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Confessions of a Christian Insomniac

Finally, I found relief in an obvious, but unexpected, place

Sleep and I had always been close friends.

In college, when a fire alarm emptied my dormitory during the wee hours, my roommate dragged me unresponsively out of bed and hauled me downstairs. We waited outside until firefighters granted an all clear. At breakfast, when the dining hall buzzed with excited indignation about the false alarm, I thought my friends were kidding. I remembered nothing.

As a mom, sleep and I remained best buds even though my mommy genes awakened me to take care of my children's colic, chicken pox, and curfews. Once they slept, I fell over like a tree.

When my physician husband returned after delivering a late-night baby, my half-conscious mind affirmed the guy climbing into bed with me was tall, thin, and bearded. As long as no short, stocky, clean-shaven men showed up, I could go back to sleep.

After such a long friendship, how could sleep turn fickle? When did she kick me out of her Snuggly Snooze Club? Surely sleep would get over her snit after a few days. But my insomnia stretched into weeks.

According to the National Institutes of Health, one of three adults suffers at least occasional insomnia. The majority are women.

Lack of Sleep Is a Big Problem

According to the National Institutes of Health, one of three adults suffers at least occasional insomnia. The majority are women. Medical conditions take some blame—asthma, heartburn, Parkinson's disease, Alzheimer's disease, sleep apnea, and restless leg syndrome—to name a few. Death, divorce, economic struggles, parenting dilemmas, and other life upheavals wreck our sleeping patterns too.

My symptoms began when my elderly parents suffered life-threatening illnesses and my brother was diagnosed with cancer. They all lived more than 2,000 miles away. I flew to the West Coast to offer limited help, but my inadequacy in the face of their suffering overloaded my circuits. In the wee hours, I lay staring at the ceiling, blank and useless as a crashed computer.

I tried to bore myself to sleep by mentally reciting multiplication tables, but I stressed out with the 13s. Well-meaning friends recommended I count sheep. At this point, even imaginary baas kept me awake. And when the sheep wandered off into my dreams, I worried about their safety and well-being.

As a good, and efficient, Christian, I decided not to waste those wakeful hours. I quoted Scripture, but my foggy mind forgot key words, making me more uptight than ever. Finally, I decided to follow Jesus' example, rising early, reading chapters of Scriptures and praying through my entire list, confident I would benefit from this nocturnal spiritual work-out. After all, didn't the Bible promise that when we seek his wisdom, our sleep will be sweet (Proverbs 3:24, Psalm 127:2).

My early-morning devotions, however, degenerated into cognitive commotions. Each Scripture I read sounded an alarm, as if God had struck a solemn warning gong, with a hundred negative meanings echoing through my mind. My prayers began with concerns, but lapsed into worries that invaded like a termite army.

Instead of growing spiritually, I shriveled. My enjoyable home life, work, and schooling faded into saggy, draggy days punctuated by unplanned naps and teary outbreaks. My longsuffering husband insisted I see my doctor, who prescribed medication that stabilized my moods and made it easier to sleep.

My enjoyable home life, work, and schooling faded into saggy, draggy days punctuated by unplanned naps and teary outbreaks.

But I needed more than good advice and pills. Menopause, a troublemaker, had just moved in and continued to disrupt my nights. But if my prayer/study sessions only exacerbated my nighttime struggles, how would I find peace and strength to handle life?

The Solution Was Fairly Simple

One toss-and-turn night, I remembered an alphabet game my father taught during vacation Bible school. Would it keep my thoughts from racing like a Kentucky Derby winner or coagulating in murky pools of despair? My weary mind searched for words beginning with the letter A that described Jesus.

He is the Almighty. He is awesome. He is Adonai. Jesus is my advocate …

When I ran out of A words, I moved on to B: Jesus is beautiful. He is both the one who blesses and the blessed. He is the Bread of Life

With each word, my rubber-band-tight muscles relaxed. I had not realized my hands were fists until my fingers—and my mind—loosened their grip.

Jesus is the Christ, the Creator, the comforter …

I did not concentrate on people, circumstances, or sleep. As I centered my attention on Jesus, my "word game" metamorphosed into a gentle, rhythmic litany of praise.

Lord, you are my dear deliverer, my delight, and the desire of all nations …

Before I knew it, I dozed peacefully.

Since then, I have played the game hundreds of times. I often praise through the entire alphabet—sometimes twice. Even without a crisis, my capacity for worry seems infinite. Did I really sign the car insurance check? Have my toddler grandsons discovered new ways to dismantle upstairs window locks? The economy is always good for a few sleepless hours. Sleep snatches away my Snuggly Snooze membership card and slams the door in my face again.

But when I focus on Jesus, sleep and I become friends once more.

Rachael Phillips lives, writes, and sleeps in Indiana.

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