Remember your promise to me, your servant;
it has given me hope.
Even in my suffering I was comforted
because your promise gave me life.
The proud are always scornful of me,
but I have not departed from your law.
I remember your judgments of long ago,
and they bring me comfort, O Lord.
When I see the wicked breaking your law,
I am filled with anger.
During my brief earthly life
I compose songs about your commands.
In the night I remember you, Lord,
and I think about your law.
I find my happiness
in obeying your commands. (Good News Translation)
During a typical day, I keep busy and am engaged with applying an understanding of the spiritual life to my work. At bedtime, sometimes the job goes with me.
Stillness and silence can sometimes, ironically, become an alchemy of restlessness and noise. I toss and turn, the racing thoughts in my head refusing to slow down and rest.
Insomnia happens to everyone, some more than others. We all have experienced the inability to sleep.
There are some who choose not to sleep. They arise in the middle of the night – not because of insomnia or sleep disorders – but because they intentionally wake for prayer.
Yes, many monastics routinely pray in the night. Yet, there are many lay people who do so, as well.
In my own times of trying to sleep, I often think about those persons who are purposefully trying to stay awake and deliberately keeping watch in prayer during the night. I, then, reflexively go to the biblical psalms.
Along with the psalmist, and in solidarity with my Christian brothers and sisters in this hemisphere who are maintaining a prayerful spirit, I reflect at night on the character and nature of the Lord who created both the sun to govern the day and the moon as a faithful witness in the dark.
The psalmist seems to be awake at night because he is frustrated and upset. It irks him that there are people who spurn wise instruction and aim their contempt at those trying to live according to God’s Law.
Although insomnia can certainly be the result of angry or unwanted feelings, maybe it is something else altogether. Perhaps the psalmist simply chose to be awake at night and do some theological reflection on God, others, and himself.
At various times in my life, I have decided to set my alarm for two o’clock in the morning to pray. I know it may sound crazy to some. Yet, this discipline has taught me something valuable: God is Lord over all chronological time and every season. I am a servant. I am neither lord nor master.
This nightly exercise of weaving my life around a set time of prayer has caused me to learn that I have spent far too much of my life trying to make time bend to my wishes.
It’s actually delusional for me to believe that I somehow control time – that I can cause the relationship between events to be fast or slow. It is all really an illusion – that I can control the clock. Time marches forward, seasons come and go, and we are a vapor which lasts only a moment.
The only control I possess is self-control. Anything beyond this is nothing but a pathetic attempt at manipulation.
Whether we find ourselves awake in the night because we cannot sleep, or intentionally choose to use the night for connecting with God, the wee hours of darkness afford us a unique opportunity to ponder the Lord’s promises, commands, attributes, and works.
The next time you find yourself awake at night, try avoiding the television and a zombie-like state of hoping for sleep. Try using the night-time for reflecting on the Lord in ways you might not have considered during the day. Pray. Reflect. Consider. In doing so, you may find a blessing of light within the dark.
Keep watch, dear Lord, with those who work, or watch, or weep this night, and give your angels charge over those who sleep. Tend the sick, Lord Christ; give rest to the weary, bless the dying, soothe the suffering, pity the afflicted, shield the joyous; and all for your love’s sake. Amen.