Need A Cure For Insomnia? Try the Psalms

Can’t sleep? The weight of your thoughts and worries keeping you up at night? Does your mind churn and churn with repeated images and doomsday scenarios?

I found a way to beat these midnight demons though I never believed that it would really work. Dallas Willard has said on multiple occasions that if you are down and having trouble sleeping to start reading the Psalms. He would make this suggestion and then say, “try it, you’ll see.”

This sounded like a nice thing to try but I have read the Psalms and they are inspiring, life-giving, wise, honest, and full of praise but could they really bring peace and needed sleep for the weary insomniacs? I was skeptical.

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But then, I found myself in a situation where there was much on my mind and my penchant for pessimism had turned to depressive thoughts and barely controlled worry. I was stuck in a mind loop that I couldn’t get out of and it was keeping me up at night. So, I started to try Dr. Willard’s remedy. I just started reading the Psalms.

I didn’t have a plan, I just kept reading. I tried to let all of the promises, all of the cries for help, all of the moments of praise, all of the laments just wash over me. I didn’t try to interpret all of the meanings. If there was a section that didn’t apply to me, I didn’t sweat it because I knew that a few moments later there would be lines that were as if the Psalmist knew my inner thoughts and the fine details of my situation. As I read, and it didn’t take long, my anxiety, that included a disturbed stomach, began to dissipate and the heaviness of the moment turned to calm and a sense of relief. I found myself relaxing and dozing off.

J.R. Briggs, in his book Fail, tells of pastors who said that the Psalms felt like ointment rubbed on their wounds. That was what I was experiencing. I tried it the next night and it worked again. Why would I ever doubt the wise counsel of Willard? He obviously had spoken from experience. So, if you find yourself in a dark time and it is affecting your sleep, try opening the Psalms and just read. The words and the Holy Spirit should do the rest.

What I Missed While Doing All That Running

Though I have talked at length about the spiritual benefits of training for a marathon, there were many aspects of my spiritual life that I either neglected or simply couldn’t get to because I was in training. Here is a list of things that I look forward to now that I have a little more extra time and energy:

1. Reading my Bible – Of course I read my Bible when I was in training but it wasn’t consistent. I have had a desire for a long time to discover the Bible in a fresh way. I would suspect that this journey to discovery will appear on this blog occasionally.

2. Sleep – I believe that sleep is a spiritual discipline in the same way that fasting or the Sabbath are spiritual disciplines. Getting more rest is our way of saying that we do not have to conquer the world because it will still be there when we wake up. I have a problem with overdoing and undersleeping. I hope to get more rest in the coming months.

3. Quality Recreational Reading – One way that I remove myself from the busy and mind jumbling environment of work is to take a book of fiction and get out of the building where I work and read during my lunch break. Being a committed marathon trainee, I spent most of my extra reading time on books on running and marathons. I look forward to finishing life redeeming works of fiction such as Till We Have Faces by C.S. Lewis.

Sleep As A Spiritual Discipline

A child sleeping.

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Have you noticed that you doze off easier than you used to? Is staying awake in church or in meetings more difficult than it should be? Does your prayer time often lead to your eyes getting heavy?

In our fast paced and constantly stimulated society we are so used to having our mind occupied and our attention titillated that the minute our mind concentrates on one thing or has to sit still for a few moments it shuts down trying to get the rest it desperately needs. I have heard many friends at the university where I work talk about falling asleep during prayer or times of solitude and silence. There are three ways that getting more sleep would help our spiritual life:

1. Improves relationships. Most of us are grumpy when we are tired; even more grumpy than we get when we are stressed or hungry. If we were better rested, we would have more energy to handle uncomfortable situations and handle our relationships better.

2. Shows our trust in God. Many of us, myself included, don’t get enough sleep because we feel as if we need to be getting up and doing something productive. We see sleep as a hindrance to our level of achievement and success. Sleeping more means we are interested in our well-being and willing to trust God for results. We work hard but we also let go of control of every situation.

3. Improves our focus. As I mentioned earlier, if we cannot concentrate while reading the Bible or fall asleep at every moment of stillness, then we are missing out on times with God and lessening our chance at growth.

So, get a good night’s rest or take a nap but don’t drain your body of the rest it needs. Your spiritual life may be depending on it.

Apprenticeship With Jesus: Day 1

For Lent, I am walking us through a book called Apprenticeship With Jesus. You can follow along by reading my highlights and reflections. Extensive previews of the book can be found through Google Books and Amazon, as well as eBook purchasing options.

Day 1: A Case of Theological Malpractice (Salvation is Also A Life)

– American Christianity seems to create a narrative of God in which he is nothing more than a ledger keeper of sins. This creates churches full of “miserable but forgiven sinners”

–  Did Jesus come to die for us to live as tortured souls?

– Other streams of the Christian faith, namely the Eastern church, express a real possibility of spiritual oneness with God

– Does God want to live with us in each moment in our lives?

– Galatians 2:20: Can I really say that I am “Crucified with Christ and that I no longer live but Christ lives in me” and that the “life I live I live by faith in the Son of God?”

The verse that has always haunted me, even when I wasn’t interested in spiritual formation, is John 10:10. I took Jesus at his word that he came to bring an abundant life and I just couldn’t believe that this abundant life was only for after we die. The amazing promises of the New Testament about a new life and a new Spirit and a new existence are just so evident but we seem to have reduced God to a forgiveness distributer and nothing more. If we cannot live our lives in connection with God than we are missing 80 percent of the gospel message.

Apprentice Activity: Get To Your Calendar Before Anyone Else Does

– C.S. Lewis – “Only lazy people work hard.”

– Eugene Peterson – “I indolently let others decide what I will do instead of resolutely deciding myself.”

Make an appointment on your calendar for 8 hours of sleep a night and 2 hours a day for time loving God and loving others

As a writer of a blog that tries to show people how doable spiritual activity can be and being a person who refuses to cater to the idea that the solution to every problem is adding more (more reading, more prayer, more worship, more time), I have a problem with this activity. I think “bootcamp” mentality can be effective in the right setting but having the first activity be a complete overhaul of our daily routine is a little too much too soon. Who can keep the intensity of 8 hours of sleep and 2 hours of God time? Shouldn’t we try to work up to this goal? I certainly would like to but right now I have to do something different.

Before I commit to this activity I plan to spend a few days tracking my total sleep and my spiritual activity. I want to see what is normal for me and see how close or far away I am from the goal of 8 and 2. I think I then can make some efforts towards improving in these areas.

What is Jesus teaching me? Faith in Jesus is a great way to simplify your life. Last night, as I was surfing around the web, getting my sports fix, I had a sense of all that I was missing in the sports world. I didn’t know the scores to the Big 12 championship games and I didn’t know who is on the NCAA tournament bubble and I didn’t know if the Mavericks were winning their game against the Knicks. But then I remembered the 8 hours of sleep activity and thought, God doesn’t need me to be a walking Sports Center but he could use me more effectively if I were more rested. Plus, resting is a sign of trust that God is in control and I do not have to chase every thought that comes into my head.

How is God simplifying your life?