God in the Dark Night
Lately, when I work, I sleep very poorly. My emergency department shifts are 12 hours long, from 6 am to 6 pm. Sometimes busy, sometimes not, they are always ‘computer intensive,’ as I spend my shift entering orders and data, and scurrying off to see patients so that I can run back to my electronic master. (This is ubiquitous in medicine, by the way.)
Maybe it’s the screen time. Maybe it’s the fact that I’m over tired, or over-caffeinated. Maybe, despite working I don’t really get physically tired enough. Some of it has to do with the fact that work in an emergency department engenders anxiety in and of itself. We are reminded of suffering and disease. Of the capricous way that trouble ambushes the unexpecting. It is a constant exercise in ‘memento mori,’ the remembrance of our ultimate death.
And maybe, it’s the doubt and anxiety in my own head. I’m an accomplished 54 year old physician with an awesome wife and four incredible children, all of whom love me very much. And many a day, many a night, I go to bed with the nagging fear that I’m not good enough and haven’t done enough. That I’ve let people down, made bad decisions, have no idea what to do next. The list is long and you don’t need to read all the strange ideas that float through my head.
I wrestled with those doubts last night. I was already tired, aching from walking all day. It started early in the evening, even before bed. And then I woke about 3:30 am (as I often do) and the thoughts assaulted me. Regret over decisions I wish I could change. Fear about the next steps in life. Worry that I’d be tired all day. Concern that illness might strike my family. On and on and on.
So I prayed. I mean I really prayed. Heart out, honest, pour it out prayer. The kind that St. Paul mentions in Romans 8: 26-27. ‘In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God.’
That was it. Just simple stuff. God help me to see. God help me not to fear. God show us the way. God protect my children and lead them to you. Please fix the mistakes I’ve made.’ I don’t even remember most of it. But I remember the Lord’s Prayer, and the Jesus Prayer. ‘Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner.’
Today I felt better. And my doctor brain said, ‘well duh, you slept enough.’ But I didn’t. I was buoyed up, carried along, cleaned and strengthened by God.
Every day is a battle. It is. We like to suppress those warfare metaphors in the scripture but we mustn’t. Every day is a fight against ourselves and against our spiritual enemies.
Our spiritual ancestors grasped this. They knew that this life would be hard. That it would be struggle after struggle. The saints, the ancients and church fathers knew this. Those martyred certainly knew (and continue to know this, sadly). Paul knew this. Ephesians 6:12: ‘For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.’ Makes the ER seem fairly benign. But it is a place of warfare also.
And inside our heads, in our thoughts, in our blame and fear of the future, in our regret (which is fear of the past), the battle must be fought.
I give you this advice, friend. Whether you are physician or not, man, woman, boy, girl, student, grandparent.
Read the Word. And pray like you mean it.
God certainly means for you to do just that.
May you have peace in the battle. And if your sleep is disrupted and your thoughts set on fire, give them to God. You are under assault because you are worth something to the King.