Blessed Benadryl©

Published October 1, 2014
© The Rev. Eileen Gebbie

You’ve heard the phrase right? “Benadryl©: The Poor Man’s Sleep Aid.” If it doesn’t zip you up with a paradoxical reaction, it can make Mr. Sandman come mighty quickly.

Obviously there are problems with using any medication for off-label readings, like a negative reaction with other medications or chemical dependency. Repeatedly using drugs to knock ourselves out can mean losing the habit of simply going to sleep.

Earlier this year when I was struggling—again—with restfulness, my physician gave me an article on “sleep hygiene.” It had all the familiar tips:

  1. No electronics an hour before bed
  2. No electronics in bed/the bedroom
  3. Go to bed at the same time every night, even on the weekends
  4. Exercise
  5. Don’t eat at bedtime
  6. If you lay awake for more than 20 minutes, get up and do some reading out of bed

(Read more here from the National Sleep Foundation.)

But do you know what really helps me get to sleep after tossing and turning? The Bible.

I am not kidding and I probably shouldn’t say this out loud. But when I started seminary, I had a terrible time staying awake when I had to read the Bible, particularly the sections with less modern narrative structures. Give me one of the genealogies in the late afternoon or early evening and I was out.

I am definitely a more alert daytime Bible-reader now. It is when I am reading scripture and writing sermons that I feel closest to God, most aware of the more-than accessible in my own body and soul.

But the Bible still helps me get to sleep when I have a restless night. Entering into the strangeness of the names and customs, the awkwardness of Biblical Hebrew poetry translated into contemporary English, the startling political accuracy of the Letters, all disrupt whatever spinning wheels conspired to keep me awake. My perspective is shifted away from “what I have to do” and toward “why I have to do.” And that “why” is ultimately love, including the love that forgives my failings and faults, and those of others. The isolation inherent in ministry fades as I remember how ancient this Way is, and all those who travel it before, behind, and beside me.

I invite you, some night when you’re up, to just open your Bible in the middle. You’ll hit the Psalms, the oldest and one of the most beloved books of our scripture. The Psalms were written as hymns. God does not appear at any time as a character in the Psalms, only the recipient of the lamentation and praise. The Psalms give voice to all of life’s emotions, to this day.

Read. Skip around. Let your mind wander. Find your way back to bed. The Bible will be habit-forming and it may well interact in risky ways with how you live your life, but it is a most blessed replacement for Benadryl©.

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