This is a guest post by Abigail Dodds.
I’m sleep deprived. You probably are, too.
I’m sleep deprived because we have a four-year-old son who struggles with sleep due to disability. You might be sleep deprived because of an infant or a toddler or a teenager or hormone problems or anxiety or never-ending piles of work or too many Netflix binges.
Having spent a large portion of my adult life with less sleep than is advisable (did I mention we have four children older than the one with special needs?), I feel like I might be edging closer to having something concrete to say about it. I’ve heard all the admonitions about how we’re not God and how sleeping is recognizing our dependence on him. I couldn’t agree more. I agree with my whole heart, even as I beg God to allow me the privilege of those precious hours of dependence each night. But sometimes he says no to the sleep we long for and he asks us to depend on him in a different way.
I’m not an expert in anything, but I am intimately acquainted with the in’s and out’s of being awake when most everyone else is sleeping. I know how to get out of bed so that the bed doesn’t move. I know how to shuffle through a room in pitch black darkness so as to protect my feet from stray toys. I know how to change a diaper with no lights on and how to straighten the pillow and covers to perfect alignment by the measuring them with my hands. I know how to clean up throw up and change my son’s clothes in my figurative slumber. I know how to strip sheets and lay down towels in the wee hours. I know how to sing over unrelenting crying, fussing, and thrashing in the dark. And I know how to put my head on the pillow and pray and pray and pray that we would all stay asleep until the light comes. I know how to tell my middle-of-the-night thoughts and doubts and accusations to shut up. And I know the necessity of opening and reading my Bible app until my soul is quiet.
I know a lot about making it through the night when there isn’t enough sleep.
But what I don’t know nearly as much about is how to make it through the day after a night without much sleep. Considering that this is a constant part of my life, you’d think I’d have accumulated a bigger list of “I knows”—perhaps one that matched the one above. But that’s just the problem—I’ve accumulated a list of “I don’t knows.”
I don’t know how to tear myself out of bed when it’s been a place of wakefulness rather than rest for eight hours. I don’t know how to decide if a shower is a good idea or not. I don’t know how to stop drinking coffee. I don’t know if the clothes I wore yesterday (and the day before) are ok to wear again or whether I should exert the mental energy to find something different. I don’t know if I should be finding something other than cereal for my kids to eat in the morning because I’m too tired to think through breakfast options. I don’t know if I should be cleaning more. I don’t know if I’m being a good enough friend to my friends or neighbor to my neighbors. I just know I’m tired.
But, finally, after all these years, I can add an “I know” to the list of daytime “I don’t know’s” other than “I know I’m tired.” Are you ready for it?
I know that kindness is possible even when coherence is not. God wants me to spend each day being kind despite the tiredness, despite all the “I don’t know’s.” He doesn’t need me to be smart or to make sense.
That realization has been a long time coming. I’ve spent a lot of time spinning my wheels trying to make my mind put clear and rational thoughts together despite a lack of sleep. I’ve justified irritability while trying to avoid derangement. But God doesn’t require that of me. He’s not counting on me to overcome the physically and mentally impossible by sheer will and caffeine. But a heart that responds with kindness is something he gives to his children and that I can lay hold of, hard as it may be at times, with little sleep.
So from one expert of sleep deprivation to another: stop trying to be brilliant in the midst of brain compromise. Turn your limited focus to kindness. Ask God to make his fruit overflow at all times and in all circumstances, so that we can say with Paul that we know how to be brought low and how to abound, in little sleep and much, and it’s not by negating all the effects of sleeplessness. It’s by being content in him and slogging through the fog with kindness.