Desert spirituality at two o’clock in the morning

July 23, 2013 | 72 comments

Stars over the desert

Look at pretty much any culture that existed before the use of electricity, and you’ll see that they had deep superstitions about night. Throughout the ages, it’s been a nearly universal human belief that evil forces gained potency after the sun went down. Age-old evening prayers reflect fears of death:

Now I lay me down to sleep / I pray the Lord my soul to keep / and if I die before I wake / I pray the Lord my soul to take.

…And an awareness of evil:

May the Lord bless us, protect us from all evil, and bring us to everlasting life.

I always assumed that these ideas were baseless. When I was an atheist studying anthropology in college, I noticed that all the peoples we studied had a fear of the night in common, but I chalked it up to a purely natural explanation — darkness makes it easier for accidents to happen, for enemies to attack, etc., so people have learned to have a certain discomfort with it. Even after my conversion, I never seriously considered that there were any inherent differences between night and day, spiritually speaking.

But then I began to notice that the moments in which I felt closest to despair tended to be when I was lying awake in the middle of the night. I’ve dealt with insomnia on and off for pretty much my whole life, and I was all too familiar with the kind of feelings that can overtake you when you’re lying in a dark, silent room and doing too much thinking. If I was struggling with some problem, during the day I might feel kind of bummed about it, maybe even a little depressed; at night, thoughts about that same problem would leave me filled with doom — all-encompassing, despair-filled, break-out-the-Jaws-soundtrack DOOM.

I had been reading up on the reality of spiritual warfare (which I know makes me sound like a crazy church lady, but, hey, the devil is real and actively works in this world, whether we’re comfortable talking about it or not), and when that knowledge collided with my experiences in the middle of the night, something occurred to me. I recognized the feelings of despair, the temptation to stop trusting in God, the sense of angry hopelessness, and I realized:

This is spiritual attack.

And it tends to happen at night.

That’s not to say that spiritual attack only happens at night, or that all dark feelings are spiritual and not psychological or biochemical in nature. But I have come to believe — and believe strongly — that there is something to the timeless human belief that great spiritual trials can happen at night, and that they’re of a different nature than the kinds of trials we typically face during the day. And, lately, I’ve been thinking about how to combat it.

I think I have some mild post-traumatic stress disorder from my health crisis and the baby’s health crisis earlier this year. In general, I’m fine. Even on the nights that I don’t sleep well, I’m usually fine. But every now and then, when I find myself awake in the middle of the night, I’ll find myself once again fighting waves of irrational despair. Part of it is undoubtedly psychological, and I may check in with my therapist at some point. But there is a very clear element of spiritual attack at work too, and I’ve been trying to figure out how to combat it.

I don’t have all the answers yet, but I think that many of them are to be found in looking at the spirituality of the desert. Judeo-Christian tradition has long been aware that there’s no spiritual battlefield like the one you’ll find in the middle of a barren land. With no technology, no animal life, no comforts, not even changing weather patterns to distract you, you’ll be stripped of any artifice that had worked its way into your spiritual life. Without any source of material comfort, you’ll be forced to rely on God alone. And, for those of us who don’t really rely on God as much as we say we do, it might get pretty uncomfortable.

I think that lying awake in darkness is a microcosm of the desert experience. Those moments of utter aloneness that occur in the middle of the night give us a small taste of what the Desert Fathers experienced in their years in the Scetes. In an odd way, it’s comforting to know that this is the kind of spiritual test that challenged even the great saints (see this documentary about an Anglican vicar who tried being a desert hermit for three weeks — things get pretty tough starting at the 40:00 mark).

The desert is a painful spiritual proving ground, especially if we’ve gotten too used to dealing with spiritual attack by running off to bury ourselves in distractions. We feel exposed and vulnerable when there’s nowhere to run.

But it’s for this same reason that the desert is also a place of powerful encounters with God. Pope Benedict XVI wrote in his book Journey to Easter:

Jesus was led by the Holy Spirit into the desert…What does this surprising guide intend? Let us reflect a little on what is meant by “the desert.”

The desert is a place of silence, of solitude. It is the absence of the exchanges of daily life, its noise and its superficiality. The desert is the place of the absolute, the place of freedom, which sets man before the ultimate demands. Not by chance is the desert the place where monotheism began. In that sense it is a place of grace. In putting aside all preoccupations we encounter our Creator.

Great things have their beginnings in the desert, in silence, in poverty. It is not possible to share in the mission of Jesus, in the mission of the Gospel, without sharing in the desert experience, its poverty, its hunger. That beautiful hunger for justice of which the Lord speaks in the Sermon on the Mount cannot be born in the fullness of satiety.

