I can’t remember the last time I slept through the night, i.e. getting a full eight hours or so of uninterrupted sleep yielding a morning feeling refreshed and rested. It’s a toss up whether it will be a slow, drawn out falling asleep or waking up later in the night. Anxious thoughts stream like a ticker tape at the bottom of a news broadcast keeping me from falling asleep for several hours. At other times I may wake up later in the night and can’t get back to sleep – ticker tape still running. Kids, parents, marriage, friends near and far, clients, the church, our world–words, sentences, and images run together recycling over and over.
What can quiet an anxious and wakeful mind during the night hours? Beyond remedies–medical and homegrown–I have experienced a surprising diversion.
Six years ago, I spent a few days at a friend’s cabin, miles from a small town, light confined to candles or oil-lights. When those lights were extinguished, the dark was remarkably overwhelming. I felt afraid. I dreaded bedtime even more. The solace of a glowing wristband held close to my eyes quickly faded. Darkness. Anxious prayers. Sleeplessness. Wakefulness. “This is crazy, God. I think I may be truly ‘sore afraid.’” A curtainless window beside my bed drew my tired eyes to the sky. No moon. But there were stars. Millions of twinkling luminaries. I was awed and stilled by this sight. In fact, a wonderful peace covered me, maybe like a warm blanket. And as simple as it may sound it was profound. I lay there, in the pitch of night, star-gazing . . . and smiling. It was an extraordinary experience.
He who keeps Israel will neither slumber nor sleep (Ps. 121:4).
When you lie down, you will not be afraid; When you lie down, your sleep will be sweet. (Prov. 3:24)
“Daughter, peace be with you. Do not be afraid. I am awake and watching over everything I have made including you! I, your God, am with you. I am in control. Rest. I will hold your anxiety.”
God’s starry heavens delighted and calmed me. Drowsy and tired, I now fought to stay awake!
The heavens proclaim the glory of God. The skies display his craftsmanship. Day after day they continue to speak; night after night they make him known. They speak without a sound or word; their voice is never heard. Yet their message has gone throughout the earth, and their words to all the world (Psalm 19: 1-4).
The night sky is wondrous. The earth rotates and star constellations move deliberately and with purpose.
When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, . . . (Psalm 8:3)
Can you bind the beautiful Pleiades? Can you loose the cords of Orion? Can you bring forth the constellations in their seasons or lead out the Bear with its cubs? Do you know the laws of the heavens? (Job 38:31-32)
The anxiety that drives my insomnia still hounds me. Maybe it hounds you, too. In times of wakefulness, in the deep night stillness when the ticker –tape rushes at me, I now look for these God-shaped night lights. The Milky Way is 104,000 light-years across and contains over 100 billion stars. To count them one by one would take a person over 3,000 years. And there are hundreds of billions more galaxies in God’s universe! They are gifts of God’s tenderness and care. Next time the 2 a.m. ticker tape wakes you from sleep, look out a window or step outside and delight in God’s night lights. He created them all and calls each one by name. He remembers you and calls you by name, too. Rest well.
He determines the number of the stars and calls them each by name. (Psalm 147:4).
Lift your eyes and look to the heavens: Who created all these? He who brings out the starry host one by one, and calls them each by name. Because of his great power and mighty strength, not one of them is missing. (Isaiah 40:26).