Sleep. Beautiful, blissful, blessed sleep. How I love it so . . . how I miss it so! Homer tells us that “the gift of sleep” is “sweet” and that sleep will “speedily free [us] from toilsome weariness.” Jeremiah says “. . . my sleep was pleasant to me.” (Jer 31, 26.) Mine was, too, back in the days B.C. (“Before Children”).
We big people love sleep; we can’t get enough of it. Our problem is trying to wake up in the morning. We want to keep on sleeping and sleeping. There was a guy in college who just couldn’t wake up. He set an alarm in vain. He would routinely turn off his alarm without ever waking up. And he slept in a loft. In his sleep he would climb down, turn off the alarm, and climb back into bed. He had to start putting his alarm in the corner on the other side of the room, and array an obstacle course between his bed and the clock. He blocked the path with his bike, a skateboard, a basketball, golf clubs, etc., and at the end of this trail of perils he put his laundry basket over the alarm clock. All in the hopes that he would wake up in the process of negotiating his way through these hazards (hopefully without breaking a leg). It still didn’t work all the time. One morning I heard him yelling, but not from banging his shins. He had dreamed that he was defusing a bomb. The good news was that in his dream he successfully averted an explosion. The bad news was that he successfully defused his alarm clock and overslept a class.
Our daughter was born eight months ago and I can count the number of times I’ve slept through the night since then: once. I know, because my wife won’t let me forget. I woke up in the morning after that one blissful night of uninterrupted slumber feeling refreshed, with a sparkle in my eye and a spring in my step.
“That was amazing,” I told my wife. “Liz slept all night without waking up.”
My wife looked at me through bleary, blood-shot eyes and answered: “No, you slept all night without waking up.”
Sorry, Honey. But it was nice.
Most nights I feel like my sister Rachel did back when we were kids. One night, when she was seven, Rachel walked into the room shared by my brothers John and Mark. John and Mark were 17 and 16 at the time, and they were blaring rock music and lifting weights at 1 a.m. (who doesn’t want to lift weights to loud rock music at 1 a.m.?). I was there, too, because of course as a little brother I thought John and Mark were about as cool as you could get (and they are, really).
Rachel walked in and asked: “Could you turn the music up please?”
John paused with a barbell half-hoisted.
“What?” he asked. “You want me to turn it up?”
“Yeah,” Rachel said sweetly in a sleepy little voice. “I don’t think they can hear it in Japan yet.”
Well, our daughter must be on the road to being as cool as John and Mark, because she thinks the wee small hours of the night are a great time to be up and active. I think that as a new parent, that is the hardest thing of all: getting up at 1 am . . . and 3 am . . . and 5 am. Then pacing the floor in the dark, hour after hour, trying to induce somnolence in our progeny.
Mornings after a night like that are brutal. First, there’s no respite the next day. The world doesn’t stop or give you a pass because you have kids (and therefore don’t sleep). All the normal day-to-day demands are still there. You’ve got to get up and get to work, you’ve got to feed Liz when she wakes up, etc. Plus, everything takes so much more effort when you’re exhausted. Moving through the day is like trying to run underwater: everything is twice as hard, but for all the effort you’re moving in slow motion. Your office mate tells a joke, and its ten minutes later before you finally get it and start laughing while sitting alone in your cube. And those morning meetings are perilous. You hope the boss doesn’t turn the lights down for a power point presentation, for fear you’ll break up the meeting with your snoring.
I know Jesus tells us we have to sacrifice for others: “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. He who loves his life loses it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.” (Jn 12, 24-25). I don’t want to be alone. I’m glad that I have my wife and child, and I know I’m blessed.
But couldn’t I sacrifice something I don’t mind doing without? How about sports? I like watching sports, but I wouldn’t mind giving that up. I mean, I’m willing to sacrifice, if we can just agree on what the sacrifice ought to be. Is there any room for negotiation here?
How about money? I don’t mind giving that up. I’ll spring for the new stroller, or the fancy car seat. No problem.
But sleep . . .
I really like sleep.
I need it.
I don’t want to give up my sleep.
I recently realized, while sitting in a rocking chair with a little bundle of joy in my arms and plenty of time to think between the hours of 1 am and 2 am, that my attitude was more akin to that of the rich donors in the Bible story of the poor widow’s sacrifice, Mk 12, 41-44, when as a father I’m called to be like the poor widow. Jesus watched in the temple as many rich people contributed large sums, and then saw a poor widow who put in only two small coins worth a few cents. Jesus said: “‘Truly, I say to you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the treasury. For they all contributed out of their abundance; but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, her whole living.” (Mk 12, 43-44).
That’s the call of fatherhood. Raising kids takes more than just those things we don’t mind parting with. Our kids need more than a few hours on the weekend, they need more than money. Our kids need us; all of us. Everything we can give them. Jesus told us: “‘Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.’” (Jn, 15, 13). Jesus said: “‘If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.’” (Mt 16, 24).
So let’s learn a lesson from the poor widow, and the grain of wheat. If we don’t want to be alone, and if we want to follow Jesus to eternal life, we’ve got to give fatherhood our all and give everything we have. After all, that’s why the good Lord gave us double cappuccinos. Let’s use them!