This morning at work, a guy that I work with (whom I love a lot) knowing that neither of us sleep very much at night, asked me a seemingly very simple question. “What keeps YOU up at night?” he asked. He was wondering if it was the same kinds of things that keep him up at night. Simple enough question. Well, so I thought when he first asked me. Little did he know how deeply I would ponder the question, and little did I know how much the question would cause me to literally sing out loud at work (while running a table saw all day), in gratitude for all that God has accomplished in my life.
Immediately upon asking me the question, I answered by letting him know about the things that I am usually doing when I’m up late at night, either for my family of for someone else that God has put in my life to serve. It was an honest, practical answer, but after I walked away and started thinking about it, I started thinking about how self-righteous that answer probably sounded. So, whenever I needed to fill my water glass, I went back to the kitchen (where he works) and I told him about how and why my answer to his question bothered me, even though it was true that I do such things at night. He and another co-worker laughed at me when I said I sounded self-righteous, and then I took just a moment to tell them about some of the things I wrestle with about myself, oftentimes upon my bed at night… True thoughts about myself… Things that bother me about me, like how often I choose cowardice instead of courage, and how concerned I regularly am about whether or not I’m making the most of my short life, as opposed to wasting it. And when I said those things, I noticed that he could resonate with those same feelings, as he nodded and his countenance drew a little more somber. My water glass was full, and so it was time for me to get back to work and think about this some more.
No more than two minutes went by, and I said to myself, jokingly, “This is how Martin Luther felt!” I recalled how he would go and confess his sins to his Catholic priest, only to leave and realize that he had to go back and confess some more, and in a more transparent way. And that would happen over and over again. (In fact, this hopeless routine is one of the big things that God used to teach Luther that there was literally nothing that he could do to make himself clean and righteous before God, which eventually lead him into a complete dependence upon God for his salvation.) I realized at that point that I needed to just do my work, think and write about it later. I told my co-worker what his question did to my brain, and that I would be writing out my thoughts tonight. So here it is, 11:30pm, and I’ve only written the intro to what I am about to say, which are the thoughts that moved me to sing while I sawed a bunch of oak boards today. The rest of what I write will be written as if I am speaking directly to the guy who asked me what keeps me up at night. Hopefully, if you are someone else who is reading this, you don’t feel that you wasted your time doing so…
My friend, as I mentioned briefly just before you left work, your question, “What keeps me up at night?” really needs to be broken up into at least four questions (which all give rise to other important questions, which I will not touch at all in this response): (1) What keeps me up at night when I am staying up on purpose? (2) Why are those things worth losing precious sleep over? (3) What keeps me up at night when I am laying in bed wishing I could sleep? (4) How am I able to find enough peace to triumph over the things that are keeping me awake, so that I can fall asleep soundly despite these things? All of these are important questions to consider. I might tackle them in order, maybe not. We’ll see.
As to the first question, regarding why I stay up so late pretty much every night on purpose… Well, I’m doing it right now. I’m just doing something that God has given me to do, simply put. (In fact, this time it is an answer to prayer. Like I mentioned earlier today at work, I spent a lot of time praying specifically for you over the weekend. What I didn’t mention is anything about those prayers. What I will say now, though, is that my biggest bother and burden in those times of prayer is the fact that I have had so many opportunities to be a more loving friend to you, yet because of various irrational fears, I have chosen cowardice and silence in times when I should have courageously and lovingly shared truth with you instead. And so I prayed a lot this past weekend for courage to increase in my life, especially in regard to my relationship with you and one other particular person. So, you didn’t know it when you asked, but your question to me this morning is God’s wise and loving way of giving me an opportunity to exercise courage in loving you with His truth. So, thank you for challenging me, even though you weren’t trying!)
Alright, back to that first question. I don’t really want to say much more than I already have, but the truth is, as I spoke earlier, this life is short, and I want to give it away as much as possible. See, as a Christian I hold to the perspective that my life is not my life at all, but that it belongs to the One who made me and gave the fullness of His life as a ransom for me, so that I might no longer be enslaved to foolishly living as if my life belonged to myself. This is how I breathed my every breathe and took my every step before I learned and surrendered to the truth that this life is a gift, and since it was given to me, it’s not really my life to live, but instead, it belongs to the One that I am completely reliant upon for my every breath. If it weren’t for the Lord giving me breath, I would have no words to speak. If it weren’t for Him giving me strength in my body, I would have no work to do. Therefore, since He keeps on giving me breath and strength, I owe these things to him… my heart, my mind, my soul, my strength… for they aren’t gifts that He gave me to keep, but to give away to loved ones, like you, even if it causes me to loses hours of sleep on a regular basis. Listen, I have eternal and infinite rest always at my disposal. Now, however, is my opportunity to labor and give myself away, as it says in the book of Galatians, “Bear one another’s burdens, and thereby fulfill the law of Christ. Let us not lose heart in doing good, for in due time we will reap if we do not grow weary in doing good. So then, while we have opportunity, let us do good to all people.” It is this striving toward aligning my life with this honorable calling, that makes it so that I often find myself up late at night. And although, I won’t lie, there is a measure of burden that comes along with living life this way (for example, when you see me in the mornings at work, I am usually exhausted before I have even done my work for the day), this burden is incredibly light compared to the burden I once knew and could not escape during my first 19 years, when I was living my life as if it belonged to me, instead of to the God who made me and purchased me at the cost of His own life.
Ok, but what about those times that you related to this morning… those times when I am laying there, wishing I could fall asleep, but am unable to because of certain truths about myself that I do not like, but that I can’t deny while being honest at the same time? What about those things, because those are the things that actually keep me up, as opposed to those other things which I keep myself up for? This is important, and ought to not be ignored as I consider your question, because these are the things that actually rob the sleep from me that God wants for me to be blessed with.
