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When time stands still

An insomniac’s guide to waiting well in a pandemic.

Another hour ticks by.

I am still not sleeping. I wander dark hallways and watch my children sleep. I sigh and groan and toss and turn. Every hour of lost sleep is a subtraction from the energy and fortitude I will need for the following day.

a cartoon of someone trying to sleep
Insomnia (Cagle Cartoons).

I am not a stranger to insomnia. Over the last 10 years as an insomniac, as a shift-working nurse and a mother of four, I envy the well-slept. Yet I don’t wish away the lessons I’ve gleaned in the hours I’ve waited for sleep. Much of what I know about who God is, I’ve learned through waiting on him. And I have fallen back on these lessons through this pandemic. Even now, after years of being away from family as a missionary nurse overseas, waiting is a fresh experience when we cannot be reunited because of closed borders. It seems the Lord isn’t finished teaching me all I need to learn.

Waiting? We have all learned patience over these long and arduous months as the world shifted and changed. Many of us have waited for borders to open, for rules to change, for restrictions to be lifted. For many, the wait is finally over. For my family in Malawi, however, the wait continues as we still have not been reunited with family in Canada. Waiting holds a special grief.

The birthplace of transformation

In sleeplessness, and in longing for reunification with family during the pandemic, I must force myself to lean into this awkward, painful space of waiting. But it’s not lost time, or time where God is absent.

Waiting can be the birthplace of transformation.

First, waiting exposes all the areas I have been self-sufficient.

I can do many things; I am capable and in control, but that self reliance crumbles like a wall of cards when I don’t sleep. Suddenly, I am vulnerable, broken and weak; this is when I actually call out to God for strength. With tense emotion, heavy eyes and fresh fears, I rush to call his name. Scripture becomes alive when I experience anew that “his strength is made perfect in weakness” (2 Cor. 12:8-10). What has God been revealing about your posture towards him during the pandemic? Where we feel most exposed might be God putting a finger on that which we’ve elevated above him, or depended on instead of him. Our grief, longing and lack of control can lead us towards God for greater comfort and teach us greater dependency on him.

Faith muscles

Second, in the nighttime, when I am fumbling around as my family sleeps, I recognize how little I can do without light. I need other senses to lead me. I need to feel around my bedroom, use my muscle memory to avoid furniture and strain my ears for cues to navigate in the dark: the whir of the fridge, the tick of the clock. When we are waiting, we need different faith muscles: hope, trust in God’s promises, looking ahead to the joy of heaven. These muscles may not have been exercised in a while. In times of waiting, we realize how these muscles atrophy in times of comfort and control. We need to work on them again. I have to grind fresh truth into my feeble emotions like a mortar and pestle when another wave of insomnia hits me. “God is faithful to his promises,” I whisper in the dark.

So it is with all of us. Exercising muscles of faith takes strenuous effort. When we watch our businesses fall, dreams shatter and opportunities slide just out of our grip, we have to remind ourselves that’s God’s truth never changes: he will never leave or forsake us, he will finish what he has started in us and lead us in the way everlasting. Waiting time provides the resistance our faith muscles need.

A new empathy

Finally, waiting expands our community. As a bedside nurse, I thought I knew suffering. I had borne witness and held hands with it for years. But I did not know what suffering felt like. My endurance of insomnia has changed everything about the way I relate to others. How much more can we relate to our fellow believers around the world than before this pandemic? We have been separated from family; we have lost opportunities and jobs; we have lost loved ones unexpectedly, and in all the ways we thought we were secure, we found out we are not. How much greater can we understand our brothers’ and sisters’ experiences in places where they have never had that kind of control? How might you understand the plight of the refugee, the sick, the isolated elderly in your community with this pandemic not yet in your rear-view mirror? How can you reach out to them differently with the acute experience of your own grief fresh in your mind?

I can think of all the hours I’ve lost from sleeplessness and get angry and bitter. I can imagine the parent, the nurse, the wife, the missionary, I could be if I was just more rested! But I believe as never before that the waiting times have strengthened my trust and belief in who God is more than any other. There is much to be grieved in what I perceive as lost time, but much to hope for in all that God has done and continues to do in me through these “lost” hours.

Even more: maybe God is actually waiting for you. Waiting for you to come to him, to call on him, to be comforted by him, and to see all that he has for you right here and right now in your waiting.

  • Shannon Brink is a missionary nurse from Vancouver, Canada, currently serving in Malawi. She is a mother of 4 children, a homeschooler, and is currently trying to publish her first book. Find more of her articles at shannonbrink.org.

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