For those of us who have lives filled with luxury and ease here in the modern West, those stark midnight moments allow us to experience that kind of hunger that Pope Benedict talks about here. When all our devices and possessions are tucked away in darkness, and there is no one else awake for miles around, we taste the kind of spiritual poverty that is both startling and freeing.

I realize that not everyone goes through this. Lots of people are probably reading this and wondering what the crazy woman is talking about. But for those of us who do occasionally find ourselves in bleak places in the middle of the night, I think there’s much strength to be found in seeing it as an opportunity to walk in the desert.

(I’m posting every day this week! To check out other bloggers who are doing the same, see this list.)


  1. Sarah

    Yes! I was so there last night. My problem is my thoughts tend to range all over the place and I have imaginary arguments with people. LOL Total insomnia last night too. I like your way of looking at it, gives me a new focus. 🙂

  2. Christina Grace @ The Evangelista

    My worst anxiety attacks ALWAYS happen at night. The closing benediction in Night Prayer has been my saving grace; I often repeat it over and over again until I regain some perspective and am able to calm down. Nice to know I’m not the only one. 🙂

  3. Julie

    That last paragraph you quoted from Pope Benedict XVI is so powerful — I think I’m going to have to mull it over for a while.

    Also, have you read anything about ancient segmented sleep patterns? There’s this theory that before the industrial revolution, people tended to sleep in two segments each night, with about an hour’s worth of wakefulness in between. It’s an intriguing idea, and interesting to think of how it relates to the ancient nighttime superstitions you wrote about.

    Interesting, illuminating post, as always!

    • Jeni

      I was JUST reading about that somewhere! Wikipedia?

      Actually I think I googled it bc I had read something about Pope Francis rising at 4:45 then having a nap before the rest of his day.

  4. Mary

    As another who has sometimes struggled with insomnia (usually while pregnant) this is really really awesome stuff to ponder. I feel like there is some truth to the adage that nothing good happens after midnight. (One of the reasons we’re the crazy parents who don’t do sleepovers…) Thank you!

  5. Hannah

    I agree with you 100%. As a missionary in India, and as someone who struggles with anxiety and depression, it was ALWAYS night where I experienced both inward–and sometimes external–terror. I learned to audibly pray to the Lord, thanking Him for his love for me, for my salvation, for the fact that, “no weapon formed against you shall stand.” It was a tough lesson, but I think I’ve learned it, at least in part. We are more than conquerors through Jesus Christ–even in the middle of the night.

  6. Magdalen

    I can’t say I experience special nighttime trouble much, probably because I’m such a wired person that whenever I’m awake at night I’m always thinking hard and jumping from topic to topic. But, now that I get to thinking about it, last night I was randomly siezed with absolute terror at the thought of our flight today, and I’m usually super comfortable with flying. It actually just made me start praying, though, so if it was from outside myself or God it didn’t have the desired affect.

  7. Jamaica

    I find it so interesting that you refer to ptsd. I keep telling my husband that I think I have a mild form of that from very difficult pregnancies, five c -sections and a NICU stay.Of course I love my babies and they are all worth it (except the two yr old…kidding, kidding) but when someone recommends watching the Bbc series “call the midwife ” I want to run screaming in the other direction. And I agree that it is hardest at night both because of the lack of distractions and fatigue,especially with a new little one!

    • Colleen

      I just wanted to tell you I LOLed about your two year old comment. I have one of those too…I have to watch old videos to remind myself that she wasn’t always this way!
      Prayers for your pstd!

    • Elizabeth K.

      I definitely had ptsd after my first daughter was born. I cried whenever I saw a show about giving birth. It was SO much harder than I had thought it would be, and I was also pretty fearful about becoming a mother–even though I was also so excited and happy.

  8. Silica

    I want to thank you for writing about this now. I was struck while I was driving to work today that I’ve been under spiritual attack, and faring very, very badly. I notice it the most at night, but it’s hard for me to realize it until the light of day.

    Some people think it’s hokey, but I do use sacramentals to help me in these tough times – holy water and the rosary in particular. I sprinkle holy water on my bed before sleeping, and if things are really bad and there’s no baby in my bed I will actually hold a rosary as well (if I wake up at night I will pray it on my fingers, but there is something about holding the beads that I find immensely comforting).

    I gave birth to my second on May 17 and in counseling for PPD (which I also experienced with my first.) Although there’s definitely some psychological stuff going on with me too, there’s no reason to think that the devil won’t be at work on me when I’m in an especially vulnerable position. And I’m incredibly blessed to have a good Christian counselor this time around, who understands the importance of my spiritual life and its connection to the rest of my wellbeing.

