Sleepless in Nashville
These are a few words that typically describe me, at least to some extent. But there’s another one that, unless you’re a friend of mine on Facebook and have thus been subjected to random 3 a.m. posts, you might not know. In addition to being all of the other things, I’m also sleepless. Not a hundred percent so, I mean I do eventually close my eyes and sleep, but usually only for a couple of hours that are full of restlessness and light sleep. Deep, bone-refreshing sleep is a foreign subject to me. While they are undoubtedly fascinating, I’m rather afraid of dreams. I also have lots of trouble simply getting to sleep. Securely surrounded by a mountain of pillows and Lambie, my special one, I usually re-visit special characters in my head, or plot the next chapter in the book, while staring blankly at the ceiling. Eventually, sheer exhaustion wins out and my eyes drift shut. An hour or two later, they usually pop open. It is not uncommon for me to wake up and feel like someone is staring at me or inside a locked house. Fear catches me in the throat until I reluctantly stand and do a walk-through the house, checking closets and bathrooms and making sure that the windows and doors as just as locked as they were when I went to bed.
No matter how many pep talks I give myself, no matter how much reassurance I offer my logical brain, no matter how severe I know the consequences of not sleeping are…. none of that changes the fact that it is impossible to be in control while you are sleeping. In fact, forget control for a minute. It’s impossible just to be aware of your surroundings when you are asleep. How am I supposed to safe-guard my girls if I don’t even know what time it is? How am I supposed to protect the girls and myself from masked intruders bent on rape and murder if I don’t hear the alarm, or it doesn’t even go off for some reason? How am I supposed to be able to keep us all safe? For some reason I still haven’t yet deciphered, I watch “I Survived…” fairly often. I don’t know why as that show wrecks havoc on my emotional well-being. Still, I watch it. And you would be amazed at the number of people who say they were sound asleep and then woke up to see some stranger standing over their bed, poised to kill them. I mean, it happens. I’d be dangerously naive if I thought it doesn’t. And that, dear readers, is my problem with sleep. I don’t want there to be a moment when I’m not aware of my surroundings. I don’t want anything to interfere with my ability to sense danger. I want to be able to pay attention to my home because I don’t want any surprises. I don’t want something terrifying to happen that might have been thwarted by a simple 9-1-1 call if I had just been awake. It’s not so much that I want control (let’s just change my name to Denial, I know), it’s that I crave safety above all else and I am the one responsible for the safety of the two most precious beings ever to enter my life.
Ultimately, isn’t that what control is all about? The burning need to feel safe? Isn’t that why we all want to feel in control of our lives? Because it helps us feel protected? If I don’t sleep, then I can hear an intruder come into my home and take action before he reaches us. If I don’t sleep, I don’t have to be surprised with terrifying, mind-numbing nightmares. If I don’t sleep, it is easier for me to believe that we’ll all make it til morning. In fact, there really is very little as comforting to me as seeing the first rays of light seep through the curtains. Light means safety.
The sad truth of the matter is that none of us are ever truly safe. We can get hit by a car. We can die a hundred thousand different ways throughout the course of a single 24 hour period. And we’re never really in control of our emotional welfare either. Our heart can get easily shattered in the time it takes another person to say one sentence. We may not see it as such but we entrust our emotional safety to everyone we love. We trust them not to misuse our hearts. We trust them to speak gently and carefully to us. But they don’t always because they are human. Whether we like it or not, we put our emotional well-being on the line every time we walk out of our house, or talk to another human being. We’re really not as in control as we think we are. I used to tell myself that while I couldn’t control the things that happened to me, I could control my reaction to those events. While this is true, how well we control our behaviors does not affect the extent to which we are hurt. Controlling ourselves after a painful event helps prevent additional damage but it doesn’t change the pain of the original event. It’s rather depressing to realize that we only think we’re in control.
