Burning The Midnight Oil (of Worry)

My friend Melinda owns a store in my hometown and like any business, she and her husband spend many hours at the store. It’s a huge responsibility and often requires them to “burn the midnight oil” restocking the shelves so they will be ready to open the next morning. This is particularly true when the seasons shift. They sell home decor items that tend to follow the seasons and holidays, so every time there is a changing of seasons, their store must change its stock.

If you have ever worked retail, or even food service, then you understand what I mean by this change of decor. It is a team effort and often done through extended hours, either before or after your usual shift. When you own the business, like my friend, there are no shift hours, its get the job done regardless of the hour- even if it is literally past midnight. She is the owner so it falls upon her to make sure it all happens on time. It is her responsibility.

I was reminded of this as I checked my Facebook this morning and Melinda had posted late last night, while restocking the store, and while I was apparently blissfully sleeping. But, actually, I admit I wasn’t. I too was burning the midnight oil, waking up in the middle of the night and thinking. And thinking. Have you ever been there, done that? When your thoughts are keeping you awake way past midnight?

I would like to say that once my head hits the pillow I drift off into sleep without a care in the world. And most of the time I do. But, when there is so much happening in my life I either find that I am having trouble falling asleep as I play the events of the day that has just passed over and over again. Trying to decide if I handled it all correctly. Or previewing all the events that will take place the next day, or next week, or even next year. Pondering it all. Working my mind out, while it should be resting.

It is too easy to let this happen isn’t it? To be fair, I do believe it is a good idea to think back on the day that has just passed. But, instead of a critique,why not a gratitude check? Instead of focusing on whether or not we did everything right, why not focus on what God did. Did you see the work God was doing?

Reflecting at night with a thankful and grateful heart forces me to stop and think productively. Not focus on whether I did everything right- which I’m pretty sure I didn’t, but looking at the little things that worked out beyond my expectations and realize God was in it. In the smallest detail. The ones we might overlook because of our busyness and hurried lifestyle of 2022.

And what about tomorrow’s worries? Instead of thinking and overthinking about events that usually do not happen like we think they will, let’s try really giving them to God. We can make our plans, and be organized, but, we really are not in control of everything. We are not the owners of this world, just the caretakers. We can give all the worries of tomorrow and all of our plans to God.

Jesus knows that we would worry when he said; ‚ÄúTherefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes?” (Matthew 6:25, NIV). He points out that God knows what we need and since God takes care of the birds and the flowers, surely He can take care of our needs. So why should we be worrying?

And if we are still unclear about what Jesus says about worry, He adds in the last verse of chapter 6 of Matthew; “Therefore, don’t worry about tomorrow, because tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own” (Mt. 6:34, CSB).

Ouch. I am definitely guilty of worrying too much about tomorrow. I need God to remind me often, that I just need to stop and be still. Stop my over thinking and over analyzing, long enough to relax, let it go and let Him work it all out. It takes the Holy Spirit to nudge me and remind me to give it to God. To stop focusing on what has passed already and what may or may not happen tomorrow. To be reminded that I do not need to burn the midnight oil worrying.

I hope this will be a reminder to you too. Stop focusing on your problems and start focusing on God. – God Bless You – Nancy

Hills And Valleys

My morning song selection seemed very fitting today. As soon as the song began it brought me anxious thoughts for this day as well as memories from long ago. It was Tauren Wells singing “Hills and Valleys”. It is a great song that reminds us that God is always with us in those lows and highs of our lives.

This morning had been one of those low moments after my mother in law called with news about my husband’s younger sister and her medical emergency. She was okay now, but it was a very unexpected event. The kind that could have gone very badly. Thankfully she is better now, but it definitely put everything into perspective. Life is so uncertain and we never know when we will go from a hill top to a valley.

I grew up in northern New England. Its an area of the United States, named after its mostly English settlers and is known for as being part of the Appalachian Mountains. These mountains were formed from glaciers that melted and dug across the area, leaving behind tall mountain peaks and deep valleys below. Many of the towns are either located in valleys or along the sides of the mountains. The terrain is not flat between these mountains but is more rolling with hills and small level spots that were build able along the rivers and lakes.

As I was thinking about Tauren Wells’ song this morning, I was brought back to a time in my childhood when my mom started a 4- H club for the community youth, mostly farm families, in our home town. The young farm kids learned good citizenship, good animal husbandry skills and team work. But, because there weren’t that many farms in our actual hometown, many of the kids who belonged were from the neighboring small towns. Towns that were scattered along the valleys, mountains and hillsides.

To start the club, my mom needed to give it a name, and as all the adults were brainstorming for ideas, I, as a younger than the official age to join the club, made a profound realization and I spoke up, “Why not call it Hill and Valley” since that describes the variety of places the kids were coming from? I may have been too young to join, but the adults, including my mom liked it and the name was officially chosen. So shout out to anyone back in my hometown who knows if it still is going strong as a 4- H club. I know it was for a while.

The song also brought to mind the 23rd Psalm. About walking in shadows of the valley of death. If you follow the psalm it shifts to speak of the good things God does- anointing the head with oil, spreading out a banquet, goodness and mercy, dwelling in God’s house. It seems quite the contrast when you think about it. The valley of the deepest despair, when you think you’re going to die , to the point you can enjoy the full, over-flowing cup of God’s mercy and goodness.

We usually reserve Psalm 23 for funerals, but I’m not sure why. Whoever is dead is not passing through the shadows of death. They are already dead. But, it seems more fitting for this life. We will go through valleys. Through shadows of death. When we have despair. When we cannot see our way out of the valley. The mountains are too high. Our sadness too overwhelming. But God is with us. He has not abandoned us. He is there in the valleys as well as those amazing mountain top moments. The moments with the celebrations and banquets when our joy is over flowing.

We all like those moments. We wish that we had more. But what if what we think our valleys now, are really mountaintop moments?

I’m sure my sister in law, thought nothing of her routine procedure yesterday. It was just another thing on the schedule. Another evening like the ones before to come home from work, make dinner and sit down with her husband. We all do the same or similar. We wake, go through our days, spend time with our families, our spouses, our pets, our co -workers. And we have anxiety. We have stresses, We have high food prices, and high gasoline prices. We worry about measuring up at work or school. We know we should pray more, read our Bibles more, serve more, share more. But, in these simple moments- stressed filled and all, what if these are mountains? What if they aren’t the valleys we think they are? Life is short. Our days are numbered before they begin, but through it all, God. God is with us. Through the days when we think we are falling into the shadows of the death. When we are lifting our hands in praise to God for the awesome answers to prayer. He is there in it all.

I have been in those deep valleys, praying and crying in the hospital room while a loved one lay in a coma, dying. I have been on the mountains when the praise from the worship band was so amazing, Heaven came down, and the presence of God fell down. To the point at which the worship lead stopped singing and fell to his knees as I too stopped singing. There were no words that could describe His presence.

God was not any closer in that moment, than at the moment in the hospital as my own mother lay dying. He was there. With me. In the hills and in the valleys, -God Bless You- Nancy

Even though I walk

through the darkest valley,

I will fear no evil,

for you are with me;

your rod and your staff,

they comfort me.

You prepare a table before me

in the presence of my enemies.

You anoint my head with oil;

my cup overflows.

Surely your goodness and love will follow me

all the days of my life,

Psalm 23:4-6, NIV