Sleep is not coming easily tonight.
No, my old foe of anxiety, worry–panic–has crept into my bedroom tonight and is robbing me of sleep. Of peace.
It’s 12:31. And even though my bedside lamp is on, I’m afraid of the dark.
I hate nights like this. Nights where my mind won’t settle. Nights when I am afraid to even try to sleep. Nights when the panic leaves me shaky, sweaty, un-nerved. Nights when the dark I am afraid of is the dark that is in my mind.
I’ve laid here trying to pray. Listened to scripture. Recited the familiar scriptures I have memorized about peace and resting in my God. To no avail, my heart is still racing.
Some nights are just like this.
At least I know that. At least I know, that nights like tonight come and go. And by God’s mercy, they come less frequently than they have ever in the course of my life.
Tonight, the air is heavy. The atmosphere is thick, surreal. I am both rationally and irrationally afraid of choking. This is what fear does to me.
Why is fear such an all-consuming thing? Why does it hold such power over us as humans? Why, when I know I am perfectly safe, when I know that God is real, when I know that even death has no reign in my life because I am a believer and a child of God’s–why does this fear grip me in such a choke-hold, cutting off my breath? Literally. Figuratively.
Why does fear of the worst consume my thoughts on nights such as tonight? I don’t want to fall asleep, for fear of what awaits me there.
Isaiah 41:10 says this:
Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.
I have probably recited this verse a dozen times since crawling in bed tonight. It’s not a magic formula. It’s not a secret code. But I do know that when I let the words do their work on my soul–turning them over and around in my mind–that I can better grasp the truth of what they are saying. The truth of what God is saying here in Isaiah 41:10.
I don’t know why it is harder tonight; it just is.
There is a despondency in fear. It is defeating. We all want to be brave, courageous people. We don’t want to be simpering, withering fearful beings. At least, I don’t want to be. Yet here I am, at 12:49. Wide awake in fear.
It is a battle. And, though I often don’t talk in these terms, it is a spiritual battle.
So. So then. What shall I do?
I will fight. It seems strange to use that term with regards to sleep, but I will fight to sleep. I will consciously make the decision to switch from fighting to stay awake to fighting to go to sleep. I will do this the only way I know how, which is to write and to fight with scripture.
“Fear not, for I am with you…” This is a command. A command to me. A command to you. I know what I am afraid of. I don’t know what you are afraid of, but I can almost guarantee that there is something in your life that causes real fear. Maybe it’s fear of not being able to provide for your family. Maybe it is fear of failure. Fear for your children. Maybe it’s fear of illness. I know my sister was awake earlier because of an intense fear of storms that were passing through her area. Fear grips us all. It can control us. It can keep us up at night. It can create intense panic.
But our God says to Fear Not. But He doesn’t leave it at that–He tells me, and you, why we should not fear. We should not fear because He is with us. Do I sense God’s presence right now? I’d have to be honest with you and say that no, I don’t. But that doesn’t make His presence with me any less real. It’s taken me a long time to learn this. I’m still learning it. Scripture is truth. He is with me. He is with you. Regardless of our “feelings” of whether or not we sense Him.
I am preaching to myself.
“Be not dismayed, for I am your God.” The reason we are to not be dismayed is simple. God is our God. My soul; it doesn’t seem simple. It doesn’t seem simple at all tonight. But it is. The God of the universe is not just some being that is beyond my comprehension–though it certainly seems that way at times. No, He is a very personal God. I used to not like that. Not at all. I didn’t want a personal God. I was ok with a creator God, but not a God who loved me enough to sacrifice His Son for my sins. But now? Now I know I need a personal God. I need God to be my God. And you need God to be your God. Oh, dear God, please come be near now! I do need You. We need You!
“I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” This is where it gets practical. Where it gets real. He doesn’t just say I am your God–do not fear, though He certainly has the right to end it at that point. But He knows we are weak beings. He knows we need assurances. And because He loves us, He gives us those assurances as truth. Practical truth.
And so tonight, regardless of how short this night is, my God will strengthen me. He will help me. He will uphold me with His righteous hand. This night will pass. There may not be a moment of sleep in it. I’m praying that won’t be the case-as tomorrow is a busy work day followed by an important meeting in Norfolk. But even if it is–even if I fight to sleep all night long as I have on many other nights, I know this scripture is truth.
God is with me. He is my God. He will strengthen me. He will help me. He will uphold me by His righteous right hand.
I am not alone in this sleepless night.