In peace I will both lie down and sleep; for you alone, O LORD, make me dwell in safety. Psalm 4:8
I have struggled with sleep for my entire life. I can’t remember a time when I did not encounter insomnia, nightmares, night terrors, sleep paralysis, and inappropriate daytime sleepiness. I have tried countless methods to help with sleep, changed behavior patterns before bedtime, eliminated caffeine, used sleep medications, relaxation skills, worked on sleep hygiene, used weighted blankets, evaluated diet: basically everything that you can try in thirty-some odd years of life with minimal sleep. I remember my strangest strategy was suggested to me by someone in my childhood: “Pray for as many people that you can think of, and Satan will make you fall asleep because he doesn’t want you praying…”. I’m not entirely sure about the theology embedded in that strategy.
Sleep statistics say that the average person spends a third of his or her life sleeping. I land no where near that statistic. I am also afraid that I have passed my struggle with sleep on to my poor daughter. At five, she rises multiple times a night, and my heart aches with her in her struggle.
As a child, I struggled with severe anxiety surrounding my insomnia, and anyone with insomnia knows that the anxiety makes sleep exponentially more difficult to attain. Over the past several years, God has carried me to a place of peace in the midst of my sleeplessness. I can lie in bed for hours, and while I can’t sleep, I can allow myself to rest. This state of peace in the midst of sleeplessness has ushered a broad spectrum of healing in my life and eased much of my internal anguish. This is an excellent first step. I’m still praying for actual peaceful sleep!
Each afternoon, I spend some time lying down because of my illnesses. If I am lucky, or beyond-belief exhausted, I can doze off for an hour or two. I successfully fall asleep maybe once a wee, or on a good week, twice. The rest of the time, I lie in bed, trying to relax even if I am unable to sleep. I have accepted that while I am unable to sleep, I am still able to rest, and I will trust God to care for me through my rest.
In order for me to properly fall asleep, every aspect of my environment has to be aligned perfectly. No one else can be in the house, unless they are also asleep. At night, I am the last one to go to sleep because I simply cannot fall asleep if someone else is awake. If Jordan is out, I must wait for him not only to arrive home, but to be sound asleep beside me (unless I am absolutely run-over-by-a-truck exhausted). My bladder has to be entirely empty. All food has to be digested, the temperature must be cold, and the blankets must be piled high. There can be no light or noise. If a child coughs, stirs, or breathes funny, even through closed doors, I am awake for at least an additional thirty minutes.
In our seven years of marriage, I have come to trust Jordan implicitly, and as a result, every once in a while, I can relax enough to fall asleep even when he is awake beside me. I know this seems like a small accomplishment, but for me, it represents great growth in my trust of Jordan and my ability to be vulnerable with him.
With adrenaline issues, I am constantly in fight-or-flight mode, and this places me in the “never sleep” category of the world. My only hope is in an battery of sleep medication and herbal supplements, along with calming magnesium. My nightly routine is probably sufficient to tranquilize a good-sized horse. For me, this routine might allow me to sleep for a few hours.
Recently, at the New Room Gathering, God whispered to my spirit that my sleeplessness is my opportunity to listen to the voice of God: Not talk, just listen. My most intentional spiritual discipline of this season is the act of listening to God. Sometimes, it is easy. When I feel too sick to talk, all I can really do is listen. This level of pain and suffering places me in the perfect position to simply listen to the voice of the Spirit. I recognize the voice of the Spirit through these standards: It lines up with God’s word; It is something that I would generally not think up on my own; It makes me squirm a little; and it is somehow incredibly simple and incredibly profound.
This afternoon, as I was lying in bed, in my sleepless exhaustion, I was practicing the spiritual discipline of listening to the Spirit. I can’t remember everything God said (this is one of the struggles of listening to God between wakefulness and sleep), but I found myself gazing at the image of Jesus asleep at the stern of the disciples’ boat in the midst of the storm. It is the story found in Matthew 8: 18-27, Mark 4:35-41, and Luke 8:22-25. I encourage you to read each account, because each gospel writer presents a bit of a different angle on the encounter. I am sharing the account from Matthew below:
When He got into the boat, His disciples followed Him. And behold, there arose a great storm on the sea, so that the boat was being covered with waves; but Jesus himself was asleep.
And they came to Him and woke Him, saying, ” Save us, Lord; we are perishing!” He said to them, “Why are you afraid, you men of little faith?” Then He got up and rebuked the winds and the sea, and it became perfectly calm. The men were amazed, and said, “What kind of man is this, that even the winds and sea obey Him? (Italics mine).
Who in the world could sleep like Jesus?
Jesus slept like a baby in a tiny fishing boat that was being waterlogged in a violent storm in the middle of the sea of Galilee. What kind of peace do you suppose Jesus knew if he could sleep in the midst of such a life-threatening situation?
There were the disciples, throwing buckets of water out of the boat, as the storm was dumping wave after wave into the poor little fishing boat. As the boat sunk deeper under the weight of the breaking waves and raging tempest, the Savior slept: So deeply, that the disciples were forced to wake Him. As they violently shook him (which, I assume had to be incredibly violent, as the tumultuous shaking of the storm failed to rouse Him), He opened His eyes placidly.
“Don’t you care that we are dying?” they yelled so loudly that their throats ached, barely audible against the roaring of the the thunder and waves. I imagine Jesus smiling at them with the kind of peace that only the Son of God could emanate. He stood up in the boat, and lay his hands on a swell that grew larger than their fishing boat. “Hush, little storm. Be at peace.”
At once it halted.
The waves fell in on themselves like innocent little eddies on a cloudless day. As soon as the words crossed the Savior’s lips, the Sea of Galilee stilled to the quiet of a perfectly placid pond on a moon-lit night. As He leaned over the edge of the boat, the disciples saw the crystal-lit reflection of God- incarnate staring back at them, and they sucked in the freshly silenced air in absolute awe.
How was Jesus capable of sleeping through the raging storm?
Jesus slept in the boat amid the raging tempest because He knew His Father. He was able to enter into the vulnerability of sleep because He was entirely safe even in the most ostensibly unsafe circumstances. I try to imagine the peace that filled Jesus’ heart, soul, mind, and body, and it is dazzling. David Mathis (2017) says that sleep “is rehearsal that [God] is sovereign and I am not.”
As a diagnosed “control freak”, nothing reminds me more of my need for control that my inability to sleep. While some of my sleep issues are biological, I know that my spiritual and emotional state heavily influences my ability or inability to sleep.
Can I surrender myself entirely to the vulnerability of unconsciousness? Can I release my illusory grip on my life enough to slip into deep, quiet, trusting sleep?
Can I trust that my body, soul, and spirit will be safe while I receive the gift of sleep from my Daddy God?
We will never know all of the circumstances surrounding Jesus’ stormy night adventure until glory. But we know this fact to be absolutely true: Jesus may have been the best sleeper in the history of humanity. Why? Because Jesus knew what it meant to trust. I can’t imagine anyone other than God incarnate falling asleep on a vulnerable little fishing boat in the middle of a deadly tempest. His time had not yet come and He knew it.
I’m not Jesus. None of us are. Sleep disorders are debilitating and crippling. Lack of sleep is one of the world’s best torture devices. Those of us who have spent years fighting wakefulness know the extent of that torture.
Though I have yet to experience relief from my sleep issues, the God of the universe is teaching me how to trust, and I am slowly learning how to become vulnerable in the middle of my storm.
Jesus slept in the storm, and so can I, because I know the God who is Lord over the storm.