Are you sleeping, are you sleeping?
Brother John, Brother John?
Morning bells are ringing, morning bells are ringing
Ding ding dong, ding ding dong.
“I have no peace, no quietness; I have no rest, but only turmoil.” — Job 3:21
I love the promise of peace in each new day, but I will not forget the dark of the sleepless nights of sorting through a sin-dominated past seeking the softness of a forgiving dawn, which came only through the freedom of finding grace.
The dark nights would end with tints of orange and red and brightening gray as through the bedside window I would see the sun struggling to find its shape along the horizon, eventually freeing itself from the trap of trees, giving them color and sliding, round and victoriously glowing, into an ever-bluer sky . . . as I awoke. Or did I? Awake . . . or just get up?
It was time to free myself from the traps that entangled my mind throughout the night, and myself seek shape, trying to move beyond my own horizon and out into the sky, less-anchored by the weight of endless thoughts which overwhelm the night. A little distraction, please? A shower, some TV, a bowl of soggy sameness, the gathering of the things which make the day seem right, an exit to the car with a nod to the now-dominating sun. Day. Awake. Up. On. For hours now, I will accumulate thoughts and interactions, welcome distractions, and line up the dos of this and that and mark them down as dones . . . and then the sun will also be done . . . and the day will fade into another sleepless night. Perhaps if I counted them instead of sheep? 990 . . . 991 . . . 992 . . . 993 . . . 994 . . . 995 . . . 996 . . . 997 . . . 998 . . . 999.
Not all in a row of course and not all for the same reasons, but all there: a thousand sleepless nights, some spent driving around, some watching a steady declining-in-value spiraling of television, others puffing up and pounding down pillows in periods of pondering or lying still in the silence of lamenting, turned toward a window beyond which nothing moves, reinforcing the hopelessness of going nowhere.
Maybe it was not, or is not, that way for you in your battle with sexual sin. But, I remember it that way. A series of sleepless nights would lead to a sleep-filled night not sent by peace, but evidence of exhaustion. On and on. Searching for something and yet expending all the energy it would have taken to claim it if found. Hanging in there by day, giving in by night to the mix of memories and bad moments and excuses and cover-ups and denials and desires and loneliness and regrets tied together to the oh . . . the awful unfairness of it all? Woe is me. Mercy . . . what light through yonder window breaks?
God called the light “day,” and the darkness he called “night.” And there was evening, and there was morning–the first day. — Genesis 1:5
And there it happened. The first separation, this of day and night, more evidence of a Creator who could make all out of nothing. The first day . . . and before all sleepless nights.
Separation is not an altogether pleasant word. It speaks of distance. Of walls. Of isolation. Of taking away. Of . . . sleeplessness in sorrow or suspense on the sad side of a bridge-less gap.
We are not hesitant to remind each other that sin separates. Before, during or after, we, at some point, pull the string that closes the veil between us and God, as if He, who deftly divided dark from light cannot see through to me and you. We’re hiding from the ever-present. We’re the ones who welcome the descending of the curtain.
But your iniquities have separated you from your God; your sins have hidden His face from you, so that He will not hear. — Isaiah 59:2
Truth is, this separation from God because of our sexual sin has severe consequences in our attempts to stumble through the life we really want. It’s out there . . . but we are somewhere “in here,” separated, in so many, many ways. To name just a few:
1. From God — This is the big one because we know He’s always there; He never forsakes; He knows all; sees all; never leaves or fails to love. But . . . we fail to call on Him and descend instead into sighs of separation.
2. From self — How many times did it almost seem like I was standing by the side of the road watching my own descent into darkness, removed from it but wrapped in it? I would pursue and run, fight and surrender, all at the same time. Satisfy myself and point an incriminating finger simultaneously. Sinner.
3. From others –– It’s not true that what you don’t know won’t hurt you. In fact, the opposite is often true. In our efforts to protect ourselves from others while we dress the welts of our sin, we lessen what brought us together and reinforce what keeps us apart. Guarded and secretive, we have to either create something unreal to fill in the gaps, or we have to distance ourselves from those who we believe might reject us if they really knew us. There’s a flip side truth to all of this. Some do, and that’s a very painful separation.