    • Jeni

      I sleep with my rosary some nights for the same reason 🙂

  9. Anonymous for this one

    I will have to examine this idea. I struggle a lot with sinful, unhealthy behaviors at night, when the rest of my family is peacefully asleep. Staying up too late surfing the net, eating too much of food I shouldn’t be eating at all, and even, um, self-abuse. When I have the self-awareness and discipline to see what direction my mind is heading, I pray the rosary instead.

  10. Tammy

    Another one of my favorite blogs has a post today that might bring some insight to these attacks.

  11. Will

    A couple of months ago I had a stretch of worsening insomnia and disturbing dreams. One particularly unpleasant night, I prayed to St. Michael and immediately felt safer. The next day, I sprinkled a bit of holy water on and around the bed and began saying the St. Michael prayer and a prayer to my own guardian angel before bedtime. I’ve slept better since then.
    Was it a spiritual attack, stress, indigestion? I don’t know, but I do know that I will continue praying to St. Michael and my guardian before bed and during sleepless stretches.

  12. Ashley

    Hi Jen! This is wonderful post. I can relate to it so much!

    I used to have a lot of those same “spiritual attacks” at night, but ever since I started sprinkling some holy water on my bed before I sleep, they’ve stopped. A prayer to St. Michael also helps 😀

  13. Cindy

    “In a real dark night of the soul it is always three o’clock in the morning,” F. Scott Fitzgerald

  14. Susan

    Thank you so much for posting this. I go through several weeks of having this type if experience every night or two. In my case, I have realized that it always starts when I have some sort of change to draw closer to God- one time I had decided I was going to go to daily mass through the summer and that night I was overwhelmed by that terrible sinking fear. I was afraid for my life. In the morning, of course, it seemed much better, but it happened again several times. For some reason when this happens I rarely remember to pray so I started sleeping with my rosary under my pillow- then I feel it and remember to ask God for His help. I know this probably sounds ridiculous, that I am so spiritually weak I can’t remember to pray but the rosary has helped as has praying specifically for a peaceful night and using holy water before bed.

    • Robert H.

      Is not ridiculous and you are not spiritually weak. We are all vulnerable. Thanks to all for sharing.

  15. Kerri B.

    I can so relate to this! I too have dealt with insomnia off and on throughout my whole life. I can still remember how utterly alone and scared I was to by lying awake at night as a kid of maybe 8 or 10 years old as I contemplated things that would never occur to me during the day. I can still, even today, remember what that feeling was like. As an adult now, and having grown in my faith so much more since I was a kid, I find myself relying on rote prayers when I start down those depressing paths. I’ll repeat Hail Marys in my head until I finally fall asleep or some other simple prayer that comes readily to mind. Those at least help to distract my mind and bring it some peace. Enjoyed your insights into this, I had never really thought about it beyond the fact that as a kid I was poorly formed in my faith and didn’t really understand anything about life vs. death. Yet as an adult I finally learned my faith and have learned about the peace and comfort it can bring when we rely on God. Thanks!

  16. Nichole

    I needed to read this today. I am so glad I’m not alone. Lately nights have been torture for the same reasons. I can distract myself enough during the day, even if I feel out of sorts, the kids still need me and I go on, but at might it’s just me and my demons. I wonder if many people suffer this way, silently.
    I thought about posting about anxiety and spiritual life during the blogging challenge week, but was unsure of how to present such a personal issue. Thanks for the breaking the ice on this and for inspiration!

  17. Jeni

    Yes, yes, yes and yes! When I went through the most depressing time of my life, postpartum after my firstborn daughter (who had a difficult entry into the world with undetected severe heart defects, cleft palate, genetic syndrome etc), I was numb during the day but night hit and it’s like I could feel that the prayers slowed and I had the worst despair ever. Every horrible thought I could have came to my mind. It’s completely the truth. I felt every bit under attack spiritually.

    Also, I never even considered you having some PTSD. But of course–you went through some of the scariest pregnancy events *like ever*. Definitely double check with your therapist especially with postpartum hormones being what they are when even the easiest birth experience can lead to baby blues. Take care of you 🙂

    Thanks for sharing that side with us. I think the emotional and psychological effects of bringing a child into the world gets ignored far too often and certainly needs to be mentioned.

    As always, thanks for the insight. God bless <3

  18. Ashley Anderson

    I am sometimes hit with an unshakable fear of dying in the middle of the night. When it is really terrible and I can’t seem to get on top of the anxiety, I will wake my husband so that he can talk me through my fears. He is always so patient. This is just to say I really appreciated this reflection you shared with us. As far as venturing to guess there are others like you awake at night fighting through some spiritual warfare, or at least some horribly dark and deep thoughts, I’m right there with you, sister!

