Since becoming a mom, “sleep” has not been my BFF. My first-born, Hudson, didn’t sleep through the night until he was 15 months old. At that point, I was in my 2nd trimester with Cooper, who didn’t sleep through the night until he was 20 months old. At which point, I was in my 2nd trimester with twins. Now that they’re 3 months old, you can guess how hard it can be to get any sleep while nursing two babies through the night. So far, my years of mommy-hood have been a time of delirium and coffee-addiction.
If you’re anything like me, you may have spent many nights crying out to God that your babies would fall back to sleep. My husband and I have tried everything. Books, videos, crying-it-out, Ferberizing, occupational therapy, keeping the baby on a schedule, keeping the baby off a schedule, using a weighted blanket, swinging before bed, praying over the kids’ rooms, and anything else we could think of. Still, they didn’t want to sleep. Take last night, for example. I counted 31 times that I awoke to put a pacifier in little Knox’s mouth (afraid that his wailing would wake up his twin sister). I also nursed them each three times (that’s 6 nursing sessions, if you count both babies). So many times, I have gotten offended at God over this silly, yet crucial issue: SLEEP! Over the years of sleep deprivation, I’ve begun to grow tired of finding the TV remote in the refrigerator, mistaking my earrings for car keys, and completely forgetting my children’s names and birthdates (yes, that happens daily). Each night, I could feel the brain cells in my head slowly dying with each hour of nighttime wakefulness.
But, this morning, as I guzzled my 4th cup of coffee, I recalled an incident that gave me a little perspective on this whole sleep issue (or lack there of).
A few years ago, my husband and I made the long trip from Northern California to Texas with our 8 month old and 2 year old. This trip included waking them up at 3:00am, driving 2.5 hours to the airport, taking several flights (including a horrendous lay-over in which we almost lost Hudson about 6 times, as he’d repeatedly wiggle his hand from mine and take off down the crowded airport hallway), rocked a crying baby to sleep for an hour on the plane (yes, we were THAT family), and finally made it to Texas at 10:00pm. We had a wonderful visit with family, but I caught a nasty cold in the process. Meanwhile, little Cooper (8 months old) couldn’t seem to adapt to his new surroundings and would wake up 6 or more times each night. Not wanting to wake the house full of relatives, I would nurse him each time he awakened, just to try to get him to fall back to sleep. As every mom knows, I couldn’t just take a sick day. It didn’t matter that I felt like a family of bees had taken up residence in my face, like I’d swallowed a set of Cutco knives, and that I was sweating like a wrestler and freezing like a popsicle. I had a crying baby to tend to. So, I was awake all night.
One night, I’d nursed Cooper many times through the night, rocked him, sung to him (though I could barely make a sound due to the aforementioned knives in my throat), and swung him in my arms until they’d lost all sensation, and yet, he still wouldn’t fall back to sleep. All night, I prayed and prayed. At 6:00 AM, Cooper was awake again.
“Please, God.” I begged. “If you love me at all, you will help Cooper go back to sleep. I am sick, tired, and angry after a long night of trying to console my child back to sleep.”
Cooper stirred again.
Maybe I’m being too selfish. Let me try this. “God, you know, it’s actually best for Cooper if he gets a good night’s sleep. His poor little body needs rest. Please make him fall asleep.”
Cooper started to whimper.
Hmmm….ok, I will quote a scripture. “He gives sleep to his beloved,” Psalm 127:2. “You love me, right, God? Now give me some sleep!”
Now, Cooper was full-on crying.
I started whipping out every tool I had in my belt. I made declarations and blessed his spirit. I released peace and grace over him and over the room he was sleeping in.
Cooper was now wailing.
It was way too early. I had a fever and had barely slept, but I knew I’d better get him up, or else I’d wake the whole house. In a near-rage, I sat on my sister-in-law’s couch, silently yelling at God. “I don’t understand. Why didn’t you listen to my prayers? Don’t you care about me at all?” And, for the rest of the day, I was mad. Worse than that, after years of praying for my kids to fall asleep, and yet I remained sleep-deprived, I was disappointed in God.
That night, as I nursed Cooper and put him down in his crib, crossing my fingers that he’d stay asleep for at least a few hours, I angrily asked God again why he’d forsaken me the night before. The Bible says ask and you shall receive, seek and you shall find, and yet all my asking and seeking were in vain, it seemed.
This is the point in the old cartoons when the character who’d challenged God would be struck by lightning or fall through a gigantic cavern as the earth opened up and swallowed her. But, God’s mercy always amazes me. He gently spoke to angry little me and said, “Did you ask me why Cooper didn’t sleep last night?” It took me off-guard. Interestingly, in all of my praying, declaring, scripture quoting, and begging, I’d failed to ask God why my little guy wasn’t sleeping. Again, I heard the gentle voice of God say, “It’s because he has a free-will. Just as I don’t force you to do anything, I don’t force him to do anything either.”
I was instantly convicted. God had given little Cooper, though only 8 months old, a free-will. All this time, I’d blamed God for not making my kids fall asleep, but I’d forgotten a fundamental characteristic about God. He doesn’t force us to do anything. That’s not the way true love works. If my husband had tried to “make” me marry him, I’d have run a million miles away, wanting nothing to do with him. Conversely, I’d feel no pleasure from my kids’ hugs and kisses if I forced them to show me affection. Love without choice is not real love.
I’ve tried so often to control what my kids do. I think, “If only they’d do this_____, they’d be so much better off. But it doesn’t take long to realize that you really can’t force anyone to do anything, whether it benefits them or not. Take the sleeping thing for example. Try as I may, I can’t make my kids sleep through the night, just as I can’t make them grow teeth or hair.
Think of how much easier it would’ve been on God if he’d forced Eve not to eat the apple in the Garden of Eden. Sin never would’ve entered the world. No one would’ve known famine, loss, murder, anger, destruction, or any other evils. But, God didn’t do it that way. He valued freedom and free-will so much that he allowed Eve to make the biggest mistake of all time. Freedom didn’t scare God. Mistakes didn’t scare God. Sin and all manner of evil didn’t scare God. He had another trick up his sleeve—redemption.
When I beg God to “make” my kids do something, or when I’m frustrated at them for not making the best choice, I guess I’m missing the whole point. Just as God celebrates my freedom to make decisions, I want to celebrate my kids’ wills. I want to celebrate their differences and the fact that they are passionate about things (even if their passions make me deliriously tired). Don’t I want my kids to learn to think creatively and independently—so that they can eventually make decisions without my help? I guess God knows what he’s doing with this whole free-will thing. And, after all, with the hope of ultimate redemption, what am I so afraid of?
So for now, drinking 4 cups of coffee a day seems like a small price to pay in exchange for the greater good—raising kids who know the freedom that God has intended for them to walk in. Not trying to control them. Not getting offended at God when my kids don’t do exactly what I think they should do. Not getting scared when they exercise their free-will, which is actually one of the greatest gifts that God has given them.
Thank God for freedom—and that I’m free to get another cup of coffee right now. Oops. That makes 5 cups today. But, right or wrong, drinking that much caffeine is my decision. And I celebrate it. Yum.