Spiritualizing the Night

I’ve talked before about how night time parenting is a particularly hard challenge for me. It seems no matter how long I do it, I will never quite get used to snapping out of deep sleep and being able to be a nice person right away. But recently I’ve noticed a change in my patience levels during these night time escapades.

I have 2 high needs babies in a row. Ms Drama and Ms Pooky are the sort of babies who have always been restless sleepers, and often need to be comforted by mom. If they had a rough day, if they didn’t eat well, if they aren’t feeling too good, etc. Chances are they will wake up at least once during the night.

Back when I was a full-blown Christian, I used to believe that I needed to rely on God for everything. God had the answers for every situation, no matter how trivial. The whole point of life was to try and honour and glorify God in every situation. So waking in the middle of the night? Another opportunity to bring glory to God.

When one of the babies would wake up, first I would pray for them, rebuking Satan and any nightmares he might have sent to my child. I would pace the floor with the baby, rock them, give snacks or nurse, and when they could not settle down, my frustration level would rise. I’ve gotten better at keeping it under control since I quit spanking and forced myself to approach parenting more gently, but inside I would still be seething.

So I would pray to God, “God please give this child peace, so they can go back to sleep. Please give me patience so that I don’t lose it.” And I would get even more frustrated. Where the heck was God? This kid wasn’t relaxing at all, in fact they were getting even worse! Why wasn’t God at least granting me some level of peace so I could survive through this night. Maybe I wasn’t praying the right way, or maybe I didn’t have enough faith. Maybe God was displeased with me and refused to listen to someone he wasn’t happy with. Wait a minute, why did I have the gall to think that my sleep patterns mattered to God? People are starving and dying all over the world, how dare I ask for sleep! I was a sick spoiled woman and I deserved to be ignored! All my uncertainty about God would start to boil to the surface, and I would end up angrier than ever. Even after the baby went back to bed, I would be unable to relax enough to find sleep again. And if I did, it would be just in time to be woken up again with a different (or perhaps the same) baby. Sometimes I would fall into a fitful sleep, but all the God questions swirling in my head would turn into nightmares.

I still hate waking up at night, and I still have babies who wake me up regularly (I was up 3 times with a toddler last night, in addition to nursing my angelic 3 month old) but something has changed. I am no longer looking to a God to do my job. I had this baby, and my baby needs me. If there is no Satan attacking me, and no God ignoring me, then all I’ve got is me. My baby isn’t a spiritual test. My sleepless night is not an opportunity to glorify God. If there is no God who is going to magically calm my restless baby, then I am all this baby has. My baby has needs that are just as real as my own. Right now they look to me to fill those needs, and teach them how to fill their own needs. And eventually this baby will sleep through the night, and they won’t need me to wake up with them anymore. When they finally settle down, I can go back to my own bed and fall asleep, instead of being consumed with worries about my belief or lack of belief in God. Even my nightmares about God have diminished.

Since I’ve given myself a break from trying to believe in God, I am a better night time parent.


I’m linking up with Amber at Making the Moments Count. Today she is talking about nightime parenting.

  • http://www.liberatedfamily.com Rebekah

    Wow, this makes a really, really great point. That's so true – relying on God to do your job for you. Well said. I never thought of it like that before. That's some nourishing food for thought.

  • http://grace-filled.net jen

    my prayer with daniel was usually "God, bless this child and help him get to sleep… PLEASENOW!!!!!"

  • Anonymous

    It's true . . . there is much about parenting that is a "just do it" kind of responsibility. But that prayer you uttered in former days gave me goosebumps — it seemed to reflect much more about how your parents treated you (and how you therefore viewed God), than much about who God actually is. It makes me so sad to hear about the ways you were parented . . . and see the ripple effect it has on how you see God.

    I think you're doing an extraordinary job as a mother, especially considering the way you were raised. I hope that someday, just as your views of parenting have changed, your ideas about God will also experience a shift. "Gentle" is a word that I hope will enter your spiritual life, just as it has entered your parenting life.

  • http://www.janetoberholtzer.com Janet Oberholtzer

    Wise, wise woman!

    I had a similar experience as I recovered from major injuries from an accident. My beliefs at the time tended to lean towards believing that the accident was part of God's plan for my life.

    I would pray for strength, healing, less pain, etc. and then stress about my belief/faith or lack thereof when I still lived with severe chronic pain, limitations and a deformed leg. Obviously, I had some deep serious spiritual issues! I ended up depressed (and ready to kill myself) due to the conflict between my spiritual life and my reality.

