Monday, March 21, 2016

Pain and Sleep

At this rate they were afraid we would soon be driven against the rocks along the shore, so they threw out four anchors from the back of the ship and prayed for daylight. —Acts 27:29

This verse from Acts 27 comes in the midst of Paul’s journey to Rome to stand for Christ before Caesar. The author tells us in verse 27, that this is the 14th night of the storm. If you read the entire chapter (which I highly recommend), you will see that this was a harrowing journey. The text doesn’t state it specifically but I am almost certain that no one had gotten any sleep for two weeks at this point in the story. As I read this, I thought about those of us who live with chronic pain and other health issues, who often endure sleepless nights. Some rarely sleep at all and others must take powerful pain medications to get enough relief even to doze off. So, let’s see how this passage can encourage us.

Two things caught my eye here: The sailors took practical steps to address their situation, and they prayed. First, let’s look at the practical steps they took: They bound ropes around the hull to strengthen it, and they lowered the sea anchor to slow the ship down (vs 17); they threw some of the cargo and gear overboard (v 18); they ate to sustain their strength, as they had not eaten anything for two weeks (v 35); and they listened to the one who had listened to God.

So, what’s the application of all this for those of us who are lying awake, desperate for sleep? First, I think we need to ask ourselves whether we’ve done all we can to help ourselves. I believe these practical things are often overlooked when we are feeling desperate. When pain is relentless night after night, we can get caught up in it and forget to do some things that could help. How is your sleep hygiene? Are you following all the rules for a good night’s sleep? I am very grateful that after a few years of intense nighttime pain and many sleepless nights, the Lord has allowed me to sleep pretty well recently. But I have not forgotten how easy it is to get caught up in that cycle of pain, sleeplessness, and frustration, which inevitably leads to more sleeplessness.

One thing the Lord taught me in those years came from Paul again, in Philippians 4:19: But my God shall supply all your need according to his riches in glory by Christ Jesus. The word that jumped out to me here was need. I understood that while I wanted more sleep, the Lord must have determined that more sleep was not a need, because He was not providing it. After that, whenever I couldn’t sleep, I told myself that the Lord would provide all the sleep I needed, and if it wasn’t as much as I’d like then He would sustain me through whatever was coming tomorrow. God knew my needs better than I did, and He would meet them. This freed me from the pressure I would sometimes put on myself: “I’ve got to get to sleep! I will be completely useless tomorrow if I don’t. My pain is always worse when I don’t sleep, and my thoughts are foggy. I need a clear mind tomorrow. I HAVE TO GO TO SLEEP!!” As you know if you’ve struggled like I did, this kind of thinking rarely leads to the restful sleep we crave.

This brings me to the second thing those sailors did: They prayed. The Bible tells us that they prayed for daylight. Daylight would show them how far they were from the shore, and make it easier to navigate the storm. Do you pray as you are lying awake at night? While it wouldn’t be our choice to be so wakeful, it really is an excellent opportunity for prayer, if we will only use it. These quiet hours can provide the time that many of us say we don’t have for prayer. I’ve spent many nights praying for my friends, my family, and other loved ones who don’t know the Lord. During these sleepless nights, we have the luxury of no time limits on our prayers. Often, when I’ve spent this time praying, I find that I fall asleep in the midst of it. There is something about prayer that brings comfort to an aching body.

My dear sister, our God knows our needs, and rest assured (pun intended), He will meet them. You and I must submit to the Lord in this, and allow Him to determine what we need. Once we have done what we can practically do to make the best of our night, we must leave the outcome in His hands. He knows exactly how much sleep we need and he will provide it. Like those sailors, we pray for daylight and anything else the Lord brings to mind, and trust in this simple promise:

The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases; His mercies never come to an end.
They are new every morning. Great is your faithfulness.