Do you know what my very earliest memory of Christmas is? I’m about four years old and I’m lying in my grandmother’s lumpy feather bed under about six heavy quilts (because there’s no heat in the bedroom of her tiny wood-framed house.) It’s the night before Christmas, and I’m trying desperately to stay awake so I can catch a glimpse of Santa, but despite all efforts to will my eyes to remain open, they keep closing anyway.
Oddly enough, I have absolutely no recollection of the following morning – it has simply blurred into all my other childhood memories of Christmas mornings. I’m sure the scene involved the excitement of discovering what’s under the tree; the sound of ripping paper, and the glare of the "light bar” that Daddy’s old-fashioned movie camera required for filming indoors (which is why in our home movies we’re always squinting like little moles as we open presents!) but honestly I can’t single out this particular year in my mind. In other words, my very first Christmas memory isn’t about Christmas morning at all – it’s about falling asleep the night before!
I suppose it’s only fitting. After all, I’m a huge fan of sleeping; always have been, as you can tell by this photo of me that my mother took when I was just a toddler. Speaking of which, it must be a universal thing, this practice of moms taking pictures of their sleeping children. I took them of mine, and now my daughter has added her own precious little ones to the collection. I don’t know what it is, but there’s just something about gazing upon those serene angelic faces in repose that can calm a mother’s nerves after a long, trying day like nothing else. Plus, tiny tots sleep so hard they often fling themselves into such wacky contortions that you can’t help but grab your camera to capture it for posterity, or at the very least preserve the memory through family legend. (Case in point, my mother-in-law loves to tell about the time my husband, at age three, fell out of bed and came to rest against the wall on top of his metal dump truck, where he spent the rest of the night without ever waking up!)
There is an old Austrian Christmas hymn that I love, called "Still, Still, Still”. My favorite verse says, "Sleep, sleep, sleep; ‘tis the Eve of our Savior’s birth. The night is peaceful all around you. Close your eyes, let sleep surround you! Sleep, sleep, sleep; ‘tis the Eve of our Savior’s birth.” Every time I hear those words I am reminded in this season of gift-giving that one of the sweetest gifts God ever gave us was the gift of sleep, for in slumber we not only rest and recharge our bodies; for a few hours at least, we are granted a total leave of absence from the stress and worry of our day. That is, of course, provided we can turn off our "worry button” long enough to take advantage of that absence, which as we all know, isn’t always easy.
Charlotte Bronte once wrote: "A ruffled mind makes a restless pillow” and I had a night just a few months back that proved it! It wasn’t so much one big thorny problem that was causing me to lie awake and stare at the ceiling; it was a bunch of little things: five scheduling dilemmas, four beat-myself-up issues, three relationship conflicts, two money woes, and one "what if everything goes wrong?” I tossed and turned for hours – and it didn’t help that my husband, the dump truck sleeper, was snoring heavily. It was the complete opposite of my four-year-old Christmas Eve experience. This time despite all efforts to will my eyes closed, they kept popping open. The next day, bleary and out of sorts I whined about the incident to one of my friends, who smiled knowingly, and then told me she had a "sleep remedy” that was guaranteed to work. She shared it with me, and you know what? I haven’t had a restless night since.
What she gave me was just a simple little scripture: "I will lie down and sleep in peace, for you alone, O Lord, make me dwell in safety.” Psalm 4:8.
This "remedy” is amazingly effective, hopefully habit-forming, and you don’t even need a prescription! So the next time sleep eludes you, and you’ve got a "restless pillow”, try turning to this verse in your Bible (chronic insomniacs might want to print it on a note card and keep it on your nightstand!) I promise you’ll thank me in the morning.