  19. Bonnie

    The devil’s goal is to get you away from God. He does this by scaring you, or by distracting you (surfing the net?), or by reminding you of how hopeless you are, or how hopeless the situation is, or he won’t let you sleep, or you’re so sleepy you skip praying or.(and so on, and so on.) You see, it’s anything, anything to get you to be less connected to God, not more. Now, it seems to me God allows this sort of thing the way you allow your toddler to pull themselves up, then fall down on their butt, then pull themselves up again, and so on. You don’t help them. You let it happen because you know they are trying to walk. You don’t let them alone either. So God allows us to go through all these things in order to catch onto Satan’s game, and learn to rebuke him, and stay attached to God. I’m not sure who said it (I thought it was Theresa of Avila, but can’t find it on the internet), but it has been said Satan is like a chained dog; he can only go so far, and you stay out of his circle of reach. But in any case, he can’t control you. You rebuke him (I like to do it by repeating my baptismal promises, “I reject you Satan, and all your works, and all your empty promises.”) and lather, rinse repeat as needed. Eventually you realize new commitments to piety (like deciding to go to daily Mass, or say the rosary daily, or just fasting once a week) meets with all kinds of internal and external resistance. The trick is to recognize it early and rebuke it, and go on with what you were doing. If you stick with it, it does get better.

    • Sharon Murray

      I like your comment and your suggestion to repeat baptismal promises. Thank you.

  20. Mary gambill

    I have been reading up on spiritual warfare as well… And feeling like I am a bit like maybe the stress has gotten to me and I’m imagining things. What are you reading ?

    • Jennifer Fulwiler

      Good question. Gosh, I am totally drawing a blank on the good books I’ve read on this subject, since it’s been a while since I’ve read them. Part of it was a lot of conversations with spiritual directors. I’ll keep thinking and maybe do a post with recommendations.

  21. TheReluctantWidow

    I have a similar issue. Most of the time the thoughts are at night but I have a lot of negative, or selfish self-talk issues. My spiritual director, who did point out that thoughts are just thoughts and not who we are if we don’t act on them, suggested that I read Mary Margaret Funk’s (Meg Funk) books Tools Matter and Discernment Matters. They are two of a five-book series called “The Matter” series. The books are based upon desert father John Cassian, a 5th century monk. I am just about finished with Tools Matter and will then start Discernment Matters. She outlines what Cassian called the “eight thoughts” and then also the tools in which to battle the thoughts. It’s been very helpful for me.

    I also asked about books regarding spiritual warfare but I can’t remember right now what he suggested to me. I do know that not one book that my spiritual director has recommended has ever been a waste of time or without some meaningful assistance.

  22. carol

    Thank you for writing this. It’s a beautiful post. I too struggle with the nighttime barren places and spiritual attacks then. But it is also there I see him most vividly

  23. Jamie

    In the middle of the night I am the worst mother my children could have. I think over all my impatience and inattentiveness and failure to teach them to lead orderly joyful lives and it kills me. (It is also killing me that my daughter is such a terrible sleeper, but that’s a side issue.) Totally hear you on this one.

  24. MelanieB

    This came at the perfect time. Last night was one of those nights when after three wake-ups in a row (the final one involving both me and the non-sleeping child screaming at each other) I couldn’t get back to sleep. It was definitely one of those desert nights, wrestling with God in the darkness with no distractions.

  25. Karen C

    It’s interesting to me that you posted something on this topic. I am currently reading ‘The Lamb’s Supper’ and Scott Hahn mentions a book by Fr. Scupoli called ‘The Spiritual Combat’. I decided to start reading that one too and it obviously deals with all different aspects of this topic. It’s been great! I’ve enjoyed your blog for a couple of years now – thank you!

  26. Cynthia

    I have been dealing with this kind of insomnia my whole life. It never occurred to me to think of things this way. What an interesting perspective, thank you.

  27. Danielle

    I am having difficulty sleeping and then remembered that you wrote last week that you were going to post everyday this week! Thank you so much for your honest post! I used to work at a shelter with women and their children and while I am not a therapist, I learned a lot about PTSD. If my memory serves correctly, your pregnancy had a lot of complications that could have easily resulted in death and I can see how the experience could be harrowing for you and how it could have resulted in PTSD. The spiritual life is often difficult and I applaud your honesty because sometimes it’s easy to feel as if you are the only one who struggles. I’ll pray that this passes quickly for you and that you learn everything you are supposed to from this trial. I think you are great!

  28. Mark S.

    Jen, this is really important for me. I fancy myself “too sophisticated” for the spiritual warfare stuff yet I am so under attack. You wrote what I needed. The dessert…the night…YES! Thank you!