    Once I stopped spiritualizing everything and instead looked at the accident as an accident … simply that, no divine being caused it to happen. And my pain/limitations were simply a result of my injuries … that's all. They weren't to teach me, train me, discipline me, etc. I quit waiting for a 'magical' recovery … instead I did what I could to live with my new normal … therapy, exercise, more surgeries, counseling, eating well, etc … and surprise! my depression lessen.

    While I'm still disappointed with the limitations and deformed leg I will always live with … I again enjoy life … simple because I can!

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/09586721197750246060 Lara

    This is exactly what started messing with my faith too. I always believed that God would show up when we most needed him. Well I most needed him when my sleep had been interrupted so many times that I literally couldn't get up for my crying baby or would be angry at my sick daughter for coughing too long. And I would just pray and pray and pray…and nothing. I used to believe in total self-sacrifice for the good of others and God would bless that.
    But I got to the point of so much sleep deprivation that I was going crazy. Literally should have gone on anti-depressants and anti-anxiety meds. I started breaking things in my home. Luckily i still hung on to enough sanity to not hurt my children physically. But at some point I realized no one was coming to my aid. I needed to deal with this myself and I started caring for me. I'm more selfish now. Especially in my relationship with my husband, but I'm kinder, more patient, more present for my children. And though I still have some healing to do I'm well.
    But what does that say about God? At the very least, you're right. I have to do my job myself. I'm still kinda mad about that.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/17825458003284098965 Scott Morizot

    I remember the days with my youngest daughter. She didn't like to sleep too long at once, and for a long time, she got her days and nights reversed. When she woke up, she normally just wanted to comfort, but if my wife picked her up she would decide you wanted to eat. Then she would spit up (she leaked at both ends for some months). And we had other kids, of course, and tons that had to be done. So we split the load (and exhaustion). A lot of the times, especially when we knew she wasn't hungry, I would take her into the living room and sing to her while we gently danced until she went back to sleep.

    I miss the baby sometimes, but I don't miss the months-long utter exhaustion at all.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/03792937108732259684 priest’s wife

    Sleep is in short commodity here, too!

    Are you going to blog a bit about being a pastor's wife who doesn't believe in God- it is probably too personal to write about- but it would be interesting to read about the dynamics and how family life works when he is always in church.

  • Middle Aged Mom

    I don't comment often but I am tracking with you on almost every post, Young Mom. I am nearly two decades older than you are and yet going through very similar thoughts and feelings. You are wise beyond your years.

    This post expressed so well the freedom that I, too, have felt since coming to the conclusion that God is not doing anything to me. He is not moving in mysterious ways or wondrous ways or scheming about how to wring glory for himself through every situation. I still believe that God is; that is, God is there, God exists but I don't believe that God acts. I don't have to be angry or disappointed with God, either, since God is not "doing" anything.

    I have a question for you or commenters. How do you respond now to people who tell you that God is acting in their own lives in ways that they are sure bring glory to Himself? (The bringing -glory- to- Himself theme could be a post series unto itself.) I had this happen the other day when a friend told me that God had caused her house to finally sell and caused a third party to decide to sell a house both in the same week and now she is moving to her dream house. It could ONLY have been orchestrated by God for the sake of his glory. I think my response was an open- mouthed stare. Does anyone know how to more meaningfully engage with others on this topic? I want to connect, not repel….

  • Anonymous

    "If there is no Satan attacking me, and no God ignoring me, then all I’ve got is me. My baby isn’t a spiritual test. My sleepless night is not an opportunity to glorify God."

    Sounds like you have made a very important realization..I don't know how else to explain my feelings except to ask how can you see God if the only thing you see is God. Perspective is a good thing and now you have one.

    Love your posts thank you for teaching me so much in so little.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/07676507138237490522 Musical Atheist

    I've just discovered your blog, and have spent several hours reading your archive. I'm very moved by the compassion and thoughtfulness you show, particularly in your ability to recognise and leave behind the abusive parenting styles that you experienced. I'm really enjoying reading your thoughts, and will be a regular reader from now on!

