Reading time: 3 minutes
I was suddenly roused from sleep by the sound of my dog shaking himself noisily. He finished this spastic dance with a loud, staccato sneeze. I turned over and fluffed my pillow. I moved to my left side, my stomach, my back. I was hot, then just as suddenly, cold. I was awake, and was not going back to sleep any time soon.
Returning to teaching after my sabbatical and post-radiation has been as I thought it would be—challenging. The insanity of accomplishing my day presses on my chest like the elephant in the COPD commercial for Spiriva. My mind teems with a seemingly impossible to complete to-do list. I lie awake, fretting, How am I going to make it through the day tomorrow (or should I say, TODAY)? I’m going to be so busy. I need all the energy I can get. I’m going to be exhausted. I’ve battled with insomnia for several years now. It doesn’t happen to me frequently, but when it occurs, it can be extremely annoying. I decided to get up, as I usually do, and read to reset my sleep routine and calm my racing mind.
I settled into a chair, snuggled up in a blanket, and began reading. I have been reading the Old Testament, revisiting all the classic narratives of the establishment of God’s relationship with humans. It’s all there—infidelity, murder, war, plagues, rape, incest…as well as hope, love, faithfulness, peace, passion, freedom. As I began reading 1 Samuel, I realized I was being reintroduced to a fellow insomniac: Samuel. Of course, it wasn’t poor Samuel’s mind that was keeping him awake, but the voice of God.
The story is in 1 Samuel chapter three. As a baby, Samuel’s mother promised him to the Lord, and has begun his apprenticeship in the temple to the priest there, Eli. Samuel and Eli have gotten comfortable and are nodding to sleep, kept company by the dimly glowing lamp of God. As his eyes are closing, however, Samuel hears a voice sharply call his name. Instantly, Samuel wakes and rushes to find Eli, asking what Eli wants of him. Eli, grumpy at being awakened after just going to sleep, tells Samuel to go back to bed. The same thing happens two more times before Eli realizes what is happening. When Samuel comes to him for the third time, Eli gives Samuel instructions:
1 Samuel 3
9 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.
Samuel does exactly as Eli orders, using Eli’s exact words. It is with this statement that Samuel begins a dialogue with God that lasts his entire life. The life of a prophet is a dicey one, as a prophet’s job as a mouthpiece of the Lord is often to proclaim uncomfortable news. This happens to Samuel right away when he realizes it’s going to be his unpleasant job to explain the Lord’s displeasure with Eli and his family… not the most comfortable position to be in for Samuel, as The New Prophet On the Block.
After re-reading Samuel’s story, I am trying to view my insomnia through a different lens now. When I am awakened, I pause, and I try not to be immediately annoyed. I give myself a chance to fall back to sleep, but if I don’t, I get up, find a comfortable chair, wrap up in a blanket, and wait. I hear the gentle tick tick of the clock on the wall and listen to the creaking of our house as it settles. I breathe quietly, slowly, rhythmically. I whisper Samuel’s (actually Eli’s) words exactly: “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.” I haven’t gotten a direct response yet, but I have spent much more quality time with God in the dark hours of the night. My guess is, He’s appreciated it more since I’m too tired to bug Him about everything else I’ve been casting at His feet (not that I don’t do that as well, too).
Then, I read a bit and return to bed. Usually, I go right to sleep. Such a precious commodity, sleep. I hope I get some tonight.