Editor's Note: For the next month, we'll be looking at issues that seem particularly relevant during the gray, icy, short days of winter in the Inland Northwest - sadness, depression, anxiety, mental illness, darkness vs. light. While we'll definitely explore how those issues affect homelessness and addiction, we also want to acknowledge the wide spectrum of struggles within the mind and heart and offer what we hope will be words of comfort to every person for whom life is sometimes challenging. What better way to start this discussion than with a subject sure to have plagued most of us at one time or another.
Taking your Pillow From Battleground to Sacred Space
By Judy Palpant
R.I.P. “Rest in peace” is usually reserved as a benediction for the dead. But it is the living who need restful sleep, and for one in three American adults this is only an elusive dream.One in three American adults do not get the recommended seven hours of sleep each night. Ten percent of Americans suffer from chronic insomnia, says the Centers for Disease Control in a February 2016 Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.
Insomniac or not, most of us find ourselves reluctantly awake at some point—especially in these unsettling times. As sleep evades, the mind becomes a strategic battleground and the pillow a daunting beachhead. It grapples with people and issues. It rummages through the past, mulls over the present. Hopes and fears converge. A to-do list begs for triage before tomorrow.
A January 2017 Christianity Today article entitled “God Wants You to Get Some Sleep,” Kate Shellnutt suggests that sleeplessness is a spiritual problem. Theologians have joined the ranks of those grappling with the topic.
In Genesis 28, we find Jacob in need of sleep. He’s just successfully pulled off a plot to steal both the birthright and blessing from his older twin. His brother Esau is seething and wants to kill Jacob. His parents urge him to run for his life to Haran and live with his uncle until things cool down.
Even with all this weighing on his mind, Jacob sleeps. The stone propping Jacob’s preoccupied head that night turns into an altar of praise the following morning. Having seen a ladder of angels in his dream and hearing from God, he declares his hard pillow-stone a monument and pours oil over it. He names it Bethel — “House of God.”
Your pillow, like Jacob’s, can be a sacred space, a sanctuary dedicated to worship. Whenever the battle for sleep arises, claim your pillow as holy ground. The classic childhood prayer works: “Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray the Lord my soul to keep.” And add a line from a table grace, “Come, Lord Jesus, be [my] guest.”
You have drawn near to God and extended the invitation to come. You’ve set and steadied the ladder. Expect the Giver of peace and sleep to show up. Press into his presence with a hymn or line of Scripture. Your praise ascends. God’s mercy and grace descend.
This contemplation pushes fears and struggles to the periphery. Peace and trust take front and center. Gradually body, mind and spirit relax. Sleep may come. If not, offer up your wakefulness as a sacrifice. In either case, a rested mind and spirit greet the morning.
Jacob does nothing. He doesn’t set a symbolic ladder in place. Scripture doesn’t mention his praying. Yet God and a host of angels visit him. The divine vision and words of promise stir his heart. The revelation brings hope. One dark and silent night turns holy. Jacob literally sleeps in heavenly peace. It could happen to you.
No stone for a pillow. Plump it. Instead of preparing for battle, make straight a way for the Lord.
A variation on this essay was published in Christian Medical and Dental Association's January online publication, "e-Pistle."
Judy Palpant is an educator, author and speaker. She is the mother of three adult children and 11 grandchildren. She and her husband Sam spent six years in Kenya serving as medical missionaries. Upon returning to the US, they moved to Spokane where they served as foster parents with Healing the Children (housing six children) and volunteer staff at Christ Clinic. She has a passion for the lost and broken, wherever they may be found.