4. From reality — The only way you can justify doing something that your heart and soul and God-sent wisdom tells you is wrong, is to create an alternate reality in which you cling to the hope of survival. It’s me-based. “This is right forme.” “This is how God made me.” “I can’t help it; this is me.” “You don’t really care about me.”
5. From truth — That’s what the devil did with Eve when he said “Surely God didn’t mean . . . ” And, surely God did. That’s what the sexually-broken do when they say “Surely the Bible doesn’t really mean . . . ” But it does. So, the choice is to accept truth or embrace lies. One seems easier and binds you day and night forever. The other frees you.
6. From healing pain — This one is confusing because the more we do to protect ourselves from pain, the greater it eventually hurts. Perhaps this one is actually separation-saturation. We seek the self-medication of sexual sin and then, when done, we feel the pain of self-betrayal, which is much more painful than self-denial would ever have been
7. From hope — Nothing is as defeating as giving in to sin. This war seems made of endless battles. Most men and women enveloped in the surge of sexual sin see no reinforcements left or right and surrender one by one their weapons in a sense of hopelessness. They cannot do it on their own, but choose to out of fear of being all alone in revelation.
8. From love –– I know there were times when some who wanted to love me could not figure out how because I was not always the me they thought they knew and loved. Fences of protection I would build around me worked like filters. Two way filters. Gongs resounding from both directions.
9. From mercy — Mercy comes in response to an honest plea, a surrender. When we cling to our sin, battle-worn and weary, saving what energy we have to assure we do not lose that sin we so align with, we are not seen as surrendering or pleading, we’re seen as determinedly self-destructive, which may not be true at all, as we are more likely bound-addictive. Still, mercy hesitates.
10. From forgiveness — True forgiveness seems so demanding to the sexually-broken, as the right response is to clean up your act. Life is more bearable with a chip on your shoulder which makes it easier to spread the blame a bit. “I am so . . . judged.” God forgives. That’s it. And yes, accepting forgiveness does produce within us the desire for confession and repentance . . . but that’s what we want. It’s not demanding; it’s freeing.
And so it goes. Sin separates, from God, from self, from others, reality and truth, from healing pain and hope, from love and mercy . . . and forgiveness. And then from peace and wholeness, the great desire of the broken.
Interestingly, for those who think that sexual sin elevates us to some higher level of separation, it does not. It’s sin. Every head on every pillow is in danger of the parade of sleepless nights from separation, for “all have sinned.” The Bible tells us so.
The big question is, if you are separated, what should you do? Jump. Just like you would if you were standing on one side of a river a thousand miles long and twenty feet wide and there was no way to cross unless you jumped in first and began to swim, one stroke at a time.
1. Approach God in prayer. He answers.
2. Confront yourself. You will survive.
3. Be honest with others. Those who know of love . . . will love you. Those who don’t are sinning by not and the separation may not be your fault after all.
4. Accept reality. It’s really not about you. It’s all about Him.
5. Embrace the truth. God’s Word is for your good, not for your defeat.
6. Acknowledge the pain. God’s mercy is never-ending. You’ve been hurt; you have hurt others. God is not unfamiliar with the pain of His people and He can heal your wounds if you will surrender them.
7. Have hope. Hope is not a tangible thing, but it is a powerful presence. And, if your hope is in the Lord, it is a permanent one. Quit giving it up or losing it.
8. Share love. Take it from others; give it to others. Don’t reject the love of others because it’s so hard to love yourself. Let love lead the way.
9. Cry out for mercy . . . and mean it. Yes, it is a natural response when we have flung ourselves into the pits of mud to cry out for a strong hand. True surrender is a shunning of the mud in response to a shower of redemption.
10. Forgive. Yourself. And forgive those who do not forgive you. And ask again for forgiveness.
God is a hands-on healer. When we separate ourselves from Him and from the ones He might use in our lives, we allow our sin to be the determiner of our lives.
Wake up. A thousand sleepless nights are enough.
(It still surprises me how many Christians seem to think that some life issues are beyond the grasp of Christ, that sexual issues somehow are beyond the reach of divine intervention, that healing is too hard and that we have to accept sexual brokenness in the lives of people we love. People are in pain and we say “so sad, too bad.” We equip ourselves to respond to other needs. Why not this one?