Last night, as the 2 a.m. hour approached, I got the Bible down and started reading it. I ran across Psalms 121:4 in which it says: “Indeed, He who watches over Israel will neither slumber nor sleep. ” I bet I read that verse ten times in the space of 3 minutes. I’d read it before but it never stopped me dead in my tracks like it did last night. I read it again. “Indeed, He who watches over Israel will neither slumber nor sleep.” God loves Israel. With a passion. Protecting and defending the people of and state of Israel matters to God. He will watch over them. The entire Bible assures again and again that any who believe in Him are His beloved. Since I believe, I must be included in that promise. So He watches over me and He never sleeps. Last night, I was tired and I was aching for reassurance. I started talking to Him. I asked Him why, if that verse was true, so many things have happened to me–this year and in most of the years of my life. I was directed to the verse in Matthew in which Jesus says: “Come to me, all of you who are heavy burdened, and I will give you rest.” Then came another verse, my favorite one. Isaiah 41:13, in which He promises to hold my hand. He doesn’t promise nothing bad will happen–only that He will hold my hand when it does. This verse fell like a warm comforting blanket on my heart, because there has never been a difficult moment in my life through which He has not held my hand. I closed the Bible and laid down again. I closed my eyes but they jerked open half a minute later. I kept telling myself I was okay, that God was going to be awake even when I went to sleep. When that didn’t quiet my heart, I reminded myself that, come what may, He would hold my hand in the morning. I believed it, but I still couldn’t sleep.
I got up and started planning the activities for the church sleepover we’re having for a club I teach there tomorrow night. I worked on it for a bit, then I laid back down, exhausted to the point of tears, and started playing on my phone. I lost track of time, forgot to care about sleep. By the time I shut the phone off for good, I was too tired to fight it. My eyes drifted shut and dreamland found me soon thereafter. If a nightmare came, I don’t remember it. I awoke a couple of hours later to see light shining in through the curtains. It felt like I had just laid down, and yet it was time to get up. I leaped out of the bed, excited that it was finally “time” to do so and began the day. It wasn’t until mid-morning when I saw a picture of a dream the girls had done recently that the thought ran through my head: “See? You made it. You could have relaxed.” I sighed and shrugged it off. But I didn’t forget it and as night approached, I felt my heart rev itself up for its usual p.m. guard against sleep. But instead of wracking my brain for all sorts of things to do so that I might not have to lay down, instead of turning on the white noise of the TV, instead of worrying about the future whose content I don’t even know… I’m thinking that maybe I’ll try not being Superwoman, maybe I’ll try to leave the duties of tomorrow for tomorrow. I’m thinking that maybe I’ll just lie down, wrap my arms tightly around Lambie and believe in God’s ability to protect me and my daughters from the nighttime terrors; I’m thinking maybe I’ve forgotten what it’s like to go through a day fully rested and that maybe it’s time to give my body a chance to catch up to the whirlwind that is my brain. Going to sleep requires trust–trust in God that tomorrow will come and everyone will still be safe. I can’t promise that it will be so. I have no control over what will happen tonight–or any other night. I’m thinking that there’s nothing to prove by staying awake all night; indeed, by doing so, I only lessen my ability to stay alert and aware during the daytime. I’m thinking that it’s time to not just sleep, but actually rest. Because in order to protect the girls, I have to also protect myself, and God gave me a body that requires rest. Some part of me still feels guilty for taking time out. Some part of me still feels guilty for resting, because I should be safe-guarding.
Nighttime has always been the scariest part of the day for me. But that’s not the way it was intended. Stars are as far from scary as possible. They are bright; they serve the purpose for bringing light to a darkened space. We count them, make wishes on them and pick out the constellations at night. Crickets and locusts come out at night; their sound isn’t intended to be frightening but soothing. There’s a stillness to the night that doesn’t exist during daytime hours; it is a reminder to slow down and to enjoy the life I have been given. Lightnin bugs come out, practically daring us to capture them in mason jars. Porch lights are still turned on here in the South at night, a reminder to come home. We roast marsh mellows and hot dogs over bonfires at night. We sleep, and our brains are rejuvenated, toxins are released, energy is restored. All at night. I try to go outside each night and sit on the porch, just to feel the breeze, just to soak in the stillness, just to see the lightnin bugs. I’ve been programmed to believe my whole life that bad things happen at night. Innocence is lost and lives are traumatized. But it’s not really true. Nighttime itself isn’t what caused any of my scars. Fearing it isn’t helping me; it’s costing me.
We sometimes used to spend the night with my great-grandmother, when we were very young. I wasn’t as close to her as I now wish I’d have been but now I’m reminded of how, every night when we would lie down, she made us repeat a simple but powerful prayer. It’s a quiet acknowledgement that, during sleep, we let go of our control and trust in ourselves but believe that doing so is okay because
Now I lay me down to sleep
I pray the Lord my soul to keep
If I shall die before I wake
I pray the Lord my soul to take.
It makes me smile tonight and believe firmly that it will indeed be a good night.