If I had to select the most severe from my large collection of irrational fears, it would have to be sleeplessness. It would have to be my nightmare that my body will one day simply refuse sleep and the cycle will continue until, one day, I’ll wind up spending my days clutching myself, rocking back and forth in some remote hospital somewhere as a nurse hooks me up to an IV and pats me sweetly on the head.
Did I mention I struggle with anxiety?
Now, for the most part, I sleep really well. I can have an espresso at eleven at night and still be snoozing before twelve. Somehow, I’ve learned to become an effective, easy sleeper. But this wasn’t always the case.
When I was in the closet, aching with anxiety and depression, I would go a day or two without sleeping at all. I would try to get prescription sleeping pills, be they from friends or my parents’ friends, and I remembered, in my stupefied state wondering whether God was punishing me for something. I prayed to him nightly to calm the anxiety and in the absence of any response, my anxiety spiked.
The other night, in the first time in forever, I did not sleep at all. I laid awake for hours on end, fully aware of the state of my mind, measuring its’ level of sleepiness and then suddenly feeling nervous when I felt like I was about to fall, like it was a small window opportunity I had to mentally maneuver my way into. Then I thought about the conundrum of sleep: it so easy to attain yet impossible if you try to make it happen.
Around Three AM, knowing full well that I would have to be up in a few hours, I turned to that always trusting friend of the internet and started googling ways to battle insomnia. And there was this article, with this line:
“It is a precious good … but it is a good like none other, because to obtain it one must seemingly give up the imperative to have it.”
It read like poetry to my own life and yes, I was loopy and exhausted and desperate, but for some reason, the first thing to pop in my head was: Oh. Like being a Christian?
There’s something to this metaphor that I want to run with.
Because if God is sleep, then the Church has plenty of insomniacs.
For a long time I thought surrender meant simply surrendering to a code of conduct, to behavioral expectations and thought policing. As a kid I had a habit of, whenever I swore just in my head, immediately whispering out pleas for forgiveness. I grew up in youth group that laid down the principles of self-control, of staying pure, of finding favor of God by evangelizing, or being charitable, or not listening to secular music. We did skits on how to say No to friends who wanted to see a morally questionable movie. We structured religions within religions, narrowed the roads even further, and declared this way the only way to live in the love and joy of God.
Since joining the blogosphere almost two years ago, what I’ve witnessed through online testimony is that many had similar journeys, and many have walked away wounded and disillusioned. Something awful happened in their life and the clichés of a responding church left them grasping in the dark for a God, watching their hands move through him like smoke, like a mirage. Something didn’t add up and the more they searched their minds and used critical thinking, the more they felt their house slip off the sand into the sea.
And suddenly, they don’t feel so close to God. They wonder if they ever even were.
And maybe this is the reason Millenials are leaving the church. Every path we’ve tried to take to get to God has been nothing more than a momentary thrill and then a steep unexpected fall. The prayer doesn’t feel the same when we feel anxious or sad. The books feel foreign when we need the answer now. The isolation sets in and we end up just collapsing in it, waiting and waiting and waiting for some formula of our youth to be complete and for us to feel held again. When we don’t, we think we’ve lost Him. We think we have to win him back. We think we’ll spend all our days hustling after him, trying to get him to look our way, to give us the precious good of his Love. And maybe it’s because somewhere along the line, we understood that love of God is a fragile kind, a fickle easily frustrated kind.
This is the lie of religion. This is what keeps us up, groggy and grumpy, this is what extinguishes the light of our lives. We can’t let go of the control on our belovedness. We are trained toward hustle, toward earning, toward everything being success or failure on our own terms. And, surprise! We continually fall short, because the yardstick is a phantom. The struggle is a hamster wheel.
Experiencing that love is the challenge. It is a contradiction. It is like that scene in the Sorcerer’s Stone where Hermione tells Harry and Ron to relax and stop struggling against the vines wrapping around their bodies (a magical plant aptly named Devil’s Snare). The struggle perpetuates the struggle. Perfectionism perpetuates inadequacy. And the love of God is felt by those who know that it cannot be bottled up. It cannot be conquered. It cannot be won. It just is.
So, I give up on the imperative that I can reach God by my own means. I give up on all the ways I should on myself and accept that I am already accepted. There is no ladder to get me there. There is no step-by-step that will land me in God’s good graces. I am in it. I am here. I am lying in the hallowed ground of the love of God. And everyday, I will choose to see it. I will accept that I am here. I will breathe slower in gratitude.