(This article was rewritten after the birth of our last baby.)
If you are one of those blessed women who are “allowed” to sleep through the night with nary a break in your restful repose, feel free to skip this article. This is addressed to those poor brave souls (I count myself among them) who are awakened night after night, several times a night. We sleep in fits and starts, suffering from sleeplessness, but not by choice. We walk about in a fog, cobwebs collecting in the corners of our brains. We often act silly, incoherent. Our brains, our bodies, our being, crave sleep – unbroken sleep. Amen.
I can probably count on two hands the number of nights I have slept all the way through the night – unbroken – in the last 25 years (which marks the advent of my childbearing years). Yet, we have to be mentally competent, savvy, and sharp to deal with the education of our children! Lord, help us! I invite you now to walk with me as I re-live my journey from fatigue to strength in the intervening sleepless years.
When my first son was born, I was in for a terrible shock. Did you know babies don’t sleep through the night? This may sound incredibly naive, but I didn’t know that. My son only slept about 3 hours his first night home, bless his heart. I thought something was wrong with him. I called the doctor first thing in the morning and told him that the baby was up all night. The doctor said, “And, you called because….”
Twent-five years later, the pattern continues. I didn’t take it very well the first year. Thank God I wasn’t homeschooling anyone then. The first thing I did each morning was serve Dale (my husband) a litany for breakfast of exactly how many times the baby woke, when he woke up, and how long he stayed awake. Complain, complain, complain, ad nauseum. I was sincerely exhausted, which in turn contributed to my grumpiness and chronic complaints.
After two years of this struggle, son number two was born. Here we go again. The difference was that I was sick and tired of always being sick and tired. I decided to force myself to go through one day without once complaining aboout anything sleep-related. I also would not allow myself to act grumpy. Surprisingly, I carried it off rather well, and I liked myself a lot better at the end of the day. God was teaching me something. His Word says, “He has given me a garment of praise in place of a spirit of heaviness (Is. 61:3).”
As the years progressed and our number of children increased, the problem continued. I had improved my outer attitude, but my inner heart was focused on sleep. I was determined to get the sleep I needed. I’d let my children cry for an hour or longer to force them to sleep through the night. We disciplined them. I nursed them. I didn’t nurse them. We gave them Glo Worms and lullaby tapes, and scripture tapes. We prayed over them. We rocked them. Dale took his turn. We put them in beds together. We put them in separate beds. We put them in our bed. We put them on the floor next to our bed. We read books. We did everything humanly possible to induce unbroken sleep, but it is the nature of babies to wake up. It is the nature of toddlers to wake up occasionally. It is the nature of young children to have to go potty in the middle of the night. It is the nature of kids to have nightmares. It is the nature of little ones to want their mommy and daddy when it is dark. But what about me and my needs?
Well, I’m learning not to ask God for His opinion unless I really want it. First of all, where in God’s Word does it say that we need seven or eight hours of sleep? That is something we are told by science and health professionals: “In order for you to stay in optimum health and to retain full mental capacities, your body needs 7-8 hours of sleep per night.” However, they’ve forgotten to consider God’s Word on the matter. God’s Word does not reflect current research findings. God’s Word says, “Come to me all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:28-30) And: “My presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.” (Exodus 33:14)
Isn’t that interesting? Still, God’s idea of rest (for 3 hours) wasn’t exactly my idea of rest! You see, I had made my need for sleep into an idol. I needed it. I wanted it. I craved it. I couldn’t be happy without it. I couldn’t do God’s will without it, because I was too tired. Sleeplessness became my justification for all my character imperfections and laziness. Ha!
The truth is there are two opposing realities: our circumstance and God’s Word. The way we walk will be determined by where we choose to place our faith, hope, and focus (Phil. 4:8; Isaiah 30:15). I can choose to focus on the reality of my sleep deprivation and allow the reality of my fatigue to define me, while ignoring the reality of God’s strength and grace, or I can choose to focus on the reality of God’s abundant strength that is lavished on His children, and relegate fatigue to the background. God’s strength should define me rather than my weakness – and then God is glorified.
God also taught me that being tired is not necessarily synonymous with being grouchy. It is possible to be physically tired, yet to still be in a good mood. The Bible doesn’t say “the fruit of a good night’s sleep is love, joy, peace…patience.” The Bible doesn’t make exceptions: “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace…patience – unless, of course, you are a mother with a non-sleeping child, in which case this Scripture does not apply.” As you all know, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace..patience (Gal. 5:22-23), regardless of our circumstance.
God is also teaching me that He gives me all that I need, for He is Jehovah Jireh (Gen. 22:14; Phil. 4:19). If He hasn’t given it to me, then I don’t need it (unless I’ve convinced myself that I do need it). If I need it, He’ll give it to me. And if I truly believe that, I’ll live my days accordingly.
God is showing me that I am supposed to rely on His strength. The weaker I am, the stronger He will be (2 cor. 12:10), unless my weakness totally robs me of all christian virtue. After all, hasn’t He chosen the weak things of this world (like moms who haven’t gotten a full night sleep in 365 days X 20 years = 7,300 days) to confound the wise? How many times have I confounded “the wise” just by standing there, competently homeschooling my 9 children, with my blood-shot eyes being the only indication of the previous sleepless night. “How do you do it?” the ‘wise’ exclaim. “Easy,” I reply. “Let the weak say ‘I am strong…in the strength of the Lord.’” (Joel 3:10,16) This is not a reflection of my “holiness” and competency, b
ut rather a reflection of His mercy and grace. If I wait on Him, He will give me the strength I need to get victoriously through my day (Is. 40:31), and He is glorified.
It’s not like God is deliberately making life rough. Life is rough. But God teaches us how to live victoriously within the parameters of a fallen world. He teaches us minute-by-minute, night-by-sleepless-night, that all we really need is Him.