They lurk in the shadows, waiting to appear out of nowhere. The sight of their enormous teeth, snarled hair, bulging eyes, and outstretched claws makes you jump out of your skin. Just the thought that one might be hiding in your closet or under your bed is enough to give you the heebie-jeebies!
Monsters are a regular sight this time of year. All you have to do is drive around your neighborhood or turn on your TV and you’re in for a scare. I love fall, but I’m always glad when this monster business comes to an end on November 1st!
Some of us have monsters that stick around all year long. Mine is named “Sleep Anxiety”. From the time I was old enough to understand the benefits of sleep, I have struggled with occasional insomnia. In fourth grade, not getting enough sleep meant I was never getting into college. In college, it meant I was never graduating college. And since then this monster has continued to hide in my closet, waiting for the night before I’m running a race or speaking to a larger-than-our-youth-group crowd the next day.
He’s a tricky little monster, Sleep Anxiety. He always stays nicely under my bed and lets me fall asleep just fine, but just a few minutes later, he jumps up and roars, “Wake up!”. A feeling of panic spreads through my whole body and I’m overcome with fear. I tell him to go away and he goes back under the bed, but the game has just begun and it won’t be long before he jumps out again. And again. And again.
Over the years, I’ve tried everything the experts recommend. I avoid caffeine, even decaf, after 10am. I follow the same ‘wind-down’ routine every night, avoiding screen time before bed. I tell myself all the positive thoughts about how the next day is going to be fine, no matter how much I sleep. I pray and declare the truth that God is in control and that He will do what He wills the next day, no matter how tired I am. I’ve tried medications, but things like Benadryl and Melatonin have the opposite effect on me (I see flashes of light and instead of just waking me up, the monster yells my name 😱!)
When it comes to this type of situational anxiety (or any of the many other “monsters” that keep us up at night) we are instructed to “let [our] requests be made known to God,” (Philippians 4:6) thereby “casting all [our] anxieties on him” (1 Peter 5:7). We’re encouraged to set our minds on “whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely” (Philippians 4:8) by following Paul’s example of “tak[ing] every thought captive to obey Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:5).
I’ve tried for many years to do these things, but my monster has remained. And that’s because I thought if I “gave it to God” and “thought good thoughts,” I would get what I wanted. I thought if I pretended hard enough that the anxiety wasn’t there, I’d expose the monster as a fake, and like the movies, say “Aha!”, pull off the mask, and then go to sleep in peace!
But it turns out that’s not what those verses mean.
“Tak[ing] every thought captive to obey Christ” can only happen when I first accept the reality of my anxiety in any given moment. When I “cast [my] [sleep] anxiety on him,” I’m surrendering my attempts to control it or make it go away. And when I “let [my] request [to sleep] be made known to God” I’m giving up any rights to the outcome of that request. Giving it to God doesn’t mean that I’m going to sleep – but it does mean that every time I wake up, after the initial panic, I will experience a conscious moment of His peace.
The only kind of scary movies I can watch are the “scared silly” variety. In my favorite Halloween special, “Open Season: Scared Silly,” Elliot, a mule deer, wants desperately to go on a camping trip with Boog, his grizzly bear friend. Unfortunately, rumors of a “Wailing Wompus Werewolf” prowling around in the forest have caused Boog to delay the trip indefinitely. In an attempt to “cure” Boog of his fear through exposure, Elliot gets his friend, Ian, to dress up as the monster. Elliot pretends to summon the werewolf with an “interpretive werewolf dance,” but, because Ian’s costume is so good, Elliot ends up becoming convinced that the Wailing Wompus Werewolf is real, too!
As the plot plays itself out, you, as the audience, know that there never was a “Wailing Wompus Werewolf” in the first place. All sightings of the monster have proven phony – no one ever had any reason to actually be afraid! But in the final scene, as Elliot and Boog are sitting around the fire on their long-awaited camping trip, who should appear behind them, but the real Wailing Wompus Werewolf! It wasn’t just a legend! Having grown in their confidence and overcome their fears, though, Elliot and Boog quickly befriend the monster with an “interpretive werewolf dance” and find out he isn’t scary after all.
Our monsters are real, but their power is weakened when we embrace their reality and, as Dr. Caroline Leaf states, switch from “positive” thinking to “quality” thinking. We have the ability, in any given moment, to do an “interpretive exercise” – to acknowledge our outside pressures and circumstances and the feelings and responses we are having as a result. When we are honest about our monsters, we weaken their power and make room for more conscious moments of God’s peace “which surpasses all understanding” (Philippians 4:7).
*“Detoxing Your Mind: An Interview With Dr. Caroline Leaf” (Elevation Church YouTube Channel)