The Gift of Sleeplessness

Waking up in the middle of the night bothers me. I don’t like to be awake when the rest of the world is covered under the nest and shadow of the dark, tucked into blankets, heads imprinted on pillows, warm bodies pressed together in the most perfect peace of the day. When I wake up I feel like I’m cheating, like I’m seeing a part of life and the world that no one is meant to see.

When I lie there, in the dark, I feel the worries my body knows instinctively to let go of while I sleep pile up again. They flutter around me, and I need to sift through each one before I can surrender again to the lull of the night. That’s when the questions come, that’s when I worry about the future, about the past, about my soul and the souls of people I love. Why would God create someone to send them to destruction? Did I say the wrong thing to that person today? Who have I hurt this week? How are we supposed to forgive when we are hurt? My daughter is growing. How is she growing? What will she become? What will all of us become? Can we trust a God who created darkness?

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Does any new mother get enough sleep? I’ve wondered why, when our bodies seem to desperately need it most, we are denied precious, uninterrupted sleep. The early stage of motherhood was a blur of three hour sleep cycles, of never having enough and also having abundantly more than I could have imagined. It was frustration, fury, wonder, and awe in the same breath for this baby I grew but did not yet know. I had my baby in the middle of October, right before that long stretch of winter, when it gets dark so early and for so long. Those nights had moments of peace as I held those little hands and nursed, but mostly, the nights were a strange mix of extreme loneliness and wanting desperately to be alone in my own bed, to not be awake with the worries and wonders of motherhood pressing heavily on my heart while my colicky baby cried against the quiet of the dark. I learned every creak in my floor as I paced and bounced, swayed by my questions, my insecurities, my fear of the unknown, and the love I tried endlessly to cultivate.

“On my bed I remember you; I think of you through the watches of the night,” (Psalm 63:6). Is there any cry closer to the heart of a new mother? As I rocked my baby through the hallways, while the world around me slept, I repeated this verse. I both craved sleep and was afraid of it, because I knew it would catapult me through time, into the future I could not control or predict. I began to think if I could just blow my worries to the side a little bit, I’d see behind them the God who is not linear, who never slumbers or sleep, who holds all my days and nights in his hand. I began to think the way I hold my baby is the way I’m held. I’d never drop my baby, no matter what she asked. He’ll never drop me, even in my questions and worries. Through every dark hour, I’m held.

Meditating on these truths, I finally saw this wakefulness as something of a gift. I held my baby close and through her cries, I rocked her and lifted up my own griefs to God. When she was inconsolable, I bounced and nursed and cast my own anxieties and fears on the God who cares for me.[1] I took every worry about my own inability as a mother to love and protect my child and lifted them, each waking hour, to the God who taught us to address him as Father. I believe, looking back at those nights, that my baby and I were tucked safely into the love of the everlasting arms.

Maybe God gave me and every mother this worry and wakefulness to teach us to meditate. Maybe, without it, we would never come to love the verses in the rich thin pages of our Bibles. Maybe God gives mothers wakefulness and worry to teach us to surrender. Maybe he wakes us up, again and again through the night, to remind us that he cares for us, that he nurtures and gently leads those who have young. Maybe he’s giving us time, in the quiet of the night, to sift through our fears and hand them back to him, to let him rock us as we rock our babies, to teach us that we are vessels. Maybe he allows us to “cheat,” to watch our husbands and other children sleep in perfect peace because it’s a small taste of whole, complete peace to come. Maybe all of this is designed to make us love him more.  

Maybe one day, we’ll find out that this wakefulness was a greatest treasure.

  1. 1 Peter 5:7


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Rachael is a wife, mother, writer, and florist living in Central Pennsylvania. Her first book, Anxiety Interrupted: Invite God’s Peace into Your Questions, Doubts, and Fears (2019, New Hope), is about life's questions that don't have answers. Her work has appeared in The Gospel Coalition, Relevant Magazine, and Mothers Always Write. She blogs regularly on her own website, rachaeldymski.com.