I’ve reached a stalemate with my candle. It will no longer burn at both ends, no matter how much I push it. Perhaps age has something to do with it. It seems only months ago that I could string together endless nights of five and six hours of sleep to no significant consequence (or so I reasoned). Drink a little extra coffee, push a little harder, and I could keep on ticking. It’s not that I have an aversion to sleep. I actually love it! But the pile on my plate (many times self-stacked) and being married to a man with an opposite body clock seems to have locked me in a sleep-deprived season that has lasted more than fifteen years.
James is a night owl. I am a morning person. I say this with complete love, and he would agree, there is no hope for him to defect to daybreak. Several hours of wake time precedes any hope of a productive conversation with him. But catch him at night after he’s shifted from work-mode to husband- and daddy-mode, and you can ask for the moon. (Timing is everything around here.) If life didn’t dictate a semblance of normal hours, he would happily piddle until the wee hours of the morning.
In order to enjoy time with James at night and take advantage of my favorite early hours of the day, I have become slave to both circadian rhythms, getting up early and staying up late, squeezing out precious chunks of slumber in the process. The problem is, I just can’t do it anymore. My body has staged a protest and I don’t have the energy to fight it! Yet, I struggle with what to give up. How to make it work.
God answered this weekend with Psalm 127:1-2:
Unless the LORD builds the house, they labor in vain who build it; unless the LORD guards the city, the watchman stays awake in vain. It is vain for you to rise up early, to sit up late, to eat the bread of sorrows; for so He gives His beloved sleep.
Once again, a verse I’d read many times before leapt off the page and pierced my heart and understanding. I looked it up in the Greek and referenced my handy-dandy dictionary for a few words, and here’s what the verse means:
Unless the one true God establishes, rebuilds, and causes the home and household within to continue, efforts to establish, rebuild, and cause it to continue will be hard, exhausting, slow, difficult, and ultimately empty, worthless, and full of deception. Unless the one true God has charge of and watches over that place, the one in charge of watching and protecting stays alert to a pointless, meaningless end. Therefore, it is useless to make an early start and delay sleep, to devour and burn up the bread of pain, hurt, toil, sorrow, hardship, offense; for the one true God grants, consecrates, delivers, and produces sleep to His whom He loves very much.
The Lord spoke directly to my heart: “Shauna, if you are getting up early and staying up late, sacrificing sleep in the process, the things you are doing are not of Me. If it is of Me, you will have plenty of time during the day to do what is required for my purpose, and you will have plenty of time for sleep.”
Talk about convicting! If I continue to pursue my own agenda, to-do list, pleasures, and the like, it’s going to continue to be hard, and I’m going to continue to experience emptiness at the end of my exhausting days. Not that there aren’t times when an extra push might be needed, or sacrifice required, but as a rule, God used this verse to tell me that when I am about God’s business and allowing Him to guard over the things and people in my life, I can then spend my time on what He desires for me, and that will include plenty of rest.
As I evaluated my typical day and the things on which I spend my time, the things that get me up early and keep me up late, I saw through new lenses – truth lenses. Sacrificing sleep in order watch a television show with James is not God’s work for me, no matter how I justify it. Not that there’s anything wrong with enjoying some check-out time with my husband at the end of the day. But giving up sleep for it isn’t God’s wisest and best choice for me. Spending time on Pinterest or Facebook or otherwise wasting time on the internet to the delay of completing what truly is important in a timely manner so dinner and other evening activities can begin at an earlier more “normal” time is probably not God’s wisest and best choice for me. Exercising at 7:30 p.m. in order to satisfy my emotional compulsion and addiction to adrenalin, thereby pushing dinner to 9 p.m. and everything else later is likely not God’s wisest and best for me. Turning down a child’s request for bedtime reading because I’ve made poor choices during the day and have to spend that time accomplishing the “musts” before I go to bed is probably not God’s wisest and best for me or that child. Operating from a place of exhaustion, irritability, and glass-half-empty is probably not God’s wisest and best for me.
Funny how God’s timing works. I found myself sharing this with one of my kids today. I see so much alike in us – driven, achievement-oriented, quick to take on one too many things, and slow to let anything go. Worn out and exhausted, this child appears to be on a last leg and doesn’t know how to get off the wheel. As God shows me the err of my ways and the answer of His word, He is giving me opportunity in the midst of the lesson to learn alongside my kids. I find myself baring my struggles before them so they can see we wrestle with the same things, bringing me face-to-face with the fact that so much of what our kids learn from us doesn’t enter through their ears but their eyes.
God has spoken. They are watching. What will I do? Will I continue in the same habits, or will I conform to God’s perfect way for me – staying on His task and finding rest at the end of the day? Will I live before them with myself as almighty or Him?
“Lord, I want to live each day busy only with what is important to You, but how do I know what that is? Where the rubber meets the road – in the moments when I’m deciding where to commit my time, whether for five minutes or five hours – how do I know? Thank you for opening the eyes of my understanding when the choice is obvious. I worry, Lord, about the times when all the choices appear to be good but only one is Your best.”
Jesus said in Matthew 11:30, “For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.” If my efforts are hard, exhausting, slow, and difficult; if I’m feeling empty, and worthless, and I’m deceiving myself in order to justify what I’m doing, then perhaps my labor is not of God. This verse is a good litmus test. God’s work can be exhausting, but it’s usually invigorating at the same time. There’s peace, confidence, and restoration in the midst of it. A useful, virtuous, manageable burden. Light in weight. Not driven.
Discerning the difference is the key. The how is by the Spirit (see May 21’s blog, “Steward Well by Wind, Bit, and Lead”). Once again, there’s not a formula I can apply to guarantee my own success at following God. It’s the relationship. The constant dialogue with the one who knows all things, sees all things, and orders the steps of the righteous. A continual asking, seeking, and knocking. Living with ears wide open, heart’s antenna pointed to heaven. Loving Him through obedience.
Thank You, Lord, for always answering with Your word as we become more wholly Yours.