I wouldn’t go as far as to say that we are enemies, but we don’t exactly get along. I don’t think it’s my fault, really. I try to reach out to sleep and get to know it. Sometimes it seems like sleep doesn’t want anything to do with me. It’s kind of hard getting rejected by a personified, inanimate concept, but I try not to take it too personally. Suffice it to say, sleep is no more than an acquaintance to me most times. We have lots of mutual friends, but I certainly wouldn’t send sleep a Christmas card or invite it out to coffee (then again, would sleep drink coffee anyway? That’s an intriguing thought.)
All goofiness aside, I seriously have a hard time sleeping. Even now as I write this, I really should be getting some shuteye. But, as usual, sleep is ding me, and I get to be wide awake while the rest of the world is dreaming of sugarplum fairies and the newest Harry Potter movie. Alas. The things I miss out on while I am wide awake.
Although I wouldn’t say that I have actual insomnia, sometimes I think I flirt with it. Despite my avoidance of caffeine and my best attempt to not do anything rigorous or stimulating before going to bed, I oftentimes experience great difficulty when falling asleep. I’ve tried all the tricks, like counting sheep or counting backwards from 100… or counting 100 sheep backwards. I read really boring chapters in my Bible, like the laws in Leviticus or the lists of names in Numbers. I sit up, lie down, roll over, walk around, but nothing seems to help. I listen to my “sleepy” playlist on my iPod, but to no avail. Sleep still gives me the cold shoulder, the silent treatment, and whatever other negative reaction you can think of. It’s frustrating and annoying, and I get really tired of it—and tired because of it. But as they say in France, “c’est la vie!” . Such is life.
Fortunately, however, this borderline insomnia is not a constant problem; it comes and goes in spurts, and I don’t have to deal with it all the time. Sometimes, in fact, I fall asleep with incredible ease… too much ease. And during my Easter break travels in Europe was one such time.
Because Austria is a Catholic country, we got three weeks off for Easter, which, in case you were wondering, was absolutely AWESOME! I spent the first week frolicking around Ireland with my friend Jodie from Canada and the last week checking out the Czech Republic (get it? Checking out? Haha) with a couple other friends. And the middle week was chock full of adventures in the original stiletto boot—Italy. My French friends Anne-So and Marie and I enjoyed our own whirlwind tour of northern Italy, starting in Pisa and visiting Rome, Florence, and Venice all within six days. Yes, it was amazing.
However, this non-stop excitement inevitably takes its toll on one’s energy level, and despite countless delicious cappuccinos and scoops of gelato along the way, one reaches a new depth of exhaustion. I found that I had plenty of energy to make it through the day as long as I was constantly moving around—walking through museums, admiring Michelangelo’s David, and taking lots of pictures. But once the night came or I stopped moving, exhaustion would hit me like an express train. And speaking of trains, it was on one such train ride that I lost my battle with fatigue.
Anne-So, Marie, and I had already visited Pisa, Rome, and Florence and were heading to Venice, which was our last stop of our Italian adventure. When we planned our trip, we wanted to save as much money as possible, like true college students. We discovered that one way would be to cut out a night’s hostel stay and to take a train at night instead. Note that I didn’t say “night train.” Night trains are fancy, expensive trains with sleeper cars and places to rest. Our train from Florence to Venice was a regular train that just so happened to be at night. Specifically, this train departed at 1:42 a.m. and was scheduled to arrive at 5:26 a.m.
Needless to say, by the time our departure rolled around, we were beyond exhausted, and all we wanted to do was pass out. Much to our chagrin, however, this train was not the ideal environment for such slumber. You see, “train at night” in Italy is actually code for “homeless shelter.” This train was jam-packed with downtrodden, sketchy-looking old men with nowhere else to sleep that night. Super. Even better, because Anne-So and Marie had booked their tickets separately from mine, our assigned seats were in different parts of the train. Luckily, when I found my compartment, I discovered that there was a family with a dad, a son, and a daughter in addition to a couple homeless men, so I felt somewhat safer (nevermind that this family looked like it belonged in The Godfather.)
Due to my unbelievable exhaustion and against my better judgment, I soon fell fast asleep. Like, *snap*. I was gone. The train lulled me into a state of oblivion, into the abyss that comes only after going a million miles a minute for way-the-hey too long. I had crossed the border into La-la Land, and unless they revoked my visa, I wouldn’t be coming back for awhile.
Then suddenly, from the fuzziest, haziest parts of my subconscious, I heard something. It was distant, barely audible, like something from a dream. Struggling through the swamp into which my brain had wandered, I sought to decipher what they were saying. Whatever it was, it seemed important. If only I could just hear it…
“St…. St…. ….. you…”
“Steffi!… Steffi! Where are you?!”
Oh my gosh! It’s Anne-So and Marie! Immediately, groggily, I jolted awake from my slumber. Frantically, I shook off the fog that had descended on my mind and remembered where I was and what was happening. The sketchy mafia family was gone. The homeless men had disappeared. The train had stopped moving. And the only noise was from my friends desperately yelling my name. We were in Venice, and I was all alone on the train.
In a daze, I grabbed my duffel and backpack and wandered to the door of the train, took the steps, and stumbled onto the platform. Moments later Anne-So and Marie overwhelmed me with hugs and exclamations of relief. They were so worried that they had lost me and that the train was going to leave with me onboard. So they had run up and down the length of the train calling my name, hoping that I would hear them and come out. And luckily—thank the Lord!… literally—it worked. Otherwise, who knows where I might have ended up. And that would have been terrible.
The other night when I couldn’t fall asleep, I decided to take a break from the unclean-food section of Leviticus (as enthralling as it is) and venture over to Psalms instead. I found myself reading Psalm 121, which has been one of my favorites for a long time now. As I was reading it this time, I couldn’t help thinking of my train ride to Venice and what happened. The Psalm is relatively short, but in the interest of space (and your precious time), I will only share the really relevant verses.
“3 He will not let your foot slip—
he who watches over you will not slumber;
4 indeed, he who watches over Israel
will neither slumber nor sleep.”
God doesn’t sleep. He doesn’t slumber. He’s always awake watching over us and taking care of us. 100% of the time. No exceptions. Take a moment and think about this. That means when you can’t sleep at night because you are worried about something, when you are crying your eyes out at 2 a.m. because your heart is breaking, when you are up really early and driving to work, God is awake. And not only is He awake, but He is watching over you. Isn’t that amazing? He never shuts His eyes, turns away, or even blinks. No, He keeps His close, loving, protective heavenly gaze on us, and He won’t let us stumble or fall. And that, my friends, is pretty darn cool.
So I thought about these verses in light of my Venetian train ride, and I realized that my friends showed me a vivid picture of what God does for us. They hadn’t slept during that entire midnight ride; they knew what was going on. And they weren’t going to let anything happen to me. They were looking out for me, they had my back, and they were wide awake even when my consciousness had long since skipped town. No, they weren’t exactly like God; they were not omniscient and they didn’t know my exact location. But they did know that I was on that train, and they weren’t going to let me get away. In the same way, God watches over us too, and He doesn’t sleep… so that we can.
A God who loves us and cares for us all the time without ceasing or resting, a God who won’t ever let us go—that, I believe, is a dream come true. And speaking of dreams, it’s time for me to call it a night.
Sleep well! Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz……..