“All I want to do is sleep”
A friend texted me in tears this morning. Unable to overcome the waves of anxiety and depression, she’d stepped out of the office and was hiding in the hallway, trying desperately to stop crying. “Nothing helps besides sleep,” she wrote. “I just want to go home and sleep.”
My heart broke for her. I remember hiding in the restroom at work, trying to control my own flow of tears. It felt like 5:00 would never come and all I wanted to do was to cry myself to sleep. Wake me when it’s over; like a turtle, I wanted to hibernate.
Imagine being able to simply shut down and snooze for a long period every year –doesn’t that sound heavenly? Preferably right after the last leaves fall until, oh, I don’t know… April 16th? Works for me.
A number of God’s creatures hibernate in the winter, including box turtles. Blessed creatures! What did they do to deserve such a delicious retreat from the dreary winter months and the hyper-activity of the holidays? No work, no responsibilities, no open-houses to attend, no taxes to file—just burrow down in the mud or dig a hole and sleep, snore and dream about spring. What a life!
What seems like the ultimate vacation is actually a survival tactic. The word hibernate comes from the Latin hibernationem, which literally means, the action of passing the winter or to occupy winter quarters.
Ask the animals and they will teach you
Surviving harsh winters and food shortages can be challenging when you’re a wild animal. Contrary to popular belief, though, hibernation isn’t one long snooze until spring. In order to reduce their need for food, hibernating creatures go dormant—a state where they lower their metabolic rate, temperature, heart rate and breathing to reduce their need for food.
In other words, winter doesn’t take them by surprise.
Winter, metaphorically speaking, always takes me by surprise. Somehow in my mind, life should be one big, blooming, perpetual spring. No sadness. No bad news. No sickness. Especially, no sickness.
If (when) I go for long stretches without practicing self-care, my health (mental, physical and emotional) begins to suffer. I forget or ignore the warning signs:
- Make better choices
- Pay attention
And then I’m stunned by how fast my body can turn on me?!
Forced hibernation is not fun
I’ve always found it hard to rest. “Idle hands are the devil’s workshop,” and all that. (Thanks, Mom.) As good as a six month hibernation sounds, I doubt I’d last that long. Come February, I’d be digging my way to the surface.
When I first became a speaker for Stonecroft Ministries, my family life felt like it was ripping apart at the seams. Since I see myself as the thread holding us all together, I kept my needle handy, ready to whip stitch everything that was unraveling.
The problem was that the thread kept getting tangled and really, I’m not much of a seamstress. The lack of emotional and spiritual rest led quite naturally to a lack of physical rest, which is how I believe I came to have shingles.
I was scheduled to leave on a four day speaking tour, but I woke up that morning with a stiff neck. During the four-hour drive I began to experience a slight earache, which aspirin didn’t seem to relieve. By the time I got to the podium that night it had turned into a searing pain in my right ear. Every twenty or so seconds, it felt like someone was stabbing me with a red-hot butcher’s knife. Somehow I managed to fulfill each speaking engagement, then I would return to my hostess’s home and cry like a baby all night long. All I wanted to do was sleep but sleep refused to come.
There I was, 250 miles away from home, in the house of a total stranger (a nice stranger, but still…) and I had no idea what was happening to me.
It took sixteen Advil to keep the pain bearable enough for me to drive home. My doctor immediately diagnosed it as shingles.
Learning my lesson
I knew it was a God thing: ignoring the season of dead winter, stripped of every prideful leaf, I’d been running around like it was spring; digging up dirt and spreading manure everywhere I went. Surprise, surprise… nothing was growing.
I spent the next ten days in a drug-induced haze, literally unable to do much of anything except think and pray. If all this was God’s attempt to slow me down and get my attention, it worked. I was finally ready to listen to Him and what he said was, “Rest.”
The turtles’ instinct tells him he needs to rest. We (I) don’t know what rest is. We glorify our busyness, and often misinterpret or ignore the signals that our spirits and bodies are trying to send us. Eventually there’s a break down and we’re forced into hibernation with physical illness or depression.
During that episode of shingles, I was like a turtle on its back… frustrated, helpless and kicking my feet for all I was worth.
Jesus says, “Come to me all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” I call it Turtle Time.
Winter comes, like it or not
Hibernation: the action of passing the winter, occupying winter quarters is just a fact of life. Sometimes we choose it; other times it’s forced upon us. The lush leafy-ness of life gives way to the stark branches of reality and we must decide how we will pass the winter. What will we occupy ourselves with in this barren season?
Are we prepared?
When the thermometer dips and the winds blow cold across our hearts, we can either freeze up or dig down in the Spirit a few more inches. A few degrees of temperature up or down seem insignificant but to the turtle they’re the difference between surviving the winter and freezing to death.
My “digging down” shows up as worship. Not because I feel like it. Because I need to.
It sounds like this little song I wrote during one dark and dreary winter season when all I wanted to do was sleep:
“When my heart is faint
And the lights grow dim
When the road is rocky
I choose Him
When the load is heavy
And my prospects are slim
When I’m feeling anxious
I choose Him”
For three years of seeming unending winter I sang that song in faith, over and over, each time ending with the chorus, “I choose joy, I choose happiness, I choose trust, I choose hope.”
It was a choice
I didn’t feel joyful. And I sure wasn’t happy. Trust was a struggle and I barely clung to hope. But here’s the thing about clinging to hope… Hope is a Person. When we cling to Hope, Hope clings to us.
When we make the choice to worship rather than sleep away our pain, we’re essentially choosing the Cross. And one morning, while singing my song as a declaration, I found myself singing some new words and now the song has a bridge and the bridge is Jesus:
“For God so loved the world, that He gave His son
That none should perish, not even one
And on the days that I find myself
At the end of my rope
The fact that he chose me, gives me hope
So I choose joy, I choose happiness, I choose trust, I choose hope.”
Hibernation isn’t supposed to be a permanent state of being, and you’re not meant to endure it alone.
Even when the bitter winds blow, spring is just around the corner. My winter (and it’s not over, although there’s a hint of spring in the air… I’m writing again) led me to a deeper realization of the Cross.
He chose me. I choose Him. Daily.
Friends, we can be blind-sided and stunned by the winter seasons of our lives, to the point of just wanting to sleep
We can anticipate those barren periods by building up our spiritual muscles, laying in stores (filling our hearts and minds with the Word) and learning how to rest.
What will you choose? I hope you’ll dig deep. Cover yourself with His Word. Rest.
Praying for you.