At midnight I will rise to give you thanks, because of your righteous judgments.
Psalm 119: 61 Book of Common Prayer
When the psalms were written, midnight really was the middle of the night. In an agrarian society, without electricity to keep the world going, people went to bed “with the chickens,” as the saying goes. And chickens go to bed when it gets dark and get up when the sun comes back out. To get up voluntarily in the middle of a good night’s sleep to praise God is a noble thing.
Being in treatment for cancer can result in sleeplessness. I often went into a manic phase the day of chemo, chattering away until one in the morning to any hapless guest who was visiting. I’ve read of women who had mega-cleaning sessions, but I’m not wired to clean, even on chemo drugs. It sometimes took a day or two to come down from the steroids and chemicals. I didn’t need to rise at midnight to give God thanks, because I hadn’t been to bed.
Ah, but giving thanks? That was really the hard part. Much as I came to love my chemo nurse and the other women in the room receiving chemo, I would rather not have been there at all. Comfortable as the recliner was, I’d have preferred to be at home in my own beat-up, cat-clawed recliner. I’ve never been able to consider chemo “liquid love,” as a friend does. It remained poison, the entire time, even after I figured out that calling it poison wasn’t the best idea I’ve ever had.
During treatment, I had to be intentional about giving thanks, trying to create a habit of gratitude. Anything becomes a habit, I think, after six weeks. Most of us don’t consciously think about needing to brush our teeth—it’s automatic. By persistently looking for things for which to give thanks, we can train ourselves in gratitude.
Now I go to bed most nights before midnight, though I’ve not slept through a night in years. I wake to go to the bathroom; I wake because I’m thinking about a writing assignment; I wake because I’ve had a nightmare so dreadful I had to make it stop. Sometimes I wake because I’ve scared myself about the next check-up, or the cost of health insurance. I try to think of this verse, to remember to be thankful for a functioning bladder and too-busy mind. We can train ourselves to do this, and it can make wakefulness—drug-fueled or otherwise—less unpleasant, a time of silence and darkness, perfect for communing with God.