The strange blessing of sleepless nights

Feet in bed

I’ve not been sleeping well lately. Saturday and Sunday nights were rough, with a grand total of 8 hours of sleep over two nights. I went to bed at a reasonable time, but couldn’t sleep. My mind was racing as I dealt with two separate anxiety attacks.[1. These are the result of being under constant and extreme stress for more than two years due to everything involved with immigration.] I couldn’t will myself to sleep, so I did the only thing that made sense: I read my Bible and prayed.

This wasn’t the kind of prayer that was immediately answered. It wasn’t the kind of reading that was searching for a verse to answer my fears. It was just a desire to fill my mind with God’s word, even as I expressed my fears to God.

I’ve not felt like my life was in my own control for a long time, which isn’t really different than the reality: it’s always been under God’s control, but there has always been a sense of comfort, of familiarity that didn’t make anything unexpected seem so bad. Now, they feel a lot worse. The comfort and familiarity isn’t there. There’s no safety net, nor a safety blanket.

Admitting these things as I prayed I would be able to sleep, strangely, helped. The fears were still there. But the burden lessened because I knew (and know) that I’m not the one carrying all this. The things I’m afraid of are outside my control for the most part. But they’re never outside of God’s.

This seems like a strange thing to be writing about because there’s no resolve. There’s no lesson to be learned that I can discern for the moment. Only the reassurance that God is in control. He’s never not in control. He will continue to be in control long after I find new things to make me fearful.

That’s the strange blessing of a few sleepless nights. For me, at least.

Our anxiety cannot overcome Christ

Luther Statue

For the last couple of weeks, Emily and I have been working through an issue that has been causing a tremendous amount of anxiety in our home (which is made more difficult by the fact that I’m off traveling at the time of this writing). Since the issue came to our attention, we’ve been working to get it resolved. We’ve done all we can, and now it’s in the government’s hands. All we can do now is wait, and pray.

This kind of anxiety is what we’ve been living with on and off for about two years, but never to this degree. It’s what we’re probably going to be dealing with for the next two years or more as we consider our options for our future here in America. At times, it can be crippling. It creates a constant sense of fear, of dread, even despair. It is exactly the kind of thing that we don’t want or need, because it keeps our minds off of what’s most important. It makes it hard to see all Christ has done for us.

While doing a bit of reading on Saturday night, I found this quote from Martin Luther particularly helpful. He said,

Christ’s victory … is the overcoming of the law, of sin, our flesh, the world, the devil, death, hell and all evils; and this his victory he has given to us. Although, then, these tyrants and these enemies of ours accuse us and make us afraid, yet they cannot drive us to despair, nor condemn us; for Christ, whom God the Father has raised up from the dead, is our righteousness and victory.

This is a simple truth that I need to be reminded of. One that, when I’m experiencing fear and anxiety, I’m tempted to forget. Whatever comes to accuse us and make us afraid cannot supplant that. And no source of anxiety—no government, no amount of paperwork, no nothing—can ever overcome Him. He has defeated everything that exists to condemn us. He is our victory.

He knows

are my prayers too small?

I’ll be honest: my head hasn’t been in the game for the last few days. We got a bit of scary news the other day that’s got me frazzled.[1. For those curious, it’s nothing life threatening. Just more hassles related to our move to America.] A few days ago, I could barely sleep. I got maybe four hours, split up into fits and spurts. Each day since has been progressively getting better in that regard, but the issue is still sitting in the back of my mind, stealing brain power that I would rather have directed to something I can deal with.

So as you can imagine, I’ve been praying a lot. Like a lot a lot, which is a good thing in times like this. And as I’ve prayed, I keep coming back to Matthew 6:25-34, Jesus’ word for those of us who might be struggling with anxiety over the cares of the world.

“Therefore I tell you: Don’t worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Isn’t life more than food and the body more than clothing? Consider the birds of the sky: They don’t sow or reap or gather into barns, yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Aren’t you worth more than they? Can any of you add one moment to his life-span by worrying? And why do you worry about clothes? Observe how the wildflowers of the field grow: They don’t labor or spin thread. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was adorned like one of these. If that’s how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and thrown into the furnace tomorrow, won’t he do much more for you—you of little faith? So don’t worry, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear?’ For the Gentiles eagerly seek all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be provided for you. Therefore don’t worry about tomorrow, because tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.

Jesus was and is right when he said that worry won’t actually a moment to my life, but this is not a message condemning my anxiety over this particular issue. Instead, my eyes keep falling on four words, “your heavenly Father knows.”

These words have been so much comfort to me over the last week, if for no other reason than they’re true. He knows about this situation; he is sovereign over it. He knows what will happen, because he is sovereign over that, too. He knows what I need in every circumstance.

He knows. And that is enough to get me through today.

The only lasting cure for anxiety


I’ve gotten a lot of advice over the years about how to deal with anxiety and worry. On the advice of an older Christian (one who probably had a bit too much prosperity in his gospel) Emily and I once had a “worry box.” What we were encouraged to do with it was write down whatever it was that we were worried about and put it in the box to symbolically represent “giving it God.” Any time we were tempted to worry about such-and-such a thing, we were to point to the box, and thus we were not allowed to worry about it.

Now, maybe some people find things like that helpful, but… Yeah, that didn’t go so well for us.

The challenge of the box was it was just your garden variety white-knuckle religiosity. It was an attempt to use human effort to address the sign of a problem rather than addressing the real issue itself—that proneness we all feel to wander from God. So we run to ideas like this, and we rebuke people for not having faith, rather than encouraging them to pray as we should: “Lord, I believe—help my unbelief!” (Mark 9:24)

Reflecting on Philippians 4:6-7, and Paul’s encouragement to be anxious over nothing, Charles Spurgeon wrote:

Carry your desires to the Lord of your life, the guardian of your soul. Go to Him with two portions of prayer and one of fragrant praise. Do not pray doubtfully but thankfully. Consider that you have your petitions, and therefore thank God for His grace. He is giving you grace; give Him thanks. Hide nothing. Allow no want to lie rankling in your bosom; “make known your requests.” Run not to man. Go only to your God, the Father of Jesus, who loves you in Him.

This shall bring you God’s own peace. You shall not be able to understand the peace which you shall enjoy. It will enfold you in its infinite embrace. Heart and mind through Christ Jesus shall be steeped in a sea of rest. Come life or death, poverty, pain, slander, you shall dwell in Jesus above every rolling wind or darkening cloud. Will you not obey this dear command?

Yes, Lord, I do believe thee; but, I beseech thee, help mine unbelief.[1. From Faith’s Checkbook]

The key to dealing with worry—the only lasting cure for anxiety—comes from bringing the reality of your anxiety before God. Not that he doesn’t already know it, but because in doing so, you are echoing that prayer, “I believe, help my unbelief.” It is an act of obedience, trusting the Lord will do as he has promised—not simply to provide for the needs of the day, but that when we lay our burdens before him, he will indeed give all who are weary and heavy-laden rest (Matthew 11:28).

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