Written by Hannah Stanley of Vancouver, BC
The longest night of my life did not belong to me.
Hour by hour, the time that passed was borrowed – I did not possess a single moment. It was stolen by a woman I had met earlier that morning, marked by an encounter of hushed confession:
“My-my husband…he beats two of my children and me. The youngest he will not touch, but…I fear for her as she grows older.”
I had met her in the middle of a crowded room, in the Middle East on the border of a war zone, full of men, women and children clutching torn papers with faded photos of their identification. From the moment she walked in the room I was drawn to her – I do not say that as a cliché. My spirit literally felt pulled in by her beautiful, confident demeanour. Her eyes had a light of unspeakable strength in them, as she balanced two of her young children on her hips and chased the third.
It was a friendship formed by the hours of waiting we settled into, as families were called up name by name to register themselves under refugee status, and seek help from the church I was volunteering with. A brief, yet deep bond strung together across language barriers and cultural differences, by tea with copious amounts of sugar heaped into styrofoam cups.
I spent the longest night of my life praying on my knees alongside the greatest Advocate we will ever know.
We conversed as much as our broken translation would allow us. I asked about her children and her husband, who at the time was sitting in the street gambling and smoking with other men who had also lost not only their professions, but every possession they owned during their journeys across the border.
He doesn’t sleep. He cannot. He has nightmares of the bombs, of the grenade that blew up my brother.
I’m no psychologist, but piecing together the details of her family’s recent trauma, it sounded as if he was suffering from severe post-traumatic stress, and a deep sense of hopelessness in a situation he had no control over. And so, his violence became his control – his fist became his voice. Silent tears streamed down her face as she attempted to describe their marriage and home environment. She told me she hadn’t slept for weeks either, because at night she feared for her life – that was when he was angriest (and probably the most fearful and vulnerable, as well).
Later, after feeble attempts at comforting her and assuring her that she was always safe with us, I promised her I would pray for her specifically that night, that she would experience deep rest in the midst of her situation. The remainder of the day passed, each hour scheduled and full of work for my team and me. That night, I clearly remember every other person in the room falling asleep immediately. I lay wide awake, more alone than ever. There are few things more frustrating than an unnecessary visit of insomnia, especially in such a physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually testing environment. I was overwhelmed and needed all the sleep I could get in order to function. Hours passed, each more frustrating than the next. I was in physical pain at this point, my body completely drained of strength. I was restless, on my knees, rocking back and forth.
In the midst of my tired tears and desperate requests for sleep, I felt my heart suddenly stop, and lean into a still small voice I had grown to recognize:
“Hannah, I’m with you. The sleep you were supposed to have, I’ve given to her. You are my daughter, as is she. This is sacrifice; this is love. Take these precious hours to pray for her and her family, and intercede on their behalf. I promise you, I will be your strength tomorrow.”
Assurance flooded my heart and calmed my spirit. God, all-knowing and ever-present, heard my prayers for that woman, and granted them by his grace. I truly believe he took the sweet, easy sleep I was expecting that night and gave it to her, willingly. I believe with my whole heart that she slept soundly that night.
I had asked God to pour my life out as an offering, and he heard. I asked him to give her rest and peace in her own home, and this, though not at all what I anticipated, was how Jesus answered. He gifted me with time set aside with him, for her sake. Jesus blessed me with the opportunity to empty myself for someone else, to teach me love as sacrifice, simply because he did the same for me.
I spent the longest night of my life praying on my knees alongside the greatest Advocate we will ever know, and this is what he taught me:
The heart of the intercessor cries aloud, and in the spirit.
We can truly be called and feel compelled to pray without ceasing, entrusted with divine secrets and prophecies of old. We can be enabled to capture fleeting moments with the pleading of our lips and the requests of our soul. We can be woken from sleep to fall to our knees, caught between two realities, and stand firmly in the gap, moving the heart of heaven with every word, erasing the distance between earth and her Maker.