Have you ever felt a churning in your stomach and a tightening in your throat, the feeling that you can’t quite catch your breath? In the night, when the distractions of the day have gone, when the telephone doesn't ring, and your family lies asleep, your mind begins to wander, often taking hold of the one problem that has been plaguing you. In the stillness, where there ought to be peace, there is instead an unease, a restlessness, and sometimes, even a creeping feeling of hopelessness. Its name is anxiety, and it's cold and fearful — capable of capturing every fiber of your being.
"By day the Lord directs his love, at night his song is with me — a prayer to the God of my life” (Psalm 42:8).
Trapped in the “what ifs”?
In the summer of 2002, I found myself in such a place. My family and I were moving to a new state for the third time in eight years. There was so much to do and so much that was unpredictable. Being an organized and methodical person, and someone extremely uncomfortable with change, the move and its uncertainties plunged me into nights of worry. Our house was not selling; we had to find a new one to buy, but couldn’t without the sale of the other — and we had to do it all in a little over one month. The packing and the smaller details didn’t concern me as much as the logistics and timing.
Each day brought new problems, and as I tried to handle those, the future continued to loom. There seemed to be no easy solution. I felt totally lost.
The details of this experience are not as important as the effect they had on me. As a committed Christian, I focused on God, trying in every way possible to discern his will for our family. Knowing deep in my heart that he had a plan and that he would work in a way that was ultimately for our good, I wanted to make sure that we made no false step. But no matter how often and fervently I would pray during the course of my day, it was at night that my mind would go everywhere as I dwelled on the “what-ifs?” and the uncertainty of the days ahead.
I remember being so desperate one night, that I closed my eyes and repeated, “Help me, help me” quietly as a sort of prayer. My heart pleaded with God when I could find no other words to express what I was feeling. As I cried and felt the sorrow engulf me, I began to tell God how much he meant to me and how I relied on him. Many times I repeated those words. In a rush, small pieces of Scripture verses began to come to mind, mostly from Psalms, and I repeated them over again. Slowly I felt my body relax, my stomach settle and my breathing ease. I drifted off to sleep, spent, but not despairing.
Now, as I sit in the sweet home God has provided for us, and the details and problems that so occupied my mind have been resolved, I know that God carried me through the difficulties of those earlier days. I also know why I prayed myself to sleep and found comfort each night in the dark.
Here are three ways to pray through worry.
1. Focus first on relationship
First and foremost, God desires a relationship with us. In considering the earthly relationships in my life, I recognize in them the characteristics that I value: dependability, faithfulness, love, honesty, and caring. Are these not the same traits we ascribe to God, our Father, our Abba? God loves us so much that he longs for us to draw near to him at all times. What better way to spend our nighttime hours than to fill our thoughts with him and be in quiet communion, even when no words are spoken aloud.
2. Rest in God’s authority
Second, if we truly believe that God’s hand is present in all situations and that he allows us to experience the difficult for a good purpose, then can we not believe that there is blessing in every circumstance, even when we can't see the end result? Acknowledging his wisdom, especially in the depths of despair, affirms his authority in our lives and gives us an assurance and a strength that would normally not be ours.
3. Be comforted by his presence
Finally, it is a comfort to know that we are not alone. While we may rely steadily on those we love, we know that it is God alone who will be there consistently, in the light of day or the dark of night. Scripture tells us that our Father never sleeps, and so we know that when we pray, he is there.
In these three simple, yet powerful, reasons — relationship, authority and presence — we can find relief when we pray ourselves to sleep. The problems will still be there in the morning (with new ones added), but we will wake rested, with a grateful heart, ready to walk with a God who loves us.