    Both my parents, my father especially were into gentle parenting – I was smacked by my mother possibly as many as three times before the age of 6 (through my clothes, not very hard) for doing something not just 'naughty' but seriously dangerous, and not stopping when urgently requested. I was never spanked. I want to tell you one example of my father's parenting:

    When I was very small, I wanted to touch a lightbulb, because it was bright and shiny. My father picked me up, held me, and carefully held my hand near enough to feel a bit of heat, but not near enough to be in any danger of being burnt. After a while, I realised the heat was uncomfortable and took my hand away. My father said 'hot'. After that, I knew what 'hot' meant, and knew how to avoid things that might cause pain or discomfort. I love my father so much for this – he respected my natural curiosity, kept me safe, and taught me what I needed to know, in the simplest and most practical way. I was a very obedient child, and needed little discipline, because my parents respected me so much, that they gave no arbitrary rules – all discipline was for a clear purpose that I could make sense of. In fact I was so obedient and had so much trust in the love and rightness of my parents, that it was almost a social handicap I had to make a real effort to get over later on…!

    The only time I remember getting a smack, my clearest memory is going up to my mother at the sink washing dishes, pulling down my pants to show her the red mark, and saying solemnly 'you shouldn't have done that'. She was still angry, but said 'maybe I shouldn't'. I don't think I ever got smacked again. I think my mother wrestled with her frustration at having feared for my safety, the difficulties of learning how to be a parent, and the realisation of the effect that future smacks might have on me now I was old enough to understand concepts such as violence, and decided she wouldn't do it again. I think I was so lucky in my parents, and I think your children are too. It's not about getting everything right along the way, it's about having the love, courage and honesty to think about how your actions affect them , and being willing to change your mind if necessary. Respect to you and other mothers like you.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/07676507138237490522 Musical Atheist

    One more thing: I used to work as a Learning Support Assistant in special needs schools, where we worked with children some of whom had serious behavioural problems. One technique we were taught was always to praise or censure the behaviour, not the child. For instance – 'good sitting', 'good listening' etc, rather than 'good girl'. That way it makes it clear that you're not pronouncing a value judgement on the child, but recognising a specific achievement, or the development of a skill. I just wanted to throw that into the mix!

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/17871256362646081536 Amber

    I would love to sit down with you over coffee/tea and muffins. I have had so many similar experiences that reading this gives me goose bumps. Little Andrew and Emily would wake up every 2 hours until they were 9 months–then it was once or twice a night. I remember rocking them and, like you, praying to God for them to sleep. My prayers would go something like this: "Please, God, I need them to sleep. I am an awful mom and wife when I am exhausted. I can't fully focus on the kids, etc. Please help them to sleep." The thing is, it never worked. Never. I would push the doubts away, like you, and attribute it to my obvious flaws.

    I am so very sorry you have such little sleep. I know you love your babies, and I know you take care of them in an excellent manner, but it is so stinking hard to not have regular sleep!

    I promise that if I were closer, I would take your kids for you so you could take a nap. Every day. I would gladly do so, not because God has asked me to, but because I want to be a good friend and help those who really need it.

    (Sorry I didn't get to this earlier! Yesterday was…not the best day.)

  • Anonymous

    Middle Aged Mom,
    I love this issue that you've raised! Gah!! I have a very visceral reaction to those words, because mostly they're used only when "good" things happen. Very few of us say our psoraisis will surely bring glory to God . . . ;)

    I don't really know what to say in response to those kinds of comments either.

    I do know an amazing woman whose bouts with cancer and death has actually brought glory to God . . . and taught me and others how to live. But she never trumpeted about how it was going to do so. She just quietly went about her business, playing piano at church through chemo, being her usual funny, sarcastic self, raising her two children, and looking forward to either living longer here or being in heaven. The not hyper-spiritualizing brought MORE glory to God.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/02159246741231420036 BethBird

    I can totally relate to all you wrote here. Just the other day, I was asking God to PLEASE calm my kid down in a store, since the child was having a tantrum.

    I think your observation that YOU have a job to do, rather than God, is wise. Still, I don't think it means there is an absence of God.

    I, too, would like to see a post about the wife of a preacher who has moved? (I didn't realize?) to atheism. Actually, the atheism thing is news to me-is it for real or something you're toying with or is more of a God-is-distant thing?

