It’s 3 AM and I’m AfraidFr. Barnabas Powell
A recent article in Psychology Today said that “Sleep loss from worry was at its highest during the ages 35-55. During the period of 55-60, worry began to decline as a factor in sleep loss, and leveled off with the onset of old age during the years 66-70.” Psychology Today, December 2012.
In fact, one of the leading causes of insomnia in adults is that nagging inability to “shut off my brain” so the swirl of thoughts and worries will quiet down and I can sleep. And sleep deprivation is a dangerous thing.
On the other hand, what about the stories of the great spiritual men and women who didn’t get much sleep? One father said “If you are a strong fighter, you only need one hour of sleep at night.” What was the difference in their situation and the countless millions of us who pace the floors at night worrying about our lives, our children, our finances, and our future?
There is a difference in the self-centered imaginations of worst case scenarios keeping us up at night and the focused and Christ-centered devotion and spiritual work of the great ascetics of the faith. And, as usual, it has to do with devotion, love, and trust.
In today’s Gospel Lesson we read the story of a middle of the night turmoil involving the disciples and the Lord. In Mark 6:45-53 our Lord had just fed the 5000 miraculously with five loaves of bread and two fish. He tells the disciples to cross the lake and go to the other side while He dismisses the crowds. If you’ve ever tried get guests to leave after a great meal, you know how long a process that can be!
As the disciples start moving across the lake, the Lord goes to the mountain to pray and rest after a day filled with ministry and love. At about 3 AM (the fourth watch of the night) the Lord sees that disciples are having a hard time crossing the lake due to a very strong wind that is blowing against them and He walks out to them on the water.
Of course you’ve heard this story many times before. But what I find encouraging is how St. Mark describes the scene in the boat after Jesus gets in the boat with the astounded disciples. He writes “And they were utterly astounded, for they did not understand about the loaves, but their hearts were hardened. And when they had crossed over, they came to land at Gennesaret.” Mark 6:52-53
First, notice the Lord, even in His prayer and solitude, was filled with concern for His disciples. He knew where they were and He saw their struggles. At times it may seem the Lord has forgotten you, but it isn’t true. It’s never true. And the terrible slavery of believing something that isn’t true is always debilitating. Believe the truth about God’s watchfulness and love for you.
Next, notice the storm comes right after an amazing event. The disciples had just watched the Lord do the “impossible” with the feeding of the 5000, and yet, it is telling that they still are surprised when He walks out to them on the water to help them. How many times have I been the recipient of God’s grace and then go on to a new trouble and find myself wondering where God was! We are such forgetful creatures! It is why the Church constantly cries out to us “Let us be attentive!” If God has been faithful in the past, His track record is meant to calm you in the present.
Finally, their surprise is based on their hardness of heart. A fascinating phrase in scripture that speaks of my inability to allow the grace of God to soften my own attitude and actions and words to allow the peace of God to penetrate deep inside me. My unwillingness to see myself as intimately connected with Him and His Church feeds my shame at being unable to cope by myself. Of course you can’t cope by yourself. You weren’t made to cope by yourself!
Today, those worries in the night that keep you awake, that sap your strength, that make you doubt yourself and even God’s love for you, are meant as an invitation by God to come to trust and depend on His grace, His strength, and His timing. If we take the path of isolation and self dependence, we will always come to the end of our own strength. If we learn to focus on Christ and His strength, we will always have an inexhaustible Source to not only sustain our lives, but truly live. In your dark night, during the storms of life, keep watch on the “water” and you will see Someone coming to your aid. I bet you sleep better too!