Thursday, July 21, 2016

Offering Up Sleep Deprivation: Finding a Tired Spirituality

I often think back to before I became a mother. And then I laugh really hard. I assumed so many things, one of which was that my children would inevitably sleep. My imaginary, angelic children would sleep soundly while I would accomplish all the chores, make a healthy dinner, exercise, pray, and improve my mind, probably bring in a lot of money by freelancing. As it turns out, sleep is not really my kids' favorite activity. I'm not looking for advice, but more to share about the struggles of sleepless parenthood from a spiritual perspective. 'Cause the struggle is real.

Something I did not realize about sleep deprivation is that how much energy it can take to focus on one thing. I often feel scattered, unable to focus, and fall asleep praying. So how is a tired mama (or papa) supposed to pray, to transcend the ordinary and find God in the sleeplessness? 

Offer up sleep deprivation as a sacrifice: 
Apparently many cradle Catholics grew up with an understand of redemptive suffering and being told to "offer up" various discomforts and problems. As a covert, it took several years for me to figure out how to offer up anything (and if this is something you're unfamiliar with I highly suggest this Catholic Mom article). I have since found peace and even joy in offering up physical pain and illness as a prayer. However, it was only four and half years into parenting (I know, I know, I'm dense. The Lord is also rolling His eyes) that I suddenly realized that sleep deprivation can be a form of redemptive suffering. Not only can I take care of my children's emotional and physical needs in the middle of the night, but I can offer up my suffering for their spiritual needs. I can also sing a hymn as they go to sleep or mumble a prayer if I'm awake enough.

Sleep Deprivation is a type of Suffering:
At first, I was very hesitant to call sleep deprivation suffering; that recognition was reserved only for serious problems, pain, and illnesses. This perspective led me to not give myself much grace throughout the day because what was I caterwauling about? Only a little lost sleep. I wondered how other people managed to focus or get anything done in life while I was really struggling. Then I learned that sleep deprivation is sometimes used as a form of torture. I realized that I was not being humble or realistic about my limitations. Humility is not a self-righteous, resentful martyrdom. True humility is the right understanding of self and God and how two are in relation. By acknowledging my personal challenge of sleeplessness, I was becoming more humble and living more truthfully. I like sleep, my kids don't, and I'm learning to live with that. I also realized that nighttime parenting is actually a gift of self, another type of laying down our lives for the sake of our child. 

Sleeplessness as a Prayer for Our Children:
Right after Jesus' instituted the Eucharist, he went out the garden to pray all night. The sacrificial passion of our Lord started in sleeplessness. His ultimate gift of self started with a sleepless night. I like to imagine that the  Blessed Mother also knows something of sleeplessness whether from Jesus' night waking as a child or when he was lost in Jerusalem. Our Heavenly Father sees our parenting and our offerings of a the difficulty parts and can use those prayers to help our children's spiritual lives. Just as we try to give our infants the best nutrition and care during those early days of their lives, we can offer up our parenting challenges as fodder for their spiritual lives.

Offering Up Nighttime Parenting:
This can be as simple as glancing upwards and breathing a wordless prayer of offering. Sometimes when you're so tired, there are not words left. Sometimes I end up mumbling "Hail Mary, full of grace... Hail Mary full of grace" unable to finish a single prayer. That's okay too. Or you can say something like the following:

"Lord, I offer you this sleepless night. I offer up my exhaustion. I offer myself as a watchman before dawn (Psalm 130:6), comforting and loving this little soul in the darkness. I offer my ineptitude tomorrow as I stumble through the day. I rely on you to give me the grace I need for the daylight and nighttime hours. I stand on your promise "My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness." (1 Corinthians 12:9) May my children see your love in me even when I feel I have nothing left to give."

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