    • Mark S.

      ummmmm…desertm not dessert…..did I mention the temptor uses food sometimes with me? 🙂

      • Sharon Murray

        I Totally agree with you. Thank you for this post!

    • Robert H.

      This speaks to me. I was kind of like that years ago. Only when I learned what this stuff at night really is also learned to combat it. You cannot fight an enemy you don’t see, but now I am not (so?) afraid anymore. 🙂

  29. ElizabethD

    I think there is a possibility that the symptoms you are describing could be due to a form of PPD (even apart from the traumatic experiences you had several months ago). I suggest this because last year, when my daughter was an infant, I had similar problems: I suffered from near constant insomnia and horrific, disturbing thoughts at night which usually disappeared in the day. Previously, I had had nights in which I couldn’t sleep, but the frequency of them during that period was much greater than normal. The thoughts, on the other hand, were not like anything I had encountered before. I hope this might be of some help!

  30. Becky

    It is 4 o’ clock in the morning now, unable to get to sleep because of the usual darkness in my soul that keeps me awake with fear and worry. Then I read your blog and start crying. Very true, it is spiritual warfare. Thank you for reminding me so that I can pray Hail Marys back to sleep…

    • Becky

      It says 5:15 on the post but I’ve been up for a while. 🙂

  31. Josee

    Great thought provoking blog! Today’s message from the Magnificat comes to mind.God Bless you all!

  32. elizabethe

    Speaking of ptsd. Sometimes I think the ancient aztecs were onto something (not about the human sacrifice, though), IIRC, they considered childbirth a form of warfare and treated birthing mothers as though they were going into battle. We don’t like to think of it today, but we do face death in childbirth.

    Anyway, Jenn, does this post count as Tuesday’s post or Wednesday’s post? =) I was refreshing like a madwoman yesterday. I am having an “all stressful things are colliding in this point and time,” kind of week and I’m really looking forward to your posting everyday.

    • the other Becky

      This is Tuesday’s post. So you still have Wednesday’s to look forward to!

    • Jennifer Fulwiler

      It was Tuesday’s. Yesterday was an abysmal day, and I got this one up late. 🙂

  33. Maria Novajosky

    Wow. This post spoke to me on some very deep levels, and it was one I needed to read. It seems all my insecurities, doubts and worries surface during the deepest, darkest part of the night and I’ve only recently realized that these are spiritual attacks meant to separate me from God.

    So, this post really hit home. The desert … spiritual hunger … spiritual poverty … it puts things in perspective.

    And has given me an awareness of what I need to do.

  34. Kris, in New England

    Wow – I’m glad I’m not the only one who needs sacramentals near me at all times. I’m very sensitive to the energies around me and on days when I forget to wear a cross or fleur-de-lis (my patron saint is Joan of Arc) I feel naked and unprotected. I sleep with a rosary on the bedpost and some nights I’m awakened by the sound of the rosary gently swaying across the metal post. As I see it thru this new perspective, I see that as God protecting me from the spiritual warfare that I know I wage on a daily basis, with myself. I have a serious self-hating issue that I’m working on and I know that it’s the devil working hard within me to make me betray God. I see this self-hate as a venial sin against God’s love for me and I’m working hard – with the help of our amazing priest – to accept myself as a loving, kind, compassionate person. As my beloved Fr. Michael tells me – what is inside me is indeed worthy.

    • Marie


      I just have to comment on this: “what is inside me is indeed worthy.” That is so beautiful! The Holy Spirit dwells in us, and so He is worthy, but, more than that, He shapes us. He molds us. He cleans away the “yuk” and makes us into the people we were meant to be. We are worthwhile.

      I, too, struggle with self-hatred, and this was a great reminder!


  35. Anabelle Hazard

    At a mission talk with the Fathers of mercy, Fr. Crofty asked the audience to raise their hands if thy been woken up mysteriously at 3 am. 80% of the Church raised their hands. he said it is because most evil is done in the darkness and someone needs prayers. so I hope you’re comforted that are those who wake up and pray.

  36. Emily Davis

    You are not alone.
    I do have PTSD from some traumatic life experiences.
    I too wake up many nights in a panic or can’t fall asleep because I can’t turn off my brain.
    I’ve learned to pray myself to sleep.
    If I can’t remember anything else in my stupor, I can remember the Hail Mary and I say it over and over again and always lull myself back to sleep with Her, our Blessed mother.
    It doesn’t happen as often anymore.
    But I could not agree with you more – we are so blessed, but the dark times, the desert times – they clean us and ensure us of our ability to build ourselves up through HIM!


