My nights are often dark and lonely. Living with Bipolar II Disorder means I’m frequently up at night, whether that’s due to hypomania or due to the following lows of depression. The darkness seems to take away all my coping skills, including co-regulating with others. During daylight hours, I can ask my husband to help me calm down, or text a friend, or go out for coffee. But at night, one thing seems very clear – I am alone with my thoughts and a heightened nervous system.
In my study of the Psalms, some verses from Psalm 16 jumped off the page:
“I will bless the Lord who counsels me —
even at night when my thoughts trouble me.
I always let the Lord guide me.
Because he is at my right hand,
I will not be shaken.
Therefore my heart is glad
and my whole being rejoices;
my body also rests securely.”
— Psalms 16:7-9 (CSB)
Throughout the Psalm, we see David give us glimpses of his anxiety, asking God to be his refuge, and telling us he is up at night with troubled thoughts. But throughout, he puts this emphasis on his relationship with God and we catch a glimpse of someone who is fully dependent on God. He depends on his counsel, lets the Lord guide him, and his faith is not shaken because he firmly believes in the presence of God beside him at all times.
Therefore his heart is glad. His inner man is calmed and joyful. If that were all we were to see in this psalm, we would already have a master class in how to deal with dark and lonely nights with anxiety coursing through us. But David doesn’t stop there. He continues to say, “and my whole being rejoices; my body also rests securely.”
When those verses jumped out at me, it was that last phrase particularly, because my body was not resting securely. How could this be? Did David really find rest for his body? Did God really care about David’s body, his nervous system? What did that mean for me when I was lying awake at night, alone with my anxiety?
I started studying Psalm 16 and realized God cared about David’s inner AND outer man. Not only did God’s counsel calm David’s heart, but God’s literal presence beside David calmed his body. What David was experiencing was co-regulation with God himself. In the dark of the night, in the middle of his anxiety, his body found rest and security with God.
What an amazing thought – the God of the universe not only cares about how my body is feeling in the middle of the night, but he created me so that my body attunes to his presence. My nervous system is able to co-regulate with God’s presence. These few verses have made such a difference in my life. Every time I feel lonely or anxious or feel the darkness closing in, I remember that God is at my right hand, that he cares about my body, and that he wants to co-regulate me so that I can be at perfect rest, both in my inner and outer man.
The beauty of God’s design astounds me. He has created you and I so that even on the darkest of nights, even when no one is around and when we feel as though they wouldn’t understand even if they were, we are not truly alone. There is hope sitting right beside us. God’s presence calms our nervous system, we co-regulate with God himself, and we are able to deal with the anxiety coursing through us.
Hard to believe, maybe, but true. So the next time you find yourself alone, anxious, afraid, or dysregulated, return to the beauty of Psalm 16, calming both your inner and outer man. If it’s not you who is dysregulated, but you counsel others, studying through Psalm 16 will be a blessing to you both as you discover God’s design.
David continues on to say:
For you will not abandon me to Sheol;
you will not allow your faithful one to see decay.
You reveal the path of life to me;
in your presence is abundant joy;
at your right hand are eternal pleasures.
— Psalms 16:10-17:5 (CSB)
One day, I will sit beside the God who sat beside me in the dark. I will know face to face the God who designed me, comforted me, calmed me. That hope, that promise of eternal pleasures gets me through the dark nights here below. And that same promise is for you too. He will never abandon us, his presence is at our right hand, and there is abundant joy.
What implication does God’s presence have on your inner and outer man?
Practically, what are ways you can reach security in God’s presence?