Insomniac Christians



If I had to select the most severe from my large collection of irrational fears, it would have to be sleeplessness. It would have to be my nightmare that my body will one day simply refuse sleep and the cycle will continue until, one day, I’ll wind up spending my days clutching myself, rocking back and forth in some remote hospital somewhere as a nurse hooks me up to an IV and pats me sweetly on the head.


Did I mention I struggle with anxiety?


Now, for the most part, I sleep really well. I can have an espresso at eleven at night and still be snoozing before twelve. Somehow, I’ve learned to become an effective, easy sleeper. But this wasn’t always the case.


When I was in the closet, aching with anxiety and depression, I would go a day or two without sleeping at all. I would try to get prescription sleeping pills, be they from friends or my parents’ friends, and I remembered, in my stupefied state wondering whether God was punishing me for something. I prayed to him nightly to calm the anxiety and in the absence of any response, my anxiety spiked.


The other night, in the first time in forever, I did not sleep at all. I laid awake for hours on end, fully aware of the state of my mind, measuring its’ level of sleepiness and then suddenly feeling nervous when I felt like I was about to fall, like it was a small window opportunity I had to mentally maneuver my way into. Then I thought about the conundrum of sleep: it so easy to attain yet impossible if you try to make it happen.


Around Three AM, knowing full well that I would have to be up in a few hours, I turned to that always trusting friend of the internet and started googling ways to battle insomnia. And there was this article, with this line:


“It is a precious good … but it is a good like none other, because to obtain it one must seemingly give up the imperative to have it.”


It read like poetry to my own life and yes, I was loopy and exhausted and desperate, but for some reason, the first thing to pop in my head was: Oh. Like being a Christian?


There’s something to this metaphor that I want to run with.


Because if God is sleep, then the Church has plenty of insomniacs.


For a long time I thought surrender meant simply surrendering to a code of conduct, to behavioral expectations and thought policing. As a kid I had a habit of, whenever I swore just in my head, immediately whispering out pleas for forgiveness. I grew up in youth group that laid down the principles of self-control, of staying pure, of finding favor of God by evangelizing, or being charitable, or not listening to secular music. We did skits on how to say No to friends who wanted to see a morally questionable movie. We structured religions within religions, narrowed the roads even further, and declared this way the only way to live in the love and joy of God.


Since joining the blogosphere almost two years ago, what I’ve witnessed through online testimony is that many had similar journeys, and many have walked away wounded and disillusioned. Something awful happened in their life and the clichés of a responding church left them grasping in the dark for a God, watching their hands move through him like smoke, like a mirage. Something didn’t add up and the more they searched their minds and used critical thinking, the more they felt their house slip off the sand into the sea.


And suddenly, they don’t feel so close to God. They wonder if they ever even were.


And maybe this is the reason Millenials are leaving the church. Every path we’ve tried to take to get to God has been nothing more than a momentary thrill and then a steep unexpected fall. The prayer doesn’t feel the same when we feel anxious or sad. The books feel foreign when we need the answer now. The isolation sets in and we end up just collapsing in it, waiting and waiting and waiting for some formula of our youth to be complete and for us to feel held again. When we don’t, we think we’ve lost Him. We think we have to win him back. We think we’ll spend all our days hustling after him, trying to get him to look our way, to give us the precious good of his Love. And maybe it’s because somewhere along the line, we understood that love of God is a fragile kind, a fickle easily frustrated kind.


This is the lie of religion. This is what keeps us up, groggy and grumpy, this is what extinguishes the light of our lives. We can’t let go of the control on our belovedness. We are trained toward hustle, toward earning, toward everything being success or failure on our own terms. And, surprise! We continually fall short, because the yardstick is a phantom. The struggle is a hamster wheel.


Experiencing that love is the challenge. It is a contradiction. It is like that scene in the Sorcerer’s Stone where Hermione tells Harry and Ron to relax and stop struggling against the vines wrapping around their bodies (a magical plant aptly named Devil’s Snare). The struggle perpetuates the struggle. Perfectionism perpetuates inadequacy. And the love of God is felt by those who know that it cannot be bottled up. It cannot be conquered. It cannot be won. It just is.


So, I give up on the imperative that I can reach God by my own means. I give up on all the ways I should on myself and accept that I am already accepted. There is no ladder to get me there. There is no step-by-step that will land me in God’s good graces. I am in it. I am here. I am lying in the hallowed ground of the love of God. And everyday, I will choose to see it. I will accept that I am here. I will breathe slower in gratitude.

  • I love this analogy. I grew up in a similar church environment (swearing in my anxiety-riddled head would actually send me into panic attacks!). And when I started wrestling with things a few years ago, everything I knew collapsed. So after months of struggling to keep Reading My Bible and Attending Church because that always made me feel close to God before, I gave up. I kinda just decided to rest in His love I had heard much about but rarely trusted, and see what happens.
    And would you know, I’m rediscovering a faith. And this introverted introvert found the love of God in a community of people. We’ll see what happens, I guess…it’s an ongoing journey.

  • Thank you thank you thank you for sharing this. So important for those of us that have felt excluded by the church to realize that we are loved. No ladder to climb, no trap doors to walk through. But complete – and potentially underserved – acceptance.

  • Abby Norman

    This ministers to me. Thank you for the reminder to be.

  • Dammmmmnnnnnnnnnnnnnnn. This is some of your best. Well done.

  • Beautiful, beautiful! Love the line: “perfectionism perpetuates inadequacy. And the love of God is felt by those who know that it cannot be bottled up.” As a perfectionist TO THE MAX, I know this to be so true, and there’s beauty in being able to continually find grace after each frequent and useless struggle against it. Much thanks for writing this!

  • Whoa. Have you been reading Love Wins by Rob Bell? I just finished his book, and the exact same message you are sharing here is the same way he concludes the book. It’s such a hard concept for our flawed human minds to accept isn’t it? This idea that we can’t earn God’s love, and it is no less abundant if we turn away from it. It just doesn’t make sense! But it is nevertheless a beautiful, seems-too-good-to-be-true truth!!

  • Great post!

    No need to reach some heights of ‘holiness’.

    He declares us to be righteous and holy…for Jesus’ sake (not even for our own sakes).

    I worry my fool head off, too. That’s just how I am. A full blown sinner/non-truster. Be He knows this about me and loves me anyhow.


  • Tara

    Thank you for this post, this is beautiful. I also struggle with anxiety and it was so comforting reading your first paragraph. I often wonder if I’m the only one who thinks and feels this way. I mean, I know I’m not, but it often feels like it. Anyway, it was the “me too” effect.

    I really appreciated the rest of this post, too. I’ve been “hustling” for the last… half-decade? And I’m finally settling, accepting that I’m accepted, but it feels tenuous. Thank you for saying what I know is true.

  • chuckled at asking forgiveness after swearing just in my head (been there!). I love this: “Perfectionism perpetuates inadequacy.” Profound and true certainly in my life. Thanks for this beautiful reflection. Hope you get a good night’s sleep tonight.

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  • Hi Ben,

    Thanks for this post, always appreciate your writing. As I’m reflecting myself, it helps to read others reflections as well.

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