  37. NicoleS

    Wow. I’m not sure if I’m glad or not to hear that there are others in similar boats. For as long as I can remember, I’ll have these unwelcome thoughts and doubts that, while I know God exists, I fear he doesn’t care. That this is is all there is for us. When it’s over, I’ll be gone, my children will be gone and all the love I have and give here on earth will be gone. During the day these thoughts pass barely acknowledged. But in the middle of the night…another story. I will end up crying in a near panic attack. I’ve had a couple of those (panic attacks), and it’s a bit different. I get the weird feeling that I’m literally on the edge of an abyss, about to fall in. It’s terrible! I end up saying the simplest prayer that I can reach for repeatedly until the feeling passes. The last time this happened I wondered if this was a taste of hell; the emptiness– the nothingness. I wondered if this is what Jesus was feeling on the cross, only longer than my couple minutes. It’s scary. I used to think it was just something wrong with me and my over-thinking brain. Maybe, maybe not.

    • Elizabeth

      Nicole, i have also had thoughts like that for as long as i can remember. Despite being raised in a traditional, Catholic household ( albeit with, i think, a weak formation from my catholic school), i have been plagued by doubts and fears since i was a child.
      Actually, just this morning, i was thinking i must be the weakest person in the world and lonliest, to have such little faith. It strikes me all the deeper at night, as it seems to do to so many others who have posted here. Still, i go to Mass every week, and have these moments when i know God exists, even though my concept of Him is so small and unable to even begin to grasp His immensity,
      But Jen’s post really spoke to me, and i think i really needed to read this and see other people are suffering this, too.

  38. Marie

    Thank you so much for sharing this, Jennifer! I truly believe that my family is under spiritual attack right now. Unfortunately, the Protestant tradition to which I belong doesn’t seem to be comfortable in addressing the reality of the Enemy’s work. I find it very frustrating. Yes, our Lord defeated the Devil and we praise Him for that! But that doesn’t mean the Enemy stopped coming after us. There’s nothing worse than an angry foe.

    I’m going to do some reading on the Desert Fathers.

  39. Robert H.

    Excellent article! Confirmation of what often happens to me. Sometimes clear ugly images pop up in my retina, terrible thoughts appear in my mind. Sometimes strong and very innapropiate temptations of a sexual nature.

    They used to disturb me big time. But it’s been a while I know what it is and I combat that with Hail Marys until I fall asleep. More recently I discovered that the Apostles creed is strong too.

    Thanks for this article and this wonderful people commenting about their experiences.

  40. Caren MacMurchy

    Thanks for the Ancient Wisdom, Jen, when walking through the shadow of death or, as you aptly apply it, the desert.
    When the dark clutches in the wee hours, I bring to mind Eugene Peterson and Dallas Willard’s comforting counsel wrapped in Scripture: “By day the LORD directs His love, at night His song is with me. A prayer to the God of my life.”
    Ps 42:8
    Also, Ps 91: “We proclaim Your love in the morning, Your faithfulness at night.”

    Drs. Peterson and Willard teach that as we lay down in slumber, we are no longer in charge. Not that we ever were – even in the daylight hours – but with the drape of darkness, the Father carries on His work while we rest. As we sleep, we take our hands off of this world. There is no pretense of control.

    Interestingly, there is Scriptural evidence that our days are marked by “evening to morning” as stated repeatedly in Genesis. The explanation may be that the world began in darkness. God began creating in the darkness – evening – and brought forth the ‘day.’ I find great comfort that God does His best work in the dark hours. It is relaxing somehow to physically and mentally remove myself from activity. And know that All is Well in God’s full universe. He is at work and I am not. Let us rest.

  41. pls

    This is such a great post. Spiritual attack/warfare is very real. I have these nights where insomnia will grip me and all sorts of tormenting worries will plague me concerning my children’s future or the world’s future. Really, it can be any number of issues. But no matter the topic, the thoughts are dark and painful. I will pray the rosary or the Divine Mercy chaplet and I am always relieved. I usually always bless myself, our home, and the kids with holy water before going to bed now and it make all the difference in the world. I like to pray night prayer from Magnificat as well before sleep.
    If this understanding of the reality of spiritual warfare and the use of sacramentals makes people sound like “crazy church ladies” (lol) well, better that I guess, than to become actually crazy or degraded from spiritual attack. My family was spiritually attacked but God in His mercy is helping all of us. Thanks for this post.

  42. Ed @ The Aberrant Pen

    I’m encouraged to see so many other people who struggle with this same nocturnal nemesis. For my part, as a young, single man, intensely introspective and prone to bouts of depression, I have found that the nighttime is definitely when I am most vulnerable spiritually.

    In fact, it seems that I could go the whole day relatively unperturbed by temptations, but as soon as everyone else retires and the darkness comes to remind me of my aloneness, it’s alarming how I can become a different person, succumbing to the lie that I *am* alone– too alone– and that no one can see me or what I do. Either just before going to bed or immediately upon waking up is when I feel the strongest temptations to sexual impurity.

