I am sure it’s been 29 years since I slept through the night. This fall, 29 years ago, I was eight months pregnant and ready to have a baby.
I remember the first night I brought my newborn son home, quite vividly. It was an exciting and overwhelming time. It was also mixed with grief, because one of my eldest sisters died in a tragic car accident caused by a drunk driver.
My first night home as a new mother, I learned the difficult life lesson that new life and death come together, if we have faith to see. I also discovered that God’s voice is easiest to hear in the silence of the darkest nights.
I recall the words I heard, as the tears flowed down my cheeks, dripping on to my newborn baby in my arms. “I gave you David as a reminder that I bring new life in the midst of death.” My son will always remind me of this truth and of the Lord’s consolation received in the dark.
I can’t say that I haven’t had a good night’s sleep in 29 years. But sleep is very different since I became a mother. I think there was a hormonal switch that turned on in my brain which kept me in a state of quiet alertness, even while I slept.
For most moms, that switch never turns off because once the mothering hormones settle down, menopause kicks in and you’re wide awake at 3 a.m. Gotta love being a woman.
For me, vigilance is even more a learned response, especially as a mom of a child who is medically fragile. Night can be a scary time when a person suffers from neurological diseases affecting the brain.
My mother also taught me to trust God’s voice spoken in the middle of the night. She told me she often went to sleep talking to the Lord, about a problem she couldn’t solve.
They could be bigger problems or little ones. Solutions that escaped her in the light, appeared in the dark. I can still hear her recounting those stories and her sweet voice saying, “Thank you, dear Jesus! That’s exactly what I need to do!
If you are a writer and a mother, the deck is stacked against a full night’s sleep. I write most of my columns at 3 a.m. Menopause has its benefits.
I have a theory about this experience of God and inspiration in the dark of night. I believe the key is silence. During the day, we are so busy with the details and worries of life, that we miss the big picture and hearing from the God who created us.
There’s an interesting example in the Old Testament that illustrates this experience and a response. 1 Samuel 3:1-15 recounts the story of a young man named Samuel who was ministering in the temple serving, the high priest, Eli.
The Lord called Samuel. Samuel answered, “Here I am.” And he ran to Eli and said, “Here I am; you called me.”
But Eli said, “I did not call; go back and lie down.” So he went and lay down.
Again the Lord called, “Samuel!” And Samuel got up and went to Eli and said, “Here I am; you called me.”
“My son,” Eli said, “I did not call; go back and lie down.”
Now Samuel did not yet know the Lord: The word of the Lord had not yet been revealed to him.
A third time the Lord called, “Samuel!” And Samuel got up and went to Eli and said, “Here I am; you called me.”
Then Eli realized that the Lord was calling the boy. So Eli told Samuel, “Go and lie down, and if he calls you, say, ‘Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.’” So Samuel went and lay down in his place.
The Lord came and stood there, calling as at the other times, “Samuel! Samuel!”
Then Samuel said, “Speak, for your servant is listening.”
Samuel listened to the Lord as He gave him some pretty explicit direction and then in verse 15 it says, “Samuel lay down until morning.” He went back to bed! I love it! One of the greatest prophets in the history of the Jewish people heard the call of the Lord in the dark, listened and obeyed the Lord and then went back to sleep!
God knows we hear Him best in the silence and in the dark night and He knows we need our sleep.
We need silence to hear God. The other night, a combination of menopause and worry left me lying awake a 2 a.m. From my bed, I could see the bright and beautiful array of stars against the dark North Fork sky.
I opened my bedroom window and stared out at the beauty of the star-studded night. It was breathtaking and very consoling. I thanked Jesus for the beautiful stars. Then I spoke to Mary, Jesus’ mother.
I talked to her about my concerns the same way I would talk to my own mom. I prayed the mysteries of the rosary and watched some shooting stars. It was a beautiful time of silence in the dark of night. Then, I climbed back to bed and slept peacefully until the sun came up.
I know I hear God best in the quiet of the night. God also knows we need our rest, not only at night, but also in the day.
We need to “keep silence” in our daytime hours so we can listen to hear that still small voice speaking in our hearts and be at peace.
Keeping silence for me is both a practical and spiritual practice. It means quelling the anxious thoughts and the screeching demands of high-speed communication via text, email and social media messaging. It also means making time for prayer.
Here are some practical suggestions for surrendering to silence to communicate with God:
1. Unplug and set limits on technology.
I struggle with this a lot. I am trying to leave all technology out of the bedroom and not turn it on again until I’m ready to start my day. It’s really helping my interior peace.
2. Set a time and a place for focused prayer. I pray on the porch most every morning, as the sun comes up, from May-October. Then in the colder months, I switch to my prayer corner; a portion of my laundry room where I set up an altar, candles and religious icons to help me focus. I leave my Bible open there.
3. Use exercise, like walking and running, as a time to hand over your concerns to God and pray for others, either in a conversational style or with rote, memorized prayers.
4. Phillipians 4:4-7 gives practical and spiritual advice:”Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
5. Pray simple prayers throughout the day like the ancient prayer: “Jesus, Son of the Living God, have mercy on me a sinner” or simply, “Jesus, I trust in you”. Practiced with deep breathing, these simple prayers can silence our anxious thoughts and help us to get quiet in the midst of the craziest of days.
Finally, if God calls to you in the silence of the night, answer: “Speak Lord, your servant is listening.” Then go back to sleep. I’m sure He’ll call again.
Eileen Benthal is a writer, speaker and wellness coach with a B.A. in Theology from Franciscan University. She is the author of Breathing Underwater: A Caregiver’s Journey of Hope.
Eileen and her husband Steve live in Jamesport and have four young adult children. Their youngest, Johanna, is a teenager with special needs.
Eileen can be reached at CareforaCaregiver.com.