I’ll give you the consequences of the burden; you guess the cause.

  • It afflicts 70 million Americans and is faulted for 38,000 deaths each year.
  • The condition annually costs the U.S. $70 billion worth of productivity.
  • Teenagers suffer from it. Studies show that 64 percent of teens blame it for poor school performance.
  • Middle agers face it. Researchers say the most severe cases occur between ages thirty and forty.
  • Senior citizens are afflicted by it. One study suggests that the condition impacts 50 percent of the over-sixty-five population.
  • Treatments involve everything from mouth guards to herbal teas to medication.

Any idea what’s being described?

Chemical abuse? Divorce? Long sermons? None of those answers are correct, though the last one was a good hunch. The answer may surprise you. Insomnia. America can’t get to sleep.

For most of my life I secretly snickered at the thought of sleep difficulties. My problem was not in going to sleep. My problem was staying awake. But a few years ago I went to bed one night, closed my eyes, and nothing happened. I didn’t fall asleep. Rather than slow to a halt, my mind kicked into high gear. A thousand and one obligations rushed at me. Midnight passed, and I was still awake. I drank some milk, returned to bed. I was still awake. I woke up Denalyn, using the blue ribbon of dumb questions, “Are you awake?” She told me to quit thinking about things. So I did. I quit thinking about things and started thinking about people. But as I thought of people, I thought of what those people were doing. They were sleeping. That made me mad and kept me awake. Finally, somewhere in the early hours of the morning, having been initiated into the fraternity of 70 million sleepless Americans, I dozed off.

I don’t snicker at the thought of sleep difficulties anymore. Nor do I question the inclusion of the verse about rest in the Twenty-third Psalm.

People with too much work and too little sleep step over to the baggage claim of life and grab the duffel bag of weariness. You don’t carry this one. You don’t hoist it onto your shoulder and stride down the street. You drag it as you would a stubborn St. Bernard. Weariness wearies.

Why are we so tired? Have you read a newspaper lately? We long to have the life of Huck and Tom on the Mississippi, but look at us riding the white waters of the Rio Grande. Forks in the river. Rocks in the water. Heart attacks, betrayal, credit-card debt, and custody battles. Huck and Tom didn’t have to face these kinds of things. We do, however, and they keep us awake. And since we can’t sleep, we have a second problem.

Our bodies are tired. Think about it. If 70 million Americans aren’t sleeping enough, what does that mean? That means one-third of our country is dozing off at work, napping through class, or sleeping at the wheel. (Fifteen hundred road deaths per year are blamed on heavy-eyed truckdrivers.) Some even snooze while reading Lucado books. (Hard to fathom, I know.) Thirty tons of aspirins, sleeping pills, and tranquilizers are consumed every day! The energy gauge on the dashboard of our forehead says empty.

Were we to invite an alien to solve our problem, he’d suggest a simple solution—everybody go to sleep. We’d laugh at him. He doesn’t understand the way we work. Literally. He doesn’t understand the way we work. We work hard. There is money to be made. Degrees to be earned. Ladders to be climbed. In our book, busyness is next to godliness. We idolize Thomas Edison, who claimed he could live on fifteen-minute naps. Somehow we forget to mention Albert Einstein, who averaged eleven hours of sleep a night. In 1910 Americans slept nine hours a night; today we sleep seven and are proud of it. And we are tired because of it. Our minds are tired. Our bodies are tired. But much more important, our souls are tired.

We are eternal creatures, and we ask eternal questions: Where did I come from? Where am I going? What is the meaning of life? What is right? What is wrong? Is there life after death? These are the primal questions of the soul. And left unanswered, such questions will steal our rest.

Only one other living creature has as much trouble resting as we do. Not dogs. They doze. Not bears. They hibernate. Cats invented the catnap, and the sloths slumber twenty hours a day. (So that’s what I was rooming with my sophomore year in college.) Most animals know how to rest. There is one exception. These creatures are woolly, simpleminded, and slow. No, not husbands on Saturday—sheep! Sheep can’t sleep.

For sheep to sleep, everything must be just right. No predators. No tension in the flock. No bugs in the air. No hunger in the belly. Everything has to be just so.

Unfortunately, sheep cannot find safe pasture, nor can they spray insecticide, deal with the frictions, or find food. They need help. They need a shepherd to “lead them” and help them “lie down in green pastures.” Without a shepherd, they can’t rest.

Without a shepherd, neither can we.

This article excerpted from Traveling Light.

Traveling Light is available on Amazon, as well as part of my Good Questions Have Groups Talking subscription service.

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