We've all had those moments when we just felt too tired to pray. It's a battle to stay focused, to stay engaged, or just to stay awake. I've struggled through two bouts of chronic insomnia in my life. And I have seen how, as lack of sleep creeps in, my prayer habits creep out. When I was sleeping on a regular basis, I looked forward to my morning prayer time. I found it brought me peace throughout the day. I loved my morning cup of coffee with Jesus.
But after a month of no sleep, I was skimming through daily readings just to spend some time with Scripture. I spent my nights awake rotating through the Rosary, the chaplet, and the Jesus prayer, hoping something rhythmic would put me to sleep.
Curled up in despair one night I sobbed hysterically. My only prayer was a bargaining plea. "I could serve you so much better, if I just slept, Lord!"
Leaning Into the Lord
Shortly after that night, the Holy Spirit answered my prayer. He tenderly reminded me of the truth.
"No, my daughter, I've already given you everything you need to do what I need you to do."
My bargaining chip fell worthless on the floor. I don’t need anything other than God, to do God’s will. He is here with me in my tiredness.
I didn’t instantly start sleeping again. I'm still struggling through insomnia. But what I'm most thankful for is the strength I have found in my trial. I have felt God's tender Hand along the way.
During my sleepless nights, I’ve thought of the mama's awake with their babies, the nurses working their second shift, the homeless, the refugees who have no safe place to close their eyes. I've prayed for each of you in your tiredness beyond reason.
How to Spiritually Weather Insomnia
From one tired woman to another, here are some ways I've found to keep prayer constant through the exhaustion.
Form a habit of daily prayer.
Okay, so I didn't come up with that one. This tidbit is in every blog post, book, and pamphlet ever written about prayer. So why haven't we done it already?
I've found this is the hardest, most overlooked, and most necessary practice to my prayer life. The best way to pray when we're tired is to pray when we're awake! Setting a time to acknowledge God's presence helps me to lean on Him throughout the day.
Before insomnia, I found 30-40 minutes before I started my day was fruitful for me. I am single and naturally a morning person, so it works for me. Little by little, I’m getting back to that schedule. The important thing is that it's a routine. It's a constant.
Find what works for you.
Find what works for you. Some of my mama friends have said they pray while nursing their little ones or pray a Rosary on their morning commute. I had a confessor tell me to pray at red lights. “There are many and they usually last two minutes. Ask Jesus to make you the faithful Catholic woman you know He wants you to be.”
Whatever works for you, make a habit of turning to Jesus daily.
Go for a walk.
This one is brought to you by my spiritual director, Sr. Mary Alix. And it’s probably my favorite. Go for a walk and engage your senses. Actively acknowledge what is around you.
What do you smell? See? Hear?
God meets us in the here and the now. Thank God for the day and your present circumstances, whatever they may be.
Be honest and trust.
It is okay to be tired. It is okay to say, “Lord, I am tired.”
Jesus knows you’re tired. He knows how tired you are. He knows why you are so tired. Lay it at His Feet.
Trust that there is a plan. Be confident that He hears your tired prayer no matter how distracted or half-asleep you may be. Trust that He is holding you and that He is stronger than your exhaustion.
Do you struggle with insomnia? How does your faith help you get through it?
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Nikki Pfleger works for the Catholic foundation in her diocese. She loves journaling, painting, hiking with friends, and finding the wonder in all that God has given us.