I had been having trouble sleeping at night. Though I was able to fall asleep at my “normal” bedtime (midnight, I have discovered, is not normal, by the way) I ended up suddenly awakening just after 2 am. Every night. My eyes would pop open, I’d stare into the black and realize it was not morning, then turn my head to the clock to see that it was the same minute…something like 2:21…every single night. I don’t think mid-night waking up, in itself, is particularly unusual. What seemed unusual for me were the heavy feelings and crazy dark thoughts that accompanied the waking. That’s what wore me out. That’s what did me in. After weeks and weeks of sleepless nights my defenses buckled and I was a wreck. My muscles throbbed, my head hurt, my heart raced and radiated an ache that was as physical as it was emotional. When sunlight came, and the duties of the day, I was able to function, though I wonder in retrospect how well anyone could function under those circumstances. But those nights! How I dreaded those nights!
I bore all this silently, as silent as dysfunction can be, I guess. Truly, I’d like to see a flashback of the reality from the outside rather than the inside. We are rarely capable of completely hiding our pain, though I thought I suffered alone.
One night, after glancing at the familiar time stamp at my bedside, I lay staring into the space of our room; closed my eyes to escape, only to visit the swirling lights of the under-lids of my eyes. Have you ever closed your eyes and really tried to look at what was there?
Then the thoughts came. It’s thoughts that wear horns, not demons. They mocked me, taunting me for thinking I was capable of raising children, hissing that my kids would be better off without me. They could keep the steadiness of their dad, but really, shouldn’t they lose the mom? How crazy is that? I remember asking a friend once if she ever felt that way…if she ever felt that maybe her kids would be better off without her? I would not have asked the question if I hadn’t thought maybe everyone felt a little bit that way sometimes. So I was surprised when her response was so sure: “Absolutely not! No one could possibly love my kids, or know them, like I do.”
Well, that helped!
So on this particular night, at 2:21, I awoke once again to the darkness. My chest rose and fell in deeper waves as I lay there, tears rolling into the cups of my ears. I looked over at David, who was sleeping peacefully. Strangely comforted by seeing him sleeping, I rolled off the side of the bed and buried my head in my pillow. Since Guillain Barre Syndrome overcame me six years ago, leaving its residual peripheral neuropathy in my lower extremities, I have been unable to kneel. But back then, on this sleepless night, I understood the energy exchange that came with kneeling. We bow our heads to receive energy from above, and it pushes the negative energy out from the soles of our feet. I prayed for this to happen. But it swirled inside, like a whirlpool, in spite of my pleadings.
“Where are you?”
I wrinkled my forehead and exhaled the words. I have never felt too far from God, my whole life. That’s a gift. But this was a Gethsemane.
As I knelt there, wondering if He was there - wondering why, if He was there, he didn’t manifest himself to me - I remember thinking about a Sunday School lesson from years before. Strange, I know. But God moves in mysterious ways. I remembered Steve Geary, our teacher, starting his lesson with a question: “What does firstborn mean?”
Class members answered: firstborn son of Mary; firstborn son of God the Father, in spirit and flesh. I consciously wondered why such a memory would come to my mind at that time.
Then I understood. We usually get heavenly answers through the vehicle of other humans, and Steve Geary’s voice was the path for this message.
I realized, there at the side of my bed, that whatever I was experiencing, I was not alone in it, and this is why: It had been felt before. The weight of whatever it was had been hefted onto the shoulders of another, and He had carried it, along with the weight of all my other sins and sufferings, before I experienced it. He had carried it with sorrow, and with grace, and He knew firsthand what I was feeling. He might not take it away - but he sure knew how it felt. There is a magnetism in shared experience – we feel bound somehow to each other because of it. Holocaust survivors feel it with each other. High school classmates feel it with each other decades later. Cancer survivors; widows and widowers; mothers of autistic children…we identify with each other and feel at ease because perhaps we feel understood without having to give long explanations.
So it was with me and my Lord.
There was no instant miraculous change in the pattern for me. I woke at 2:21 again the next night. But I never did feel quite so alone. I was led to seek help. I found a good doctor. I talked to people I loved. Eventually, almost without noticing, I found myself awakening to the sound of the early chorus of birds outside my window one morning, having slept through the night.
Beyond the great, almost unspeakably great, gift of the Atonement…beyond the freedom it affords my soul and the hope it gives all of us…the sweet gift that our Savior handed us in the palms of his blood soaked hands was the shared experience. He knows us by heart.
I don’t know where it comes fromI don’t know where it goesComes on like a whisperThen a hurricane blowsMy head spinning roundMy heart full of thunder
Then the storm rages onAnd I feel so aloneThere’s a pain in my heartWith a life of its ownAnd it’s taking me downIt’s pulling me under
Then strained by the struggle and stained by the tearsI fall on my knees to the floorAnd I cry to my Lord, “Don’t you know what I’m feeling”And He answers, He’s felt this before
CHORUS:Firstborn of the Father, Lord of the Heavens,Who came here to show us the wayFirstborn of Mary, laid on a cradle of hayThe first perfect light to conquer the darknessThe first at the garden, the first to go inHe loves me with His offeringMy own sin and sufferingWere first bornFirstbornBy Him
Bridge: So stay with me Jesus, you’ve already born thisI know you have felt just the sameWhen you knelt in the garden and you carried this burdenYou offered it all in my name
Becky Garrett sings a beautiful version of this song, on her own album, "Gentle" and on the EFY album, Living the Legacy. It is available, with a slightly altered chorus, in a Best of EFY songbook as well. You can hear my version, as well as all the other songs on Sleepy Little Town, by scrolling down to the Music Player below.