    I recently remembered reading something about it taking 22 days to break a habit, and I am happy to say that where resolutions and pleas for grace have failed in the past, for whatever reason, God seems pleased with granting my request to avoid two specific occasions of sin for the past eight days– and still going strong. Perhaps my resolutions to “avoid whatever leads me to sin” in the past were too vague and having a concrete timetable to aim for has been the key to keeping that resolution.

    Just before beginning this window of buckling down and really applying myself to the spiritual combat, I went through one of the most intense periods of dryness and frustration with God I have ever experienced. I was– as we would say in French, “épuisé”– utterly spent trying and trying to see God and know him but feeling that he isn’t there and that my efforts at holiness were futile.

    But then it occurred to me that Jesus said, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God,” and I reflected on how I was like a house divided against itself, living an upright Christian life during the day but giving in to sin and despair at night; so I decided– more out of curiosity than any sentiment of love for God and in a last ditch effort– to see whether cutting out vice would give me any peace. If ceasing to return “like a dog to its vomit” (to quote one of the Proverbs) to my sin for 22 days didn’t bring me any more peace or joy, then I would conclude that this God didn’t exist or at least didn’t care enough to answer my desire to please him. On the other hand, if I were noticeably happier after making such a change to my life, then I would have found the answer, and hopefully God in the process.

    In a way, I have discovered how attached I was, even subconsciously, to my sin, and this period of “fasting” and “desert-ness” has indeed induced a kind of spiritual poverty where I have exhausted every other means and, in resignation, decided to rely on God to see me through this resolution. Which reminds me of another Beatitude, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of God.”

    I think, after reading some of the other comments here, that I am also going to begin utilising sacramentals in my spiritual combat, as well. I have a special devotion to our Blessed Mother, and one of my favorite titles of hers is “Morning Star,” which I think is particularly fitting in this regard.

    Thank you, Jennifer, for your reflections on this topic. Praying that we all pass through this valley of the shadow of death fortified and more able to greet the coming dawn.

  43. katherine

    If you have ever heard of the expression ‘The witching Hour’ it means 3:00 AM. People involved in the occult believe they have more power at this hour because it is the complete opposite of 3:00 PM. The hour that Christ died at Calvary.

  44. Anna E.

    Wow you write like a true Catholic mystic! I have nothing to say for the moment, I need to digest and absorb everything that is said here, in your article and in the comments.

  45. Becky

    I’ve been thinking about similar things over the last year. I struggled with insomnia and spiritual attacks- separately and linked as you mention. I’ve found several things that greatly helped. First, meditating when experiencing insomnia helps. I turn it into a spiritual counter attack of sorts. I breathe deeply and visualize having the outward breaths consciously adding light, goodness and love to the universe. Personally, I try to tap into the tiny bit of Holy Spirit we all carry and focus on the love we can feel from God as the father. You can also throw in some of your motherly love in there. Being so focused on “good” and light makes it harder for the dark to creep in. It also feel peacefully but oddly productive at the same time. Second, I make “protect us from evil” as my mantra. It was a moment for me when I noticed the Lord’s Prayer doesn’t talk about protection from death but from evil. This is also true (i think) of the 23rd psalm. We tend to fixate on the ephemeral, fleeting time, what we haven’t done and, ultimately, fear of death when we stare at the ceiling. Instead, we should fear evil but were given the gift of protection from evil if we just remember to ask for it. Over time, my periods of insomnia have lessened. And, I tend to wake in the morning feeling much less shattered if I’ve meditated.

  46. Christine

    I am a little bit late to this topic. I am so glad that I read this post! My weakest times are also in the middle of the night. I think that the we are most vulnerable at that time. I don’t know if any other ladies can relate, but I find that it is the worst when I am suffering from some sort of hormonal shift. PMS!! I will lay in the middle of the night and just stew in negative thoughts and doubt. My parents had a very difficult marriage when I was a child but they were also very devout Catholics. I learned a lot from there faith and God has healed them. They are in a much better place now. I do remember going to Mass with them and they would be so angry with each other and it would be tense…to say the least. I hated it. As a young adult in my 20’s, when I went to mass I would get intense feelings of wanting to run or flee. I think the devil used those old feelings that I used to associate with Mass and literally would try to chase me out of church with them. I would rarely making it to communion. I would run out of there! I am working on my reversion and now love going to Mass! At home I have been blessing our bed with Holy Water and usually have the Rosary near by as well. I have been blessed with a very happy marriage. My husband (agnostic protestant) does not say much about it, and I am sure he thinks I am a bit nuts,but I think he finds some comfort in it as well. He wants our daughter to have faith. I am not happy that other people feel that they suffer from this as well, but find comfort in the solidarity.

