Oh Sleepless Nights!

Excerpt from David Powlison's article, Suffering and Psalm 119

How do you handle a sleepless night?

You’re lying awake at night. Where do you go in your mind? How do you feel? What do you do? It just so happens that Psalm 119 mentions being awake at night four times. (vss. 55,62,147-148)

  •  I remember Your name in the night and keep Your law…. 
  • At midnight I shall rise to give thanks to You because of Your righteous ordinances…. 
  • I rise before dawn and cry for help;  I wait torYour words. My eyes anticipate the night watches, that I may meditate on Your word

A sleepless night. It brings you down by slow erosion, not in one devastating landslide. Sleeplessness is tiresome and tiring. That much is obvious. Now to the less obvious. 

What do you think about when you lie awake at night? 

  • Future: Does your mind run to tomorrow? Do you churn over your to-do list, trying to remember all the things you need to do? Do you rehearse and presolve every problem that might arise? 
  • Past: Does your mind run to yesterday, brooding in regrets at your own failures. Or do you replay the bitter, hurtful videotape of what someone else did or said to you? 
  • Escapes: Do you just plain run away, turning to escapist, feel-good fantasies? Do you lie awash in your hobbies, immorality, athleticdreams, vacation plans, and the like?
  • Fear: Do you run every which way with worry? In the long night hours, do you cycle through anxieties: money, kids, terrorists, singleness, church problems, sickness, loneliness, or all 01 the above and lots more? 
  • Sadness: Do you sink into a pool of depressed resignation? Do you simply gut out the long hours in a state of numb restlessness? 
  • Search for cures in this world: Do you attach all your hopes to some promise of sleep? What is your elixir of choice? Warm milk?  Quietmusic?  Sleepingpills? Reading a dull book? Avoiding stimuli? If you pray, is the focus solely on your desire for sleep, based on your life verse, Psalm 127:2?

Does Psalm 119 have anything to say about these parking places for the heart? Whether the hours are marked by tedium or swept into some dark frenzy, those hours are largely God-less. Psalm 119 describes hours full of God. It doesn’t promise sleep(though rest is a good and desirable gift); it promises to change sleeplessness. 

Faith is not magic. I’d rather have been sleeping. But the nights have now changed for me. Pslam 119 answers the question of where you will park your mind? Where do you need grown-up help, not good intentions and quick fixes? “I am Yours. Save me. Teach me.”