As mothers, a lot of our lives revolve around sleep. Sleep scheduling, not letting babies sleep too long without eating. Who is sleeping, who is not. Where someone is sleeping, where someone won’t sleep when you really wish they would. When you get to sleep, when you don’t get to sleep. Most days it feels like everyone, everywhere is sleeping at the exact wrong times, and you never get any sleep at all because of it.
Those of you reading this who still have littles are laughing because you know how true it is. You may even find yourself now clutching a mug of cold coffee in one hand, nursing a baby with the other, fending off a few children who are wrestling near you with your elbows, all the while attempting to create space in your heart for a moment of quiet. Your thoughts shift between few things: sleep, diapers, and food. As kids get older and hit the teenage and early adult years, I’ve heard parents say sleep will still be elusive because they will stay up all night, often wanting to share their hearts only after the sun goes down, and then spend half of the next day sleeping in. You, meanwhile, will still get up, throw in a load of laundry, cook breakfast, make a list of groceries needed for dinner, and head out the door to run your errands.
These are all good problems to have. I often say the best reason to be exhausted is because you’re raising a family. But there’s no reason to lie or feel embarrassed by the next few things I’m going to say. The sleeplessness does get old, especially after weeks and months of it. The emotions and hormones involved are real, especially during and directly after pregnancy. And yet the God who created our bodies this way looked at us and called our weak frames good.
I didn’t believe those last few statements for the first years I was a mom. Any hint of exhaustion was scoffed at as a sign of weakness. I believed the weight of the world was held up by my shoulders alone. I only had myself to depend on because nobody else could do things as well as I could. Rest was thought of as an inefficient, indulgent, and lazy way to spend time, a necessary evil only to be given in to as an absolute last resort. When you have this view of sleep, you think there is too much risk involved in taking a break. I had an unbalanced, ungodly, and sinful dependence on my prudence and my control that lead me to this place. The result was often frustration when my best-laid plans didn’t work out, grumpiness at all forms of life, and frequent discord in my marriage.
Then one day I heard Sally Clarkson say something I could hardly believe.
“Sometimes the most spiritual thing you can do as a mom is take a nap.”
Wait, what? Stubborn as I am about my strict schedule, I wasn’t sold at first. Not until she referenced Psalm 127. Verses one and two say, “Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labor in vain. Unless the Lord watches over the city, the watchman stays awake in vain. It is in vain that you rise up early and go late to rest, eating the bread of anxious toil; for he gives to his beloved sleep.”
As I listened to her talk about the help that God provides, his intimate knowledge of our weaknesses and need for rest, I realized that, sure, I was accomplishing a lot in regard to lists and projects in my life, but it was usually at the costly expense of the relationships closest to me, which meant my work was done in vain. I was rising up early, going to be late, checking things off the always-growing list, but all out of pride and a rejection of submitting to God’s care for me through one of life’s most basic necessities—rest. I was refusing to accept my creaturely status, instead grasping for all the responsibilities of a Creator.
So one day I decided to take a nap. I quite literally had to pray myself (and my kids!) to sleep. I remember praying things like, “Lord, I really don’t know how to nap, so I need you to help me! Please give the kids peace and let them be quiet! You are in control. I am not. You created me to need rest. I believe this is what it looks like for me to stop and worship you right now by declaring my dependence on you. Help me accomplish everything I need to do this afternoon, but only after I rest.”
As a grace, God let me take the first nap I had taken in a very long time. In the afternoon, God quietly reminded me about one of the overriding truths of the universe: that “in him all things hold together” (Colossians 1:17). In my sleeping and waking hours, in my diapering, meal planning, Lego building, froggy drawing, stroller pushing, grocery shopping, bathing, diapering, and caring for my bigs and littles, God holds all these things together. My ministry of motherhood rests on his completed work and the grace he provides to accomplish these good works, which he laid out in advance for me to walk in (Eph. 2:10).
When discussing the energy and faithfulness needed for the long-haul ministry of parenting, Isaiah 30:15 tells us that our strength comes from returning to God and finding rest and quietness in him. Let’s not be mothers who work as if it all depends on us, but who look to Christ who is able to generously supply for all of our needs (Phil. 4:19), and that includes the need for sleep. Mamas, practice returning to your first love by literally resting in God and taking a nap. We are certainly no better than Jesus, who was also able to place in faith in the Father and lay down with a pillow and rest in the midst of a storm (Mark 4). Use that as a biblical mandate to practice the pursuit of Christlikeness as you nap and trust in God even when the chaos of life fights for your immediate attention. Instead, may we do all things, sleeping included, to the glory of God.
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