My first baby was not a good sleeper. During some of her early weeks, we had sung Psalm 127 at church and it was going through my head during a particularly desperate night. I was pleading with God to help her fall back to sleep, on the basis of verse 2, “It is vain that you rise up early or go late to rest. . . for he gives to his beloved sleep.” I sympathized with that vanity. I felt like I agreed so much with the psalmist that surely God would give me a good night’s sleep.
But then I kept singing the Psalm in my mind.
“Behold, children are a heritage from the Lord, the fruit of the womb a reward.”
Before, I never understood this abrupt change of subjects. But then, at that moment, I had a great epiphany. Indulge me in some parental midrash:
“… for he gives to his beloved sleep.
Here the psalmist, “Solomon” according to the superscription, perhaps hears the cry of his child (or several, it being Solomon, after all). He cynically thinks to himself, ‘unless you have children. Then you never get sleep.’ But with more consideration, he has a change of heart and with heart full and heavy eyelids, he exclaims:
“Behold, children are a heritage from the Lord, the fruit of the womb a reward!”
This is how I am consoling myself in the middle of the night, when both my newborn and my toddler (who is, of course, in a sleep regression) wake up. The Lord gives to his beloved sleep, but he also gives to his beloved children and, for a while at least, those two gifts just aren’t compatible.
And then (permit your sleep-deprived author an indirectly related thought), I’ve also been asking myself: is there so much difference between the bells of a monastery and the cries of my children, waking me to love, faithfulness and joy during inconvenient hours?
This thought stems from reading The Rule of Saint Benedict and also this beautiful reflection from First Things on similarities between the vows of marriage and monasticism. The whole post is quotable, but the following is particularly applicable here:
“. . .both are constant promises, daily, hourly, minutely, as it were; it’s not like you swear a vow once, in public, wearing gleaming shining clothes, and then you’re set for life; it doesn’t work that way. Every day you have to walk into the thicket of your promise again, looking for a clear path forward through the muddle. It’s more work than anyone lets on.”
Part of the work of my marriage has been motherhood. And lately, going to sleep at night, not knowing what those hours will bring, can be a treacherous “walk into the thicket of [my] promise.” But, I know right now that this is, in fact, my vocation. While I may not feel these hours to be particularly “divine,” I can own them as my “homely hours.” May I be faithful to hear the bells of Matins, Lauds, and Prime in the cries of my children and awake to my night vigil with love and prayer.
And, may I be able to declare with gratitude “Children are a heritage from the Lord,” even in the middle of the night, even when it most likely means that I will not receive the gift of sleep for the foreseeable future.
[Photo credit: Patient Care Technician]