    I believe our spiritual struggles DIRECTLY mirror our relationships with parents. I know mine do, for sure. I could see how you might feel parent-less.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/13761954687722403122 LLMom

    When I would wake for the millionth time in a night with a little one, I would try to do so as loving as possible, but it was hard many times. I look at it a bit different. When I am doing something loving for my child, I am loving Jesus. I see serving them as serving Him, not something mean He is doing to me or not helping me. I have one dc who is my "Jesus in a difficult disguise." I failed miserably at being loving and patient many-a-times. Having parented 7 children through night time waking, I feel like a stronger person. Difficulties make us stronger and I think that is why we go through them. I also want to mention this (because I have seen it happen a lot) to be careful not to swing widely to the other side. What I mean is we need to find balance (and that may be different for everyone). Some people who either we raised in a strict enviornment or imposed it on their family, decide it was horrible so they became super lenient and become mommy martyrs. This can lead to resentment for some. There are militant, legalists on both sides (Christian and secular) that can be hurtful. Not saying you (or any commenters) are this way, but it does happen.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05354424704358588553 lissla lissar

    I remember lots of frantic praying that my kids would sleep. it was mostly with my older one. Didn't help until I stopped being afraid to try different sleep solutions and waiting for God to miraculously change my kids.

    I think you're right, although I haven't moved towards atheism- I think I had a realisation that this is my job, and I'm not ever going to be surrounded by an audience applauding my heroic efforts at diaper-changing and nightwaking. It's not punishment, and there aren't going to be any fireworks beyond having children who grow up knowing that they're loved. That's enough.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/06374573594800663980 Kacie

    Interesting. I've never been the "rebuking evil" type, it was just more charismatic than I was brought up, I suppose. But regardless, my response to nighttime wakings is usually an episode of mamma guilt. "So many moms and the Pediatrician said he should be sleeping through the night and I should let him cry it out, am I a bad momma because I just picked him up? Should I put him down and let him cry?" That's what swirls around my head.


  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/11912871083984693597 kristen

    I just start reading your blog. I believe in God, I just do not believe that he is manipulating our every move. I believe that God is more concerned with our hearts and doesn't really care if we are tired, or need a parking space, or are sick. That said, I went through years of infertility and the fact that I didn't believe God was punishing me, or that I wasn't spiritual enough, or that He didn't want me to have children is what got me through it. I had a medical problem, sought the help that I needed, was patient and dilligent and now I have two beautiful children.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05598890631695015818 Pippi

    I guess I never actually posted the comment I had in my head the other day, lol. I never went through the struggle with God and parenting because I had already done it with God and why things happened in Mark's childhood. But the emotions when I did were similar. I struggled with my duty as a wife to be there for him, my utter helplessness to actually alleviate his distress, emotionally or physically, and my inability to reconcile his experiences with the doctrines I had been taught. Coming from a world where everything that happened was supposed to be a direct blessing or punishment for an act one committed, I had to question everything, because it is simply not possible to believe that a toddler can sin enough to deserve being violently sexually abused for years.
    It took me only a short time to decide God wasn't the one who made that happen. But it took years to accept that it wasn't my God-given duty to fix it.

  • Anonymous

    Interesting post… I am not an atheist but a Catholic-Christian. I have been having interrupted sleep for 10 yrs-and 7 kids. BOTH my husband and I would love to actually SLEEP and not be woken up but that is not how God deems it so. If God made you and me, which HE did. GOd will also give the graces to get through whatever He wills. He allows things to happen, not just makes them happen. You feel so far from Him, and do not understand Him, but I bet He is carrying you through your pain and your fears and uncertainties and waiting for you to return. IF you were dying and only had a few mins to live, you tell me that you would NOT pray? That you would not wonder if there is a God? I bet you would! :)
    GO check out this blog I just read:
    God bless you. I will pray for you and your family.

  • http://www.flatheadmama.blogspot.com Rebecca

    I wonder if there isn't room for a both/and? I find that in those times when I am exhausted as a parent, I turn to God in faith to give me the strength to do MY job in the midst of exhaustion. Sometimes it's just one moment at a time…just give me the grace for this moment. I find that calming and quieting my heart before God is not a matter of trying to find a miraculous way to get out of this horrible moment (although it doesn't hurt to ask!) but a matter of asking God to help me learn to RESPOND better in the midst of the horrible moment. Personally, I find those times drive me closer to God in a way I wouldn't be without them. A recent toddler tantrum in the midst of a time of absolute exhaustion left me in tears and in that moment, I turned to God. He didn't change my toddler. He changed me in that moment.

  • Cherí

    Excellent points, loved this post! I've been thinking about something very similar lately. When people rely on God for strength, and say that they have received strength from God to get through some trial, how do they know the strength is from God? Just because they think they don't possess the strength to deal with something doesn't mean that it actually isn't there. There are things I don't think I'm strong enough to deal with, but if I have to I will (or I'll have an emotional breakdown, which also can happen to people who rely on God). When it comes to dealing with tough things in our lives, I'm more inclined to believe that what some people call "God" others call "inner strength." The result seems to be the same…a bolstering of courage and fortitude. Who am I to say that someone can't find strength in God? Who is that person to say I can't find strength without God? My mother and I are both dealing with difficult things in our lives. She finds comfort in believing that God is in control of everything and gives her strength. I find comfort in the reliability of my own tendency toward human resilience. I think being able to name our experiences for ourselves, instead of having someone tell us who or what gives us the strength to endure, is part of the beauty of living.

