Insomnia isn’t punishment {Finding Spiritual Whitespace}


“God, please. Let me sleep, I beg. Because if God is love and yet I’m not asleep, something must be wrong.”
Bonnie Gray, Finding Spiritual Whitespace

It was another night of poor sleep. I try to rarely mention it. People who are good sleepers don’t understand insomnia. Often they’ll reply with information about the latest mattress or concoction or ritual that might work. I listen because I do want to sleep better.

But sleeplessness is complex.

So when I read Bonnie’s words, I want to cry. Her take is more extreme than I personally feel, but I understand what she’s saying.

Sleeplessness feels shameful. It says I’m unlovable to God, guilty of not trusting him enough. I didn’t understand that sleep doesn’t always come easy.”

At the root of it, I question my insomnia, too. Is it lack of faith? Is it refusing to take a break, declining God’s offer to take the night watch?

I don’t want to believe it’s those things. I’d rather think it’s only from pain in my back when I lie down, to neuropathy in my hands when I’m still.

Yet still I wonder.

Bonnie continues, “One of the hardest whitespaces to fill with rest happens at night.”

It’s at night that my mind wanders the most. The what-if’s of the past loom largest then. The future scenarios are most imaginative, both good and bad.

I remind myself that night thoughts are not my brightest, but usually my most distorted. That I need to let them go until daylight. To let them drift on instead of chasing them down.

And when I do, spiritual whitespace opens up a bit more—that extravagant choice to leave more breathing room for God-thoughts, for contentment of now, even for rest from dreaming.

For Bonnie, whitespace helped quieten her PTSD. [Read more of her story.]

“It got me thinking. Maybe PTSD isn’t who I really am. Maybe it’s just what I’m walking through. Maybe ‘beloved’ is who I am.”

For me, whitespace—often found through centering prayer—has helped quieten my insomnia. Because insomnia doesn’t define who I am, it’s just something I experience. It’s something else God can and does redeem. Not always noticeably, but enough to matter. Just like margins that pad my active hours, margins in my 8 hours of rest are helpful, too.

“Whitespace in art directs a viewer’s eye to what’s important. It acts as a border, separating unrelated elements from what’s central. It makes the art beautiful. Spiritual whitespace does the same. Spiritual whitespace reminds us God’s presence is what’s important. It redefines what it means to pray with God.”

So, like Bonnie, I’ve come to this conclusion also:

God has been showing me insomnia isn’t spiritual punishment.
Sleeplessness is a human experience where God meets with us. Shipwrecked by insomnia, I am still loved. I am still valued because God is still with me.
…because insomnia isn’t an equation to be solved. Recovering sleep is a journey through the soul.”

Sweet dreams. Both asleep and awake.

* * *


I’m participating in Bonnie Gray’s ( Blog Tour to kick off her new spiritual memoir, Finding Spiritual Whitespace. Read more posts here.

Have you ever struggled with insomnia? Did you feel guilty about it? Please share your thoughts here.

30 thoughts on “Insomnia isn’t punishment {Finding Spiritual Whitespace}

  1. Linda@Creekside

    Yes, yes. Acknowledging what is true about us, warts and all, can be the first step into moving into a new truth. But no matter … thank God, He doesn’t define us by our pain or brokeness, anxiety or insomnia. He defines us by who Jesus says we are.

    Thank you for these important words this morning, Lisa.

    I love white space …

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      You share wisdom, Linda. If we could only see ourselves as God sees us, we’d all be happier. So thankful that it’s his view that counts the most! And that he invites us to use the identity he provides, not the one we think we see in the mirror or our minds.

  2. David

    Dear Lisa

    My wife is asleep almost as soon as her head touches the pillow. I can’t understand it at all. Takes me /hours/.

    A couple of things I decided recently:

    1. “Going to sleep” is something I have to do actively. I can’t just lie there and wait for sleep to come to me. Other things will arrive first. I “go” to sleep by mentally exploring my body. You know the kind of thing: “notice your foot, your foot is feeling warm and heavy; notice your ankle, your ankle is feeling warm and heavy; …”. Mainly I think the tedium gives me a shelter from those night thoughts, and something to turn back to when a night thought gets hold of me. I think it works sensually too: consciousness of myself as a physical body gets stronger and stronger.

    2. Resurrection is one of the things I can’t really work out. So, recently I started to think of being dead as “residing in God’s presence” (made that phrase up myself!)(I think). That made me think the same about being asleep – actually from some of the points in your post that might be old hat. Anyway, /that/ made me realise that as I fall toward sleep there’s a kind of resisting tension: when I’m awake I’m always so “on guard”, and that “on guard” doesn’t want to give up. Now I often think of myself in God’s care. At night I consciously imagine handing my body over to God – prepared to die almost – and all the night thoughts that attack I hand over in the same way.

    (1) makes me feel heavier and heavier, (2) lighter and lighter. Paradoxically they work together.

