Ever wonder what to do with yourself upon waking in the wee hours of the morning? Here are some ideas from five spiritual advisors...
Most people don’t think of waking up in the middle of the night as a good thing. But the late night and early morning hours can actually be a very spiritual time. In fact, God might be waking you up at night for a reason.
So how can you make the most of the nighttime and early morning hours? Here’s what 5 experts had to say…
1. Turn off the lights
Many people are afraid of the dark. But Clark Strand, author of Waking Up to the Dark: Ancient Wisdom for a Sleepless Age, has been willingly waking up in the middle of the night since he was a kid. He says that prior to the Industrial Revolution, and the dawn of artificial light, the late night and early morning were often times of great wonders and mystical experiences.
To tap into those wonders in our modern, light-filled age, Strand recommends first turning off as many lights as you can prior to bedtime.
“Start small,” he says. “Begin to let yourself experience the dark more. Turn off a few lights. You’ll become aware of how they affect you and how soothing it can be to have a dimmer place to be at night. You’re not giving up electric light so much as you’re gaining the comfort of the dark.”
2. Ask God to speak
The late night and early morning hours have historically been important to the great monastic traditions. Brother Aidan Owen, a Benedictine monk, regularly rises at 4 a.m. to pray. If you wake up in the middle of the night, he recommends taking a hint from Samuel in the Bible and asking God to speak.
“If you can go back to sleep, go back to sleep,” Owen says. “But if you wake up and can’t go back to sleep, that’s the perfect opportunity for prayer. Get quiet, consciously connect to the body, breathe deeply. Instead of being afraid or annoyed, take a deep breath and say, ‘Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.’ And see what happens.”
In addition to praying, keeping track of any particularly vivid dreams that occur at night can also be spiritually illuminating.
“Recording your dreams is a very helpful way to make the nighttime sacred,” Owen says. “When you go to bed, you can make the intention and say, ‘I’d like to remember my dream tomorrow.’ When we’re able to pay attention to our dreams, we can often get a lot more insight into what’s going on within us.”
3. Listen and pray
According to David R. Smith, a Baptist pastor and author of Christianity…It’s Like This, God can speak at any time of the day. But he could be calling you at night to get your attention, even if you don’t understand why. Don’t brush it off, Smith says. Instead, ask yourself why God would wake you from a deep sleep. And, if there’s something on your mind, pray about it.
“If God calls you to pray in the middle of the night, then pray,” Smith says. “You’re going to lose sleep even if you don’t listen, and lie there tossing and turning instead. So you might as well pray. God’s not going to wake you up for no reason.”
4. Channel your creative spirit
The night can also provide the perfect opportunity for engaging your spiritual and creative sides since there are fewer distractions when the world around you is sleeping. That’s one reason Rabbi Eve Ilsen specifically uses the late night hours for activities like prayer, meditation, drawing, painting and writing.
“The mystical and mysterious do not have a schedule,” she says. “But there’s something about writing in the quiet of the middle of the night that helps empty out my mind and leaves more space.”
5. Spend time in silence
You don’t necessarily have to wake up at 3 a.m. to connect with God in the morning. Reverend Masud Ibn Syedullah, an Episcopalian priest, typically spends quality time with God at 7:30 a.m.
“I set aside time in the morning to be restored by being in silence,” he says. “I’m bombarded with words a lot, so there is a point where I need to just be in the presence of God. To listen to what God is saying. Every morning, God’s spirit is available to us. Make yourself present to that and take it in. Being alone, spending just 5 or 10 minutes in that state, can be so renewing.”
Syedullah also views the hours that we’re asleep as sacred. Not only does God speak to us in dreams, but he can also help us sort through things in our unconscious state. That’s why Syedullah will often go to sleep on Saturday night with a sermon for the following day on his mind.
“I deliberately work on a sermon before I go to bed, trusting that God will further develop that work so I’m even more prepared in the morning,” Syedullah says. “I see sleep as rendering myself to God, not only for his keeping, but for his blessing of restoration.”
Read Diana Aydin's story The Fourth Watch: Listening for God at Night.