the theology of tired (and a prayer for the sleep-deprived)

I am tired.

I am tired all the time. I’m tired of talking about how tired I am.

I know I knew tired before I had kids – tired from college, tired from work, tired from grad school.

But since 2009 I have been weary to my bones. This is the happy side effect of answered prayers and three growing children.

My husband and I joke that we could sleep for a decade and still be sleep-deprived. This would probably be scientifically true if I did the math. But you know. Too tired.

Sometimes tired feels like a character flaw. Take better care of yourself! Go to bed earlier! 

Sometimes tired feels like an inner critic. Stop complaining. Everyone’s exhausted. Move on.

But tired is the plain fact of my life. The contours of kids and work and home and every other devotion and demand to which I give my days and nights.

I love it all, but I am tired.

After a week where we tried to go to bed early every night – tried but got tied up with work again, caught up with chores again, tripped up by something hilarious on the Internet again – I’m hiding out during my children’s nap/rest time. Trying to think theologically about tired.

(Which is hard when we stayed up till midnight and then woke at dawn. Again.)

Tired is the antithesis of Sabbath. Since we’re supposed to be Sabbath people, am I failing by being tired? Maybe.

Tired is the cry to God throughout Scripture. The weary words of the people wandering too long, the Psalmist stuck in the pit. Is tired simply supposed to spur me back to God, swap whatever burden I’m dragging for the lighter yoke? Perhaps.

But here’s where I get stuck. Setting aside sleeplessness that’s stubborn or selfish, there’s a certain segment of sleep deprivation that cannot be removed. It is the side effect of sacrifice.

And I see it all around me – parents with young kids, parents with teenagers, adult caregivers for aging parents, students working toward degrees, professionals caring for those they serve.

I’m starting to think we’re Sabbath people who are meant to be tired, too.

(My six year-old just interrupted to ask if rest was done. The irony is not lost on me.)

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Vocations are tiring things. They wake us in the night. They pull us out of bed in the morning. They keep us working.

So if we are called, then we will grow tired along the way. We haven’t failed. We have given a fully faithful and perfectly human response. We have given ourselves, body and soul.

Children are stirring. Dinner is unmade. Four Word documents are still open.

I will be tired again tonight.

But setting aside a moment’s complaints and an afternoon’s acedia, I am deeply grateful for the bone-tired of my life. I’m called to love. And love is tiring.

A simple prayer for the sleep-deprived

God, I am tired.

Give me rest. Give me peace when there is not enough rest.

Grant me patience. Grant me forgiveness when there is not enough patience.

Lend me clarity. Lend me charity when there is not enough clarity.

Help me love. Help me believe there is always enough love.

Amen.

And let us not grow weary of doing good,
for in due season we will reap,
if we do not give up.
(Galatians 6:9)

5 thoughts on “the theology of tired (and a prayer for the sleep-deprived)

  1. I am reading this after spending pretty much all night (one nap) sitting criss-cross applesauce on the floor of the church nursery scrubbing toddler sticky and dust off all the toys. There is this existential moment when, at 1:15 AM, you find yourself sitting on the floor…scrubbing a grubby “Chicken Dance Elmo”…listening to a modern version of a Fanny Crosby standard… What. Am. I. Doing. With. My. Life.

    My day job is taking care of an adorable 18 month-old, and my nights and weekends as church sexton at my church.

    I “get” the theology of tiredness as sacrifice. I live in that place.

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