I have a new appreciation for prayer these days. Don't know if it is simply related to aging, or if I need a change of diet, or if I am feeling that caged feeling I get in the icy winters, or if unexpected stress has crept subtly into my life, but the past few mornings I have awakened at 4am feeling overwhelmed by so many things I cannot fix nor help nor eliminate from life.
There is no experience comparable to that semi-conscious state in the early morning hours when the line between a rational concern and an irrational worry begins to blur. The rational and the irrational overlap and become indistinguishable.
This week it has been irrational worry invading my sleep: what will happen when we get old? Where will we be living if we arrive at some mystery age in the future where life could be frightening? What is going to happen if my husband's present job ends unexpectedly and we have nowhere to go and no income? What is going to happen to our son? His career? His finances? His love life? What is going to happen to my elderly parents over the next 5 years? 10? How will I know if the time arrives that I will have to step in and take over their circumstances because they can no longer cope? What if I fall down again and break my other ankle? What if it is my husband's turn to fall on the ice and break HIS ankle? What if either my husband or myself die unexpectedly and the other is left alone in a place where there are no friends, no family? How will either of us cope in retirement on CPP as our basic income? Will there even be a CPP when we retire? Who will care for us in our old age? What if one of us becomes a care giver before we get much older?
These are (mostly) legitimate questions, but they are questions to be considered by the light of day, when the mind is functioning and wakefulness is complete.
How do you cope with night time terrors? At 4am these types of questions can be terrifying indeed!
My strategy is simple and is proving very effective: I just pray.
Instead of laying in bed with my mind racing round and round, coming up with no solutions of any reasonable sort, I pray. I pray to the God who has faithfully cared for me every day of my life; the God who has provided me with riches I have never been able to earn on my own; the God who gives me hope when life seems bleak, who fills me with elation about his love when I am tempted to feel abandoned by the universe, who brings me solutions to problems that are often unexpected or unusual (both the solutions AND the problems), who gives me peace in the midst of true tragedies, who reminds me at 4am of all the things that I thought were problems or tragedies earlier in life and of how the answers and solutions eventually arrived, who reminds me that "this too shall pass", who gives me strength when I feel weak, who gives me joy when there is no outward reason to rejoice, who has shown me time and time again that Jesus loves even me.
Remembering what God has done for me in the past moves me past the terrifying semi-conscious irrationality of 4am worries. It even moves me past myself and my own need for God's help and into a different realm where I remember needs of other people and start concentrating my prayers on them instead of myself. I start to feel gratitude for my many good friends and for a presently stable job for my husband, for better control of and even recovery from serious illnesses we have experienced in our lives. As the gratitude begins to take over from the fear I can feel myself relaxing and know that sleep is not far off.
It is amazing how often I need to be reminded of the goodness of God: that every problem is not insurmountable sans stress because I am human, but that after years of care and attention from God there is no reason to suppose he is going to stop. His provision for us does not end at age 65! He knows the end from the beginning.
Most of all he loves us. That is what I am learning to remember as I pray my way through those 4am terrors.