    Doesn’t work every time, but it’s the best thing yet.

    Long comment sorry!


    1. LisaNotes Post author

      Good advice, David. # 1 is something I have to remind myself to do because it’s easier just to default to watching TV or reading a book until I fall asleep without even realizing it.

      But to deliberately turn everything else off and intentionally choose rest is a different matter. That’s also when I’m most apt to choose centering prayer (which is like your # 2 “residing in God’s presence”–a beautiful description!). If we are aware of it, shutting down and turning ourselves over to God’s care for 8 hours (or however long) is a great act of faith. Letting go of our guard, yes. And also yes–it may be the closest we come to dying every night without actually doing so; your imagery is appropriate. I appreciate you sharing all this.

  3. TC Avey

    I’ve suffered from insomnia off and on throughout my life. I’ve never really questioned it. Just accepted that it’s part of who I am. It’s also a time when I get the most creative thinking done. One thing I have had to learn is to let it be a productive time and not draining. I try to use it to pray for people, to study God’s Word, or to think of blog posts. When I start thinking negative, I open my Bible or start thinking of my favorite praise songs.

    I’m glad you’ve found this book, it sounds like it’s helping you.
    Blessing to you.

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      It has taken me a long time to get to this (and I still fight it at times): “Just accepted that it’s part of who I am.” That’s great that you have done that, TC. It takes part of the edge off insomnia when we can flow with it instead of against it, to let God use it for our good instead of seeing it as only a curse.

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      I like your attitude, Andrew–appreciating the “pregnancy of potential.” It’s the kind I want to have. Sometimes I do; sometimes I don’t…. But I’m sorry for your pain, brother. Truly.

  4. Adoption Mama

    Lisa, Insomnia hits me many times…when anxiety is at a abnormal height…and part of me rejoices when this happens because there is nothing like the quietness of the middle of the night to commune with the Savior.

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      I do like the quietness of the night, too. And I will say I like that there’s no time constraints when I wake up at 2 a.m. 🙂 I know I don’t have to get up anytime soon to do anything (unlike younger years when babies would call). I hope I’ll be able to make the grade when I’m a grandmother and get up with little ones when they visit. God will give grace, I’ll trust.

  5. Jolene Underwood (@Faith_Eyes)

    Sweet post Lisa! I forgot Bonnie mentioning PTSD. Now I want to check out her book more. I’ve been told I may be showing signs of it based on our last season. God has been drawing me deeper and deeper into His presence through this last year though and it has been so healing and transforming. Anyway, I just enjoyed this post. I often wake up around 1 or so. Different reasons at times. Sometimes I can get back to sleep, sometimes it’s hours later. God has been reminding me to take that time to talk and listen to Him.

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      I’m sorry you’ve been having signs of PTSD. It sounds like a horrible thing to go through. 🙁 Yes, look deeper into Bonnie’s book because she’s very open about it, and also about how God has walked with her through it, like he is with you. Talking and listening to God–definitely a plus of those awake hours. Thanks for sharing, Jolene.

  6. Trudy

    Such a different way of looking at insomnia or any other cross, isn’t it? Trying to look at it as a blessing, not a curse or punishment. I just finished reading that book – You Gotta Keep Dancin – and I love it. This accepting and even embracing the pain as God uses it to give us a deeper focus in life and to lead us deeper into His love. Love 2 Corinthians 4:10 – “Through suffering, our bodies continue to share in the death of Jesus so that the life of Jesus may also be seen in our bodies.” Praying you will get some soul rest, Lisa, when your body won’t sleep. But I do hope and pray you get some nourishing rest in your body, too, free from energy-draining dreams.

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      I’m glad you liked Tim’s book, too! I read about 3 of his books during a season of my life and they were all helpful. So much of life is easier if we can just accept what’s happening as is. That’s what I *try* to do with insomnia. I’m just not always successful. Thanks for your prayers, Trudy.

  7. Ceil

    Hi Lisa! My sister has fibromyalgia, and she once told me that her bedroom felt like a ‘place of failure.’ Oh my. That just cut right through me. I feel so badly for people who can’t sleep. We all need our rest. My heart does go out to you, truly.

    I just love centering prayer! I started the habit during Lent this year, and have tried very hard to continue it. I am not very good at it yet. My mind still races at the beginning, but it’s so calming. I am so glad that it helps you to create that ‘white space.’
    Wishing you peace,

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      I relate to your sister’s comment, although I have MUCH less to complain about than she does. I’ve said similar statements myself, that I dread going to bed because it becomes a battle I won’t win. But I try to limit those thoughts because I know they only make it worse.

      I’m glad you’re doing centering prayer also. I actually started last year during Lent! And was only going to do it for Lent. But God had other plans. ha. I’m still at it, even though I don’t consider myself “good at it” either. It has gotten easier though. But I trust God takes it and does with it what he wills. I believe he has used it to help me relinquish some of my long-time propensity to worry, as well as helping some with my sleep, and I am grateful for that, even though I don’t do it for those “rewards.” Praying you continue to find peace through it as well, Ceil.

