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Keeping the Night Watch
What’s the best medicine to take when we have trouble falling asleep? Well, prayer doesn’t hurt. But it does come with some questions.

If there’s one thing for sure about the Boomer population, those of us born in the 1950s or thereabouts, it’s that they burn midnight oil. No, they’re not up late studying for courses taken with their newly acquired senior’s discount – they’re wandering around the house, looking desperately for something that will help them sleep. In fact seniors aren’t alone. Stats Canada reports that one in seven of all Canadians over age 15 has some form of insomnia.

Our Lord Jesus often prayed in the night. What was His prayer posture?

How essential is the sleep we miss? What can we do when night watch replaces night’s rest?

A good answer for Christians is that since the Church needs pray-ers and since we all need to participate in the building up of the body of Christ, our nighttime waking can be considered providential. But this match made in heaven does come with some questions.

How was it possible for the author of Psalm 63 to be joyful as he was meditating instead of sleeping? How did he keep his mind from wandering?

Our Lord Jesus often prayed in the night. What was His prayer posture? What did He say? Or was He listening?

Benedictines at Weston Priory in Vermont begin prayers at 5:00 a.m. Byzantine monks in the Eastern orthodox tradition begin at 2:30 a.m. Fifty percent of Korean ministers engage in overnight prayer once a week. How do their bodies cope with schedules like that? What’s their motivation?

Katherine Hamm of Didsbury, Alberta, who is now with the Lord, used to pray for people around the world, from west to east, during her nighttime waking hours. Her daughter, Virginia, still marvels at the number of people her mother prayed for and the length of time she kept people on her prayer lists.

How did she manage all of that? How did she avoid becoming overwhelmed by global needs?

When sleep eludes me, I usually begin by thanking God for His gifts. I have life, breath, a place to sleep (when I can), food to eat, people to love and so much more. Sometimes this journey of thankfulness branches into petition or intercession or repentance. Then my challenge is to gently, but firmly, avoid the pitfall of worry, returning instead to focus on the goodness and mercies of God.

At other times, instead of thinking about the gifts of God, I think on the person of God. My starting place may be Scripture, often in the King James Version because that’s how I first learned it. “Unto thee, O Lord, do I lift up my soul” (Psalm 25:1). I silently repeat these words, inhaling as I pray “Unto thee, O Lord” and exhaling “Do I lift up my soul,” inviting the Spirit of the living God to enter my offering of prayer.

After a while I may meditate on each word or short phrase. I picture myself being lifted up to God. I remember other offerings in Scripture, in the Church and in my own experience. I think about God as worthy of being offered everything. I yearn to fully offer myself and be consumed by Him.

I invite Him into my thoughts and feelings as I meditate this way. And so my night vigils become visits with God, companionship as enjoyable as having tea with a neighbour or playing with my grandson.

Loss of sleep is hard on the body. Pain is sharper, aches are more nagging during wakeful hours. Our frame of mind may suffer even more. Anxieties held at bay during the activities of day loom large and dark at night.

As we know, Scripture does not promise the absence of difficulties. Paul had a thorn in the flesh; some say Daniel was made a eunuch by his captors. Facing black, bleak nights and mornings of grey fatigue is hard. But if we believe, as Paul did, that all things work together for good to those who love God (see Romans 8:28), we can ask Him to redeem those difficult hours of our night watch.

We can trust Him to hold us and love us. We can know a rest more complete than the sleep we are missing.

Bonnie Beldan-Thomson of Pickering, Ontario, is a newly retired teacher from the Durham District School Board.

Originally published in Faith Today, July/August 2010.

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