my attention because of my long struggle with insomnia. It slowly sunk into my heart and made me realize how erroneous my perspective on trials and suffering was. I shared the Christian perspective on suffering which seemed to be that either God is teaching us a lesson and/or or he is having us go though a trial of endurance. Lisa Story was offering a completely different take on the matter.
My struggle with insomnia began in 1998 when I started graduate school. I was so stressed out because of the pressure and competition among students that I often ended up taking exams with no sleep at all. I started taking sleeping pills and they ended up making me more tired and craving sleep like a drug addict. I remember crying out to God with tears rolling down my face, begging him to please help me sleep because I was so exhausted. I felt alone in my suffering and thought he didn’t care, because nothing seemed to change. I really believe that when suffering continues for a long time it becomes increasingly difficult to keep believing that God cares. Perhaps it is a result of our sinful condition that we still feel separated from him, even though he promised us that he is always there, and he would never leave us. There were many, many nights and early mornings where I cried out in tears for some relief, some mercy. Having to go to bed was getting to be something I grew to dread and fear because of my long history of sleepless nights. I was always afraid of tossing and turning all night long until I saw the sunrise. Then in 2007, things got unbelievably worse. I was approaching menopause and I would lie awake without feeling tired at all. It was like my body didn’t know it was time to go to bed. But God started talking to me about taking nutritional supplements. He also spoke to me about doing simple things like counting sheep to get my mind to focus on something mundane. I also began meditating on the verse “…for so He giveth his beloved sleep.” (Psalm 127:2). It occurred to me that it was God who gave sleep and that it wasn’t my responsibility to make it happen. This realization took some of the edge off my fear of insomnia. Really, when you get down to it insomnia is rooted in fear. The worrying that often accompanies insomnia is also based on fear. At first I tried to use the verse like a bible bullet to shoot down my insomnia and hopefully kill it for good. But as a meditated on the verse more and more I felt like I could see insomnia for what it was – something that stood in the way between God and myself. I saw it crack and fall to pieces because I realized I didn’t need to be afraid of it. It wasn’t that God didn’t care about my sleepless nights. He wanted to walk with me on a journey of deliverance and intimacy with him.
Please allow me to belabor my point by telling you a little story. I was having a terrible session with one of my clients a few weeks ago, but I heard God tell me something very clearly. He said that despite what I was seeing and reacting to (which to the average therapist would certainly look like a disaster or in the least a major setback in the making) could be an opportunity if I took it. So when I saw the window open I grabbed it. My client had a sudden turnaround when I had seen very little progress at all for a long time. I think my experience with my client was a wake up call to my being more open and available to what God is doing. Let’s be more willing to embrace trials (as difficult as they can be) as an opportunity for growth spurts with our relational God.