A few years ago I asked Facebook friends, “Why am I awake when I should be asleep and sleepy when I should be awake?” One responded, “Welcome to middle age.” I can be dragging and nodding off before getting into bed, and then wide awake after.
I usually keep everything conducive to sleeping: lights off, soft music playing. Reading usually keeps me even more awake. One friend responded to my Facebook query that sleeplessness is an excellent time to pray. True. Sometimes I do pray then. But I also get frustrated when I can’t seem to dig in and get much done in the daytime because I need a nap because I am so groggy. It just seems like it would be so much more efficient to sleep at night and work during the day.
Still, I know that stewing about it only makes it worse. I remind myself in the night that even if I am not asleep, I’m resting. I can enjoy the quietness and freedom to just relax without any demands on my time. I breathe deep and slow, sometime pray, sometimes think, until eventually I drift off. And I catch a nap in the day time if I need to, but I try to keep it short so as not to perpetuate nighttime wakefulness.
Several nights ago, though, was one of my worst nights ever. I don’t think I slept more than an hour the whole night. And what’s worse, I had a three-hour drive the next morning and meetings all afternoon and evening. I wasn’t feeling particularly nervous about the trip. Last year I had made the same journey for a writer’s conference, and I was much more on edge then because it was the first time I had traveled alone or attended anything like a conference in years. But God got me through that, and I knew a bit more what to expect this time. So I had a bit of apprehension, but nothing like the year before. Perhaps underlying nerves were the problem, even though I wasn’t consciously feeling nervous at the time. I tried all my usual tactics, to no avail.
Then I had to fight worry. How was I going to drive and stay awake in meetings for a conference my husband had paid good money for without sleep? Some of my health issues get worse without sleep. What if they flared up? I knew these thoughts and concerns would only drive sleep further away, so I tried to give them to the Lord and stay relaxed.
On top of everything else, I was intensely uncomfortable. Hot one minute, cold the next. The sheets irritated my skin. I got up and went to the couch in the living room, thinking a change of venue might help. It didn’t. Maybe I was coming down with something?
I went ahead and got up at 4:30 a.m. and took my shower. But I was sad and frustrated and even a bit hurt because God had not answered my prayer. He knew I needed sleep. He made me to need sleep. He knew everything on the schedule this day. Why had He let me go most of the night without sleep when I earnestly begged Him for it?
I didn’t know. I sent a quick text to a friend letting her know what was going on and asking her prayers. I decided to just keep getting ready for the trip and see what happened. I felt like I was moving through molasses or walking like a zombie (to mix metaphors). I couldn’t eat much and began to feel nauseous.
I couldn’t remember if I had actually prayed about whether to go to the conference. Was this God’s way of telling me no?
After I got everything ready to go, I knew I could not drive safely in the condition I was in. I decided to try to take a nap in my desk chair and see what happened. I asked God to direct me and help me know whether to go or stay. I asked Him, if He wanted me to go, to multiply whatever sleep I could get in my nap like the loaves and fishes and make it enough. And I fell blessedly asleep for maybe an hour.
When I woke up, my stomach still wasn’t feeling 100% well, but all grogginess was gone. I left for the conference. The night before I had made a sandwich for lunch so I didn’t have to look for a restaurant first thing when I got to town: since I was running late, I was able to eat a few bites on the way. I got to the conference just after the first introductory meeting ended. Though I would have liked to have gotten there in time for it, it wasn’t entirely critical. I had enough time to peruse the schedule to choose which of the workshops to attend that afternoon. I attended the rest of the conference and had a wonderful time. I had no trouble sleeping in the hotel room that night.
Still I pondered why God had not answered my prayer for sleep the night before. One of the truths that had sustained me on a recent family trip was “Your heavenly Father knows what things you have need of“ (Matthew 6:8). One by one He met each of my needs on that trip. Why did He seem to withhold one this time?
Perhaps one reason was to increase my dependence on Him. I thought I already was depending on Him for a number of issues relating to the conference and travel! But maybe He wanted to take me to a different level.
Philippians 4:11-13 came to mind: “Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.” I can’t say I have totally learned that contentment, but I am in the process.
And then 2 Corinthians 12:9-10 came to my attention. “And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ’s sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong.”
God may have any of a number of reasons to allow us to suffer a need of some sort. He’s not being cruel or unkind: all of His Word and years of knowing Him testify to that. God told Israel that He let them suffer hunger in the wilderness to humble them, to test them, and to turn their focus from their physical need to the spiritual. Unanswered prayer can cause us to examine ourselves for any hindrances on our part. Sometimes He cuts off something we need to produce more growth, to bring us to maturity.
I still don’t know why God didn’t answer my prayer for sleep on a night when sleep was critically needed. But He did meet my need, even though not in the usual way. Even in the face of a sleepless night and a full day, “God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work” (2 Corinthians 9:8).