Truth be told, if I dare risk being honest, I’m actually pretty darn pathetic. Now, before you think I am being too hard on myself, know this about me: I strive to not waste my time comparing myself to the people around me, for their lives are not the standard to which I am to live by. When I say such hard things about myself, I am comparing myself to the standard that I am called to, the standard of pure righteousness, holiness and love, which has been perfectly exemplified for all of us in the person of Jesus Christ. It is His example that I am to measure my life with, and as I do this, I am blessed to be able to see myself in light of the Truth, instead of being deceived by comparing myself to anyone else that is around me. This perspective humbles me, as it daily reminds me that I am no better than the people that disgust me the most, nor am I any worse than those whom I respect the most. In fact, it even drives me toward growing into a genuine love for those whom I have a hard time loving, and for myself even, when I have a hard time loving the person who God made me to be.
So, sometimes I lay there unable to fall asleep because I regret how I spent my day, and I know that I can’t take the time back, in order to do things differently. I didn’t make the most of my time, usually in lots of ways every day, and it bothers me and keeps me awake… until…
There didn’t used to be an “until” for me. Years ago I was a full-on insomniac, having no place to lay my burdens, and therefore having no means of attaining enough peace to just fall asleep. I would oftentimes (yes, without drugs) go for weeks on end with one or two hours of restless sleep a night, all because I was trying to figure out everything on my own, and fix my own life, and knowing that the harder I tried, the bigger the mess I would make out of my life. But one day the “until” showed up, and it made it so that now, whenever I need to sleep, I pretty much always sleep like a rock, which I am so thankful for.
This leads me to another one of those questions that I mentioned must be considered in light of your question: What peace have I found that enables me to sleep, even when I am filled regret about certain things regarding who I know that I am or regarding how I’ve wasted my time. Let me tell you what gives me peace… it’s the countless and unfathomable triumphant mercies that God has spoken to me in His word. Things like this: “Even if we are faithless, He remains faithful, for He cannot deny Himself.” (1 Timothy 2:13). “We know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, who are called according to His purpose… If God is for us, who is against us? He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him over for us all, how will He not also freely give us all things?… Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?… In all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8).
I could go on and on and on with Scriptures like these, but I will just give you one more Bible verse that gives me incredible rest, because it reminds me that in Christ, none of my countless failures go to waste, but instead are always put to good use by Him in ways that I could never even imagine. It says, “He has said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.’ Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me.” (2 Corinthians 12:9).
These truths and others from the Scripture conquer literally all of my fears and regrets, every time such things rise to conquer me, which is many times daily. These truths have not only allowed me to fall asleep in the midst of regret, but they have literally kept me alive in times when I would have rather my life be over. They have kept my marriage alive a thousand times when Space and I couldn’t hold it together ourselves. These are the truths that have raised my sons up to be the incredible young men that they are. These are living and active truths, more powerful than any manmade religion, and sharper than any sword. Do not be deceived, my friend, these aren’t dead words in an old, irrelevant book. These are living words that will never die, because they have been spoken by the living God who loves the ones whom He spoke to, with a love so ferocious and faithful that it makes our love for our children seem so teeny tiny and pathetic… which is exactly why we need to press into and rest in His grace, because where our faith rests is not a matter that merely affects us, but also those around us… even the generations that are coming after us are affected drastically by our response to the gracious call of Christ upon our lives… the call to trust Him in all things, and walk with Him in all ways, so that we and those around us can be set free from all the burdens that keep us up at night. Jesus said, “Come to me, all who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest for your souls.” (Matthew 11:28). Rest… for your souls… why are we so foolish, to be so slow at receiving such an invitation? It makes no sense at all. The only thing that does make sense is to come to Him who first came to us, so that we can enter into His rest, even while we are in the midst of such a chaotic existence.
Last, question… Is it worth it? Well, I will say this… If I wasn’t writing this right now out of my great love for you, which has been given to me from your Maker and mine, I would be sound asleep. Why? Because I am exhausted. But which is a greater gift… to get a few more hours of sleep, or to lose a little sleep for the sake of telling you how much you are loved, and how you can find the rest that I and millions of other broken people throughout history have found in the same source… in the origin of life Himself… in the only One who has truly carried our burdens, so that we can have His rest… in the Giver of Hope… in the Prince of Peace… in Christ, who has been pursuing you with His relentless love for all the days of your life? I say without even having to think about it, that loving you with these words of grace and truth is a quadrillion times more valuable than a few short hours of precious sleep. Why, because that’s what true love does… it dies for a friend, and it does so with great joy. And because I strive to live my life choosing to demonstrate and speak of the love of Christ toward my fellow man, I have a rest deep within my soul that no amount of sleep can provide.
So, my friend, there you go… a real long answer to a short and simple question. Thank you for asking me. It was something that I needed to think about, and something that I needed to share with you. My prayer for you, is that you are able to see the value of the life that I strive to be faithful to live (even though I fall so short, so many times), and that you would see the pursuit of Christ as being a pursuit that makes all other pursuits appear worthless in comparison, so much so, that you would have the courage to abandon any worthless pursuits that you have known, and embrace the high calling of walking in the freedom and rest of the Lord who keeps calling you to Himself in love, even though you have denied Him your love in return.
Goodnight, my friend. It’s 1:30am. I better end this because I still have a couple of things that I have to package up, so that they can go out in the mail in the morning. And then I will lay down and sleep like a rock, knowing that these last few hours of my day were not wasted, but invested in the life of someone that I so deeply love.
Smiles Welch; 2-13-18; Athens, Ohio