What We Have Left Undone: God’s Grace in Exhaustion

Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. 
For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.
Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. – Hebrews 4:14-16
 coffee cup 1
(It took me four months to write this post, during which time I fell asleep at my computer five different times.) 
My new baby is six months old. He and I are still getting a lot of quality time together after the sun goes down, and without fail there is always something happening with the dog or my toddler on his better nights. (One time he slept seven hours, but Aaron was out of town so I had to respond when the dog threw up on the carpet and my daughter woke up screaming about her incoming teeth twice. This is just how it goes sometimes.) This is a tough thing to talk about. We learned quickly last year, even with our “good” sleeper, that mentioning a bad night in the wrong company could lead to an awkward well-intentioned lecture about parenting philosophy, because if you had read the enlightening book they loved your baby would be sleeping already. People just want to be helpful, and there really is supposed to be a lot you can do to help your baby figure out sleeping, but receiving sleep evangelism is not helpful when all you want is a fist bump …and maybe an extra cup of coffee.  However, I have also read all the books with all the different theories and have concluded two things: First – they were written about other babies, not this one. Second – there are gifts latent even in long seasons of flat-out exhaustion.

The Bible offers me some mixed messages about sleep. God causes people to sleep, like in Genesis 15 when Abraham fell asleep and was under deep and terrible darkness. Wisdom literature indicates sometimes people who sleep are lazy, and sometimes they are receiving a gift. In the gospels falling asleep is almost always a picture of a person’s spiritual state, like when the disciples fall asleep in the garden instead of praying for Jesus, and the apostles urge readers to stay awake (spiritually) instead of falling asleep. Sleep covers a lot of ground in scripture, and I have tried to pull these different things together into some cohesive theological point I could hang on to here. Maybe it’s there, but I’m too tired to figure it out right now.

It seems like my life would be easier if I did not need to sleep. Really, as much as I want to blame this all on sin, scripture mentions rest occurring prior to the fall. God called darkness “evening” and the coming of light “morning” from the very start. He worked for six days and rested on the seventh. He even caused Adam to fall into a deep sleep to remove a rib and create Eve. (Supposedly prostitution is the oldest profession, but I see scripture clearly pointing to anesthesiology for that honor.) These things all happened before sin entered the picture, and I’m struggling to figure out how something that was designed in perfection -my physical need for sleep- can seem like such a crutch.

After every long day of loving my very small children in my dated house-that-still-doesn’t-feel-like-a-home, with unanswered emails, ignored blog, unread books, disorganized basement, and unexercised body, I set up my coffee maker to brew at 6:00 am and groan quietly while walking down the half-painted hallway to collapse in my bed: think of how much I could accomplish in the next few hours if I didn’t need to sleep!  The insomnia I experienced after my miscarriages was similarly exhausting and paralyzing, but this has been longer and more intense, and it’s teaching me that I have a really bad attitude about my own need for sleep. In a stage of life that seems full of limitations, I am annoyed (no, I am offended) that my day wraps up with another reminder of things-I-can’t-do. I believe, secretly, that I will find peace to comfort me through the significant daily demands of my so-small children if I can type out the thoughts in my head, or paint the walls of my living room, or maybe even just get the house clean.

I have always had a lot more ideas than time, but even though the current imbalance feels suffocatingly huge, I’m hardly the first stay-at-home mom to articulate that my life is full of big responsibilities with very little immediate “accomplishment.” As I face the end of each exhausted day with the alarming sense that THERE IS STILL A LOT THAT DIDN’T HAPPEN, I keep thinking about the opening worship litany from the Book of Common Prayer:

“Most merciful God,
we confess that we have sinned against thee
in thought, word, and deed,
by what we have done,
and by what we have left undone.
We have not loved thee with our whole heart;
we have not loved our neighbors as ourselves.
We are truly sorry and we earnestly repent…

This same grace is what I need when there is too much to-do-list left at the end of my evening. Though the things I’m not doing are not generally in the category of sin by omission, they can be offered to the Lord with the same humility of this prayer. My inability to accomplish what I want, whether because I set something aside in order to sleep or because I cannot focus well enough when I have time, reveals more and more of my need for God. His grace faithfully offers solace to the burden of unfinished projects I have surrendered for the sake of caring for my family.
When exhaustion prevents me from accomplishing tasks of any size, from installing curtain rods to remembering where I left my keys, my comfort is that Jesus fully sympathizes with my weakness and graciously provides his mercy over all of the many, many needs I deal with – for the kids, and for me.
…For the sake of thy Son Jesus Christ,
have mercy on us and forgive us;
that we may delight in thy will,
and walk in thy ways,
to the glory of thy Name. Amen.”
(I would also like to mention that our out-of-context theme verse for this year is 1 Thessalonians 5:6: “So let us not sleep as others do, but let us stay awake.” )

7 thoughts on “What We Have Left Undone: God’s Grace in Exhaustion

  1. Fist bump! Coffee! All the cheering!
    Seán pulled a very mean trick when he was an infant. From about six weeks to four months old, he slept eleven hours straight through every night. Then, for the next year (basically), he woke up to nurse four or five times through the night (plus every two hours during the day).
    I thought I was going to die.
    My point is: you are not alone. You can do it. And it will end.
    (And just on the off-hand it doesn’t by the time Thomas is fifteen months old, I’ll write you another note telling you the same thing….)

  2. Love this, Abby! Very timely for me with two tots! I completely understand the frustration with undone projects and ideas, and the belief that if I could just get sleep/quiet/2 minutes alone then my situation would change. If we still lived in the same city I would make you a double-shot cinnamon latte with extra whip, and we could sit in my messy living room with our non-sleeping kiddos and be puffy-eyed together. Also, I’ve been incorporating the confession prayer in my devos, so I LOVED seeing it show up here. So cool when the Spirit converges like that! 🙂

  3. Pingback: 2016 wrap up (& what I read) | abby hummel

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