I haven’t been sleeping well at night. The reasons aren’t important, or at least, that can be saved for another post at another time. Suffice it to say that I’m up at lot during the night. I have found that my relationship to those dark and lonely hours in the night has been different at different times and now it has changed once more.
As for many children, night time was terrifying for me when I was little. As a teenager there were times when I had trouble sleeping and so night-time became something to fear: a time of frustrated attempts to get enough sleep that I could make it through the next day without falling asleep in class or being too sluggish to comprehend what I was being taught. As a young adult, studying in college and seminary, nighttime was often a time of cramming through assignments that would be due the next day. They were times I wasn’t alert enough to do my best, but times I could rob, imperfectly, in order to complete work. They were frustrating times when my own need for sleep competed with the need to cram through books and essays. The dark felt like an oppressive blanket, trying to rob me of my ability to think and “get through” assignments. Deeply lonely, unforgiveably dark, and infinitely oppressive. When I had babies, night-time was often interrupted by my sleepless children who needed attention in one form or another. I hated those middle of the night feedings or times of trying to comfort restless or sleepless children. They, too, were infinitely lonely times, times when I felt the burden of parenting without people I could call or talk to for reassurance, advice, help or support. Later, sleepless nights usually were associated with times of trouble, deep worry, or even terror for what life held, what tomorrow would bring, what we were dealing with as a family, a community, or just as me, myself. The bottom line? In the past, as far as I can remember, sleepless nights, really any nights at all, were things to be dreaded, things to be feared, times and places where the ghosts of things undone and unsaid, of things misdone and missaid, of questions without answers, and long stretches of loneliness or frustration with demanding work that robbed me of needed sleep reigned and ruled and stretched out endlessly.
But now, while sleepless nights are still often accompanied by worries, by fears, by concerns, for the first time ever, the overall feeling of those sleepless nights is different for me now. At a time when everyday is spent in a small house with the same four other people, when time “alone” is non-existent, and is either spent with all of us working or with us agreeing to do, as a family, the activities chosen primarily by the children, I’ve found a comfort in those sleepless nights that is new to me. It is, for the first time, an “alone” time that is welcome. It has become a space where I can listen to the music that I choose (through earphones that don’t wake others), where I can sit in the silence and darkness and pay attention, finally, to my own thoughts, where I can read books on my kindle app that are of my own desire and choosing. They have become, even in my inability to sleep, a place of rest, a break from the normal worries of the day, a time that I’ve been able, amidst all the work and care of normal days, to claim time for myself.
While sleep is important, I’ve found a peace and comfort in the reality that sleep is currently elusive. I’m reminded so much of Barbara Brown Taylor’s comments in her book, Learning to Walk in the Dark, about the gifts of embracing the darkness, exploring the night times, learning from the darkness. This gift for me, though, has not been intentional. It has come to me without my seeking, without my even knowing to look for it. This gift of sleepless nights has snuck up on my unawares, as true grace often does. So this Thanksgiving I find myself giving thanks for a time that I used to meet as an enemy, with dread and fear. The nights have become a friend. And in that friendship I am finding, each day, new gifts from which I can learn and grow and for which I give great thanks.
My wish for all of you is to find new gifts during this season as well: to have the unexpected break through in new ways that open your eyes to new visions and different understandings. May you find grace, and may gratitude fill your hearts.