  47. Suburbanbanshee

    “Te Lucis Ante Terminum”, the Compline hymn, is about just this kind of stuff! It’s a very peaceful thing to sing before going off to sleep. Here’s the words and a singable English translation. You can listen to it on Youtube, etc.

  48. Stephanie

    Oh, the terrors of night… Some things that help me are -when I’m wakeful choosing gratitude and praise instead of anxiety that I’m awake when I need my sleep so badly. God’s allowing me to be awake now (I’d be asleep if God meant me to be) I try and remember Jesus frequently getting up and going out at night to pray. Then my wakefulness can be a nudge from God. Maybe God is allowing these churning thoughts that are keeping me from sleep to be an invitation to spend time with him. If I’m able, I open my hands and wait to sense God’s presence. I think of it like letting your eyes get used to the dark. Sometimes it seems like beams of light are shining towards me (everywhere) that I can almost perceive. It also reminds me of when my babies needed light treatment for jaundice when they were new born. Just being in the presence of the light was healing.
    If my thoughts are out of control with anxiety I say a litany of thank yous -anything and everything eg thank you that my country’s not at war, that I have a house to live in, that my husband is healthy, that my second son survived his accident, that all this rain means no drought etc. When difficult thoughts intrude eg thank you for so-and-so’s friendship and I spiral off into anxiety about another difficult relationship, I try and remember to say thank you for the relationship in that God can bring good out of everything. I try and ask that God bless the person and pass on to more thank yous.
    Like other commenters, I find physical stuff can be helpful. We have a cross high on the wall over the head of all our beds, rosary beads and Bible to hand- can be under the pillow if needed… Preventive stuff for me is also to get outside each day and take in God’s creation. It helps break me out of the prison of self. I have a discipline of picking a flower or sprig from the garden each day as a reminder of the wealth of God’s blessings- the seasons passing, trees, birds etc. Music can be a great emotion shifter for me. At different times of my life different things have helped, from Handel’s Messiah to folk scripture choruses to Hildegard of Bingen… And if the night is very dark, I read Psalm 91.

  49. Susan

    Jennifer you are not crazy, most people know it but won’t talk about it. However you talk about being awake, which means the problem can be put down to just internal which is not the case. I am not afraid but see the problem with my spiritual eyes, real attacks, real demons real terror even the atmosphere in the room can change as if there is an evil wind blowing. I just call on Jesus, praise worship and pray in Jesus name until the battle is over. A much bigger problem than the one discussed above, which would be nice if it could be discussed.

  50. Jane Crilly

    A 2011 book by Fr Louis J Cameli: THE DEVIL YOU DON’T KNOW,RECOGNIZING AND RESISTING EVIL IN EVERYDAY LIFE, is excellent.Fr Cameli is a priest of the Archdiocese of Chicago. His latest book on the Eucharist:BREAD OF LIFE, is superbly written too. His study of John 6 is unforgettable. For a first encounter, there is, on youtube, a tape of his talk on the Eucharist and the purpose of his book. For grace and strength to us all.

  51. Charmaine

    Thank you so much for this post. I’m all about being peaceful and trusting God in the day and then as soon as it gets dark I hyperventilate and cry and ramble crazily to God. It was only a few days ago that I realised the connection between my emotions and the time of day, and your post confirmed that I am not in fact bipolar.

  52. Eva

    I hunted out this post after an awful night last night, full of dark thoughts of pain and hurt and confronting the idea that there is probably no God, that life is futile and that I’m just a little speck in infinity.

    So, fun night then 😉

    • Eva

      Also, Id love to hear more of your thoughts on spiritual warefare.

  53. Eva

    warfare, clearly.

  54. Barbara

    I was raised in a Pentecostal church And I’ve been saying since I was 18.
    I’m many years from now.
    I had insomia Once upon a time
    I kept waking up and couldn’t sleep
    I asked God what was the problem
    He said to me.”Buy a sleep mask.”
    I did and it solves the problem.
    Amazing how it did the work.
    I’m not saying the devil can’t attack us.
    But we need to plead the blood of Jesus Christ against him.
    But for some people they just might need to sleep mask.

  55. Barbara

    Correction for my post…
    I’m on my phone…
    I meant to say
    I’ve been saved Since I was 18 years old
    And I am now
    Many years from being 18.
    God bless all you here
    And remember he said in the Bible
    “…….He gives his beloved sleep.”

  56. Barbara

    I always pray for people on the internet
    So if you don’t mind
    As I read each Comment
    I’m going to pray for each of you
    And I ask for prayers too.

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