  • Emily

    I loved this blog post. This is such a perfect example of why Christians magical thinking about God will always ultimately fail. You have to really shut off your brain to buy this kind of crap. It's exhausting to even think that God is a magician you have to appease and there's this nasty character you have to keep rebuking all the time, much less try to deal with it WHILE taking care of a child in the middle of the night.

    As a devout Catholic who does believe in God (and the devil for that matter), I have to say that this "God" and this "Satan" you talk about are just silly nonsense not worth wasting your time on. I'm terribly saddened by incredible amount of Christian magical thinking I see. When I listen to or read different Christians and atheists speak or write, I 90% agree with the atheists. The Christians just sound nuts to me. I can't believe in that God either. I thank God for option C ;)

  • http://articles.earthlingshandbook.org ‘Becca

    You are very right that the way you were thinking about God in this situation was working against you! I'm glad you've realized it and changed your approach.

    When my son was a baby and shrieking in the middle of the night, I began to understand how it is that some people end up throwing a baby at a wall. I was determined NOT to hurt him. I felt that God supported me, but ultimately the choice was mine to stick to. I often thought of these two verses from a hymn:

    When through fiery trials thy pathway shall lie,
    My grace, all-sufficient, shall be thy supply.
    The flame shall not hurt thee; I only design
    Thy dross to consume and thy gold to refine.
    This soul that on Jesus hath learned to repose
    I will not, I will not desert to its foes.
    That soul, though all hell may endeavor to shake,
    I will not, I will not, I will not forsake.

    I guess I've never believed that God allows bad things to happen only to bad people, more that God's job is to give us experiences from which we can learn and grow. I have tried the "please make my problem stop now" prayers during a migraine, and I've found that my pain always gets WORSE when I do; I figure that doesn't mean God doesn't love me but means that this type of prayer is not the right approach. "Please help me see what I need to do next" works a whole lot better.

  • http://joysthoughtsonstuff.wordpress.com Joy F

    Good thoughts.

    I hit bottom in my faith about six years ago. In retrospect, I think it was the best thing for it – I needed to hit bottom so I could make a clean sweep and start rebuilding. It's really painful to walk through though.

    Sometimes, I still wonder – but now I think that's okay. The God I came know at the bottom of the hole was your #3, not #4 and I don't believe he was worried at all about my lack of faith. There is never an easy answer to, why? But it does tear apart the easy answers. Which is good – the pat, formulaic answers of any faith answer nothing.

    I don't think doubt ever entirely goes away either. I still wonder sometimes – maybe it's all just a fairy tale. I realized after reading through Job though he wasn't who I thought he was – the guy was questioning everything. If someone in the church was asking those same questions today, they would get chastised for their lack of faith.

    We treat the questions as the enemy a lot in Christianity. But the questions are part of what makes us who we are. Its in the process of asking that we grow. As Steve Jobs said "Stay hungry." I think the danger comes not when we ask, but when we stop and think we have all the answers.

  • Vieve

    I remember hearing on Ethan when you ask God for patience, He gives you difficulties that try ( and build) your patience. believe me, i have hesitated to ask for patience since then!

    i think it is hard in any given moment to know what God is doing or intending for you. a lot of times that is a matter for hindsight. its also why it is so important to be guided by principles rather than feelings. My example would be that i was absolutely convinced that havong kids would be a miserable experiences, and also that i should be getting my Master's. yet, through a series of poor choices i wound up as a pregnant, unmarried graduate student wondering why God was doing this to me. nine months later i was happily married, and more content as a mother than i had ever been before. A rare time of being able to see what God had in mind for me. And how many people get lost in their feelings and reject the very painful gifts from God that eventually make me happier. Not that feelings aren't important, but they are not our only faculty for making decisions.

    While i continue to complain at Him mightily, I try to let God be bigger than me, and not stress too much about why He's not doing what i told Him i wanted Him to do. I don't intent to preach at you at all, but I hope that taking a step back from worrying and scrutinizing God's every possible signal will allow you one day to let God be God, and you be you with trust in both yourself and Him.