Religion Magazine

Insomnia–Advent’s Distant Cousin

By Marilyngardner5 @marilyngard

candle for suffering

Yesterday I sent Marilyn an email. Words rushed over the keyboard past the constraints of grammar and spelling. I was so angry and so very upset. Even this morning I don’t trust myself to write–about gun control, about mass killings, about climate change, about forgotten Syrian refugees, about the NRA—I’m not sure if I could write about any of it. So I’m giving words the silent treatment and I’m dusting something off from the archives. This is a re-post from last year’s advent–

I had a rough night last night. I fell into a hard sleep but a short hour later, woke to Lowell’s moving and tossing, and then I couldn’t fall back to sleep. Using quiet whisper thoughts, I tiptoed around my brain, so as not to wake it…but to no avail. My brain is a light sleeper it would seem and it woke with a vengeance. It was demanding and incessant and loud. I couldn’t silence it and calm it back down for a long time.

I hate insomnia. I abhor those midnight hours when sleep avoids eye contact and we all just lay there awkward and fuming.

Last night my brain was a hodge podge of distractions, a collage of worries and niggling little anxieties. Earlier in the week Lowell and I had attended a meeting up at the high school on financial aid for our soon-to-be-college student. As gracious as the moderator was, my midnight mind kept imagining that he called us out for being so dim-witted all those years ago when Connor was first born. We should have started saving then! I could nearly see him rolling his eyes at us. I imagined him shrugging his shoulders, and dismissing any chances Connor has at a future, glaring at us, blaming us—Connor’s poor excuse for parents.

My brain also brought up Christmas—not the wonder and holiness of Jesus’ birth—but the frenetic pace of preparations. Gifts. Stockings. What to get Neil? Where to get Colleen’s gift? Who has Adelaide’s name? Baking. Food. Weight gain dread. Making up beds. Where would we sleep my parents? Where would we put my brother and his family? I stressed over and over on how to love my family well, how to be hospitable in the midst of the season’s crazy zone. I entertained booking everyone into hotels. I entertained booking only myself into a hotel.

I spent some time lamenting over Grand Jury decisions that no longer make any sense. Puzzling over the pain of it, the drama, the messy mixed messages of the media, the masked racism that continues–I wondered where healing would come from. I wondered what I can do to make a difference. I worried for my children growing up in this environment. I prayed pleading prayers for change and peace.

In the middle of it my brain thoughtfully reminded me where we were a year ago….in our beloved India, eating our favorite foods, seeing our favorite people. I found myself nearly choking on longing for that trip, that time, that experience. I wanted, desperately, to be there again. Tears rolled down my dark face in the dark night.

The insomniac brain suffers from attention deficit disorder. I bounced from anxious thought to despairing thought and back again.

This morning as I think about it, I’m struck with the similarities between insomnia and the advent season. Insomnia is the prolonged inability to sleep. On nights when I’m struck with sleeplessness I long for the morning to come. I want the night to be over! Advent too is a yearning— for justice, for hope, for mercy, for morning, for Jesus! I find myself responding to insomnia in different ways as I grow older. I used to do what many recommend. I’d get out of bed, go to a different room, read a book, drink a cup of chamomile tea. Now I usually just lie quietly and let my body rest. The same is true about my experience of Advent. I used to busy myself more to create meaning in the midst of the Advent longings and silences. I’d distract myself with activity. Now I’m trying to resist the rushing. I’ve found that busy air blows out the candles; worry winds tend to snuff out feeble flames of hope. I’m trying to sit still through the agonies and heart aches, to lie there and rest, waiting, breathing, holding steady.

The advent wreath still contains four candles encircling the white and glorious Christ Candle. But this year the wreath is surrounded by protests and angry crowds and Grand Juries and heart ache. Ebola deaths are rising in Western Africa. Refugees are still fleeing from Syria and Northern Iraq. It seems that this year the longings are deeper, the confusion and disillusionment are thicker. We toss and turn. We kick and squirm. When will the morning come? When will the long night of waiting be over?

The first candle in the wreath is lit. It’s the candle of hope and expectation. Some celebrate it as the candle of prophecy and promise. Either way, we’re holding on to what we know with hope and expectation. We’re keeping our hearts focused on what we’ve been told. Because of God’s tender mercy, the morning light from heaven is about to break upon us, to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death and to guide us to the path of peace. (Luke 1:78-79)

We couldn’t be more sure of what we saw and heard—God’s glory, God’s voice. The prophetic Word was confirmed to us. You’ll do well to keep focusing on it. It’s the one light you have in a dark time as you wait for daybreak and the rising of the Morning Star in your hearts. The promises… are like a lamp shining in a dark place—until the Day dawns, and Christ the Morning Star shines in your hearts. (2 Peter 1:19-20)

Please Jesus come….quickly. We’re ready for the night to be over. The darkness is growing wearisome. We’re eager for morning. We’re hungry for breakfast. We long for the day!

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