Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Longing for the silent night

I’m not sure what my thoughts were on the subject of sleep before having children. I do remember setting my alarm a little bit early so I could hit snooze a few times before getting up. I remember complaining about being so tired due to jet lag, exams, or a late night with friends. But since becoming a mother, there is a gravity to sleep that was never there before.

I now spend a considerable amount of time talking about sleep. How are your kids sleeping? Are they still napping? Do they go to bed on their own? There is research; there are tactics employed. I have read books on the subject of sleep, and they were page turners.

I’m now leery of anything that threatens sleep: teething, colds, construction, fireworks, barking dogs, other children who are not sleeping (see also painting of the Blessed Virgin shushing John the Baptist). I happily embrace anything that might help sleep: humidifiers, sound machines, singing “Silent Night,” reading thirty-four books before bed (or the same book thirty-four times), and sleeping in contorted positions.

Annibale Carracci, The Madonna and Sleeping Child with Saint John the Baptist ('Il Silenzio'), 1599-1600

In the relative calm of our current sleep situation, I’m able to wake up on my own, roll over, and go back to sleep—and it’s amazing. After all, sleep is just as necessary as water