  8. HisFireFly

    “At the root of it, I question my insomnia, too. Is it lack of faith? Is it refusing to take a break, declining God’s offer to take the night watch?”

    I need to ponder this
    I fear it may be too true for me also…

  9. Melissa

    I appreciate your thoughts on this, Lisa! I haven’t often had insomnia; I usually sleep soundly. (In fact, recently my husband said, “I couldn’t wake you up with a rock.”) But for a while I was waking up around 3:00 every morning and unable to go back to sleep. Like you, I ran through what-if scenarios in my mind. After a while I started praying through the time, and then I found I could sleep. God is good, whether He gives us sleep or peace in the wakefulness.

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      I love your attitude, Melissa: “God is good, whether He gives us sleep or peace in the wakefulness.” Thanks for reminding me that either way–awake or asleep–I can be at peace because God IS good. Thanks, friend. And I’m glad you sleep soudly! 🙂

  10. Krista

    I can relate! I’ve been through seasons of anxiety induced insomnia and just plain old insomnia (I’ll take the plain old insomnia over the anxiety induced any night! 🙂 )
    I’d tried the teas, herbs and other home remedies to no avail. Then I discovered that magnesium deficiency can cause insomnia. Maybe it’s placebo effect but I’ve had more restful nights since I started taking a supplement.
    I pray you are able to find peaceful slumber soon Lisa! 🙂

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      I’ve often said that if something is a placebo effect, even better. ha. No harm being done but potential help being given. I’m glad you’re getting good sleep now, Krista! That’s something else I can look into myself.

  11. Katie

    I fall asleep quickly, but then wake up with nightmares and flashbacks from my PTSD, finally recently diagnosed by the counselor. Sometimes I do not even remember them, just wake up afraid and terrified, which then causes my anxiety to keep me up the rest of the night or go back to sleep only to wake up on and off the rest of my night. I am struggling so much right now to write, to think clearly. Bonnie’s journey sounds so different, yet the same. I find I can read other’s blogs and comment, but not write my own right now. I am even struggling to write in my journal. I am angry at God and not speaking to him right now. I find Bonnie’s book full of things that are wise and could help, but fear and anger at God has kept me from even trying them. I am taking a step though with reading it and going to my doctor to change my meds around and continuing counseling. Love you friend. Love your post.

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      I’m so sorry you’re struggling through PTSD, Katie. 🙁 I don’t know the pain of that so I can only imagine how hard it must be to have to deal with it, period, but then to have to deal with it from a sleep-deprived state. I pray that your counselor will be able to find the right meds and dosage to help you.

      It’s great that you’re not giving up on reading. God is persistent in finding ways for us to hear his voice, even during those times when we don’t feel like talking back to him. This is a rough season, but don’t forget that this too shall pass, and in the end, all will be well. You’re loved by many, including me! Please stay in touch.

  12. Sharon

    OK, Lisa, this is the most ironic thing. Just last night, I could not sleep. I experience insomnia often. Sometimes it’s the *I can’t fall asleep* kind, and sometimes it’s the *wake up and can’t fall back to sleep* kind. Last night, I just couldn’t fall asleep. I have never thought of insomnia as punishment from God. But what I have thought about is how those lonely hours are a battleground between me and the devil. When I can’t fall asleep, the enemy is right there with fearful thoughts and torturous “what-if” scenarios. Every possible thing that I can worry about arises in my mind.

    So, I pray. And beg God for sleep. Sometimes it comes soon, and sometimes it doesn’t. Bu the thing is this: HE always comes.

    I cling to this verse: “In peace I will lie down and sleep, for you alone, LORD, make me dwell in safety.” (Psalms 4:8, NIV)


    (I finally got to sleep sometime after 3 AM, only to have a nightmare! But, God was there…)

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      Yep, I know what you mean exactly, Sharon. I’ve often begged God for sleep too. Usually I go to sleep fairly well, but I wake up WAY too early and then have trouble going back to sleep. It is better than it used to be though, so I feel hopeful.

      I’m encouraged by this: “But the thing is this: HE always comes.” Amen. There is the blessing. Praying you have no nightmares tonight….

  13. alyssaz

    Yes. And it was a dark part of my life. I knew my insomnia was a result of a spiritual attack. I thought I had to fight off the enemy myself. I learned verses to ‘attack’ back with, tried praying against it, a lot of different things. But really, God just wanted me to relax, let go, and hide in Him. He was my Savior and Solid Rock. I learned so much about Him, and me, during that time!

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      I appreciate you sharing your experience, Alyssa. You touch on such an important point: our need to let go and hide in him. Sometimes that seems so counter when we want to *do* something instead. It’s almost time for me to go to bed tonight, so I’ll take your words with me about letting go.

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