I haven’t had more than a six-hour stretch of sleep in almost five months (potentially longer with pregnancy’s frequent middle of the night bathroom breaks). The six-hour stretch has only happened twice that I can remember; mostly they come in three-hour increments.*
And with all the lack of shuteye, it’s quite like God to teach such a sleep-deprived mama about the deeper reality to which sleep points: rest.
Being a mom changes a person in ways she never could have expected. Whereas once I had the (gracious) ability to hit the pillow and be asleep within five minutes, I find it much more difficult to go to sleep these days. Something about functioning as a sustainer of a small human being has done this to me.
Ironically, I find myself ready to go to sleep around 8pm (though I’ve always been considered a bit of a grandma when it comes to bedtime, it was never this early!). And sleep I may need, but without rest, sleep has no power to restore the soul.
In this season of new motherhood, God has graciously shown me a bit more about rest, both through relationship with my daughter and through His gentle exposing of my heart.
When I use the term rest, I use it as a concept much bigger than the physical act of sleeping. Though I believe sleep to be a part of this, Biblically, rest involves both the body and the heart.
So whether you're a new mom or not, I pray the Lord would use something here to make His invitation to rest in your current season of life deeply appealing.
1. Rest requires humility.
When we lie down, whether we consciously acknowledge this or not (and it would be better if we did), we are enacting this truth: we are not God.
As I lay down for a nap the other day (a nap in and of itself is an act of humility for me; I can count on one hand the number of naps I took before Harper was born), God seemed as if He were pressing this truth deeper in me. The very fact of lying prostrate signals to us our finiteness. The world marches on without us, not waiting until we open our eyes to continue its agenda.
With high-tech monitors, ample online reading material, and the luxury of highly involved, ultra-caring, tell-all babysitters (read: grandmothers), the idea that we can be all-knowing doesn't seem all that impossible.
Many a time, my desire to know comes cloaked in good intentions. I want to know how best to shepherd my baby. I want to know what makes her upset and what helps her express herself. I want to know how her time was spent when I was away, and I want to know all the potential ways I can help her when things get challenging.
I believe all of these things are good and full of grace from the Lord that I care and am concerned for my baby's well-being. But when I find it impossible to fall asleep or be away because I need to know the status of my baby, I have fallen prey to the temptation that rest is found in omniscience.
And because I am not God, omniscience (the quality of being all-knowing) will always be out of reach.
Jesus invites us to come to Him for rest, to take His yoke upon us. This yoking is an act of submission, an act of casting off our resistance to authority and humbly being led by the gentle King. Humility reminds me that only God is and can be acquainted with all her ways (Psalm 139) and that ultimately because He is, she is in much better care than I could ever provide with all the knowledge I could acquire.
(super thankful for Hannah Anderson's book, Humble Roots)
2. Rest calls for an active faith.
It’s hard to separate the two. Humility enacts faith, and faith feeds humility; they are never fully expressed without the other.
But even with that caveat, I will make a small nuance of what the Lord has shown me in this season about how rest requires active faith.
The spectrum is wide with temptation:
On one end, anxiety rules us, and the only way we can silence the never-ending thoughts of our minds is to chase its agenda, block it out, or check out with whatever we believe will bring us rest.
And on the other, the idea of a nap hovers in our minds with visions of how much better we'd be if only we could get that nap, because after all we deserve it for all our middle of the night faithfulness (see what I mean about not being able to get away from humility).
But rather than live at the extremes of "I can't rest at all" or "I love rest too much," faith calls us to the middle ground. To rest is to actively bring our cares and concerns to the altar of God, to repent of trying to be Him, and to grow more in intimacy with Him and in awe of His character. To rest is to seek wisdom, not fixes. To rest is to desire God-ordained good, not perfection. To rest is to become poor in spirit, to ask for help, strength, and bread to sustain us for this day, and to trust that His power brings life when we lay ours down.
3. Rest is a gift.
And still, most of us know this scenario all too well. We lie down to sleep, feeling it a desperate need with all the lack of it, and thirty minutes, forty-five, an hour later, we have found sleep to be elusive and the back of our eyelids a closer friend than before.
The ache of restlessness tells us that sleep is not the water that will satisfy our thirsty souls.
Rest that cures the ache of restlessness comes from the rest-Giver. Rest is an invitation to be received. And if one is to receive rest, she must rid herself of what hinders receiving: a subtle pride. So the first two points connect deeply to this one and when rest feels distant, I must repent and return to the One who tells me to come.
4. Rest is something to be cultivated.
I’ve had the privilege of shepherding several women in engaging the concept of Biblical rest and how it changes the way we live as a whole. (I loved learning about Sabbath from a doctor who when faced with the problem of evil, read all the major sacred texts of the world, including the Bible, and became a Christian over the age of 40. Check out his ministry here.)
In our sin nature, we resist the rest we were made for. We look for counterfeits in the form of escape, indulgence, and the pursuit of ways to preserve our life (in the way that Biblically is not commended, as opposed to losing our life/laying it down).
So if something doesn't come naturally to us, baby steps are in order. As Harper progresses from lying still to moving her limbs to rolling on her side to…well you get the idea. No growth happens overnight; it happens little by little. Learning to rest well is a process, and it's a process so that we don't miss the joy of knowing Jesus, the Securer of our Sabbath rest, in the midst of it.
Babies love routine (so I read:)), and thankfully, I do, too. As I establish rhythms of play, learning, engaging/interacting, I also work to create rhythms that soothe, cleanse, and quiet. These rhythms prepare her to rest well and rest better than the times we stay out too long, leaving her overstimulated and in full on tears on the way to nap time. In both cases she needs rest, and both scenarios are a part of life (that's why my last point can't be overstated), but rest prepared for and intentionally cultivated typically makes a deeper impact than trying to operate as an on/off switch.
5. Rest is a desperate need for the state of the heart.
Few realities of God have comforted me more in this season of motherhood and all of its newness than these:
I know, and I am with you.
More than any other season in my life, I realize how out of control I am. Though I can follow a book, make wise decisions, and genuinely try to do what is best for my daughter, I simply cannot control what happens in her life. Early on, I found myself fretting after every nap with this question, "Why is she waking up early?" For a while, I gave myself over to this concern, but at some point in my quest, God graciously gave me pause. He gently pressed me with this truth: "What if you considered that I know when she lies down and when she wakes? That I ordain those times for her good and your sanctification?" Humbled, my heart repented of seeking to find rest in a controlled environment and set of circumstances.
And my heart must repent time and time again when things get beyond my façade of control.
When my dog tries to open the door with his head where she's sleeping in search of his ball.
When my husband wants to go out to eat after church.
When moments of ministry require additional sacrifice and extend longer than I anticipated.
When I feel myself growing tense, it's here that God is teaching me more about rest of the heart. I have the option to sin against Him with frustration, despair, anxiety, or bitterness. I can pretend to let go of my plans when inside I'm recounting the ways things could have gone better. I can pretend to be fine when things turn out to be harder that day, likely due to the changes, but inside I'm full of pride, blaming another for "messing up" the ideal day.
Or I have the opportunity to receive the King's invitation to surrender and allow God to be God in that place.
I have the opportunity to release my grip on what I think will bring peace and comfort and humbly choose to engage the circumstances He's ordained for me to receive more of His Kingship in my life and less of mine.
Because by taking matters into my own hands, the life and security that I deeply long for will always be beyond my grasp. But when the King reigns in my heart, rest becomes the state from which everything else flows.
So when my dog hits the door, I comfort my crying baby and trust that God knew this would happen and is with me now to supply me with the additional strength I need to press on.
And when my husband wants to eat out during "nap time," I surrender and let my husband lead, and I trust that God knows and stands ready to supply me with grace and patience when I humble myself before Him.
And when ministry requires more of my time and investment, I remember my King's sacrifice and patience, and I praise Him that I get to appreciate more of these qualities of His, and I plead for His eyes and heart so that I don't miss an opportunity to love well and make much of Him.
And when anything else "interrupts" my intended plans, I lift up my eyes and seek to discover more of the God who tells me these truths: I know and I am with you. For it's in living in these truths I remember who I am because of who He is, and my heart finds the grace it needs to rest.
And I believe the ribbon that ties them all together is grace.
As I calm her cries with a slow walk and gentle song, I think about how all these things work together through grace. Humility bids her to submit to my authority as I submit to His. Faith compels me to put my hope not in my wisdom-led, cultivating efforts to soothe her, but in God's will for this moment. So if He wills that she does rest, I respond with gratitude for this gift. And during it all, I surrender, receiving rest of heart - believing He knows and is with me - so that I don't miss an opportunity to hear His voice, receive His peace, comfort, and joy, and know Him more.
grace & peace,
(*a lot of this content came in the throes of sleep training, and I am thrilled to report that I have since gotten my first 8 hour stretch of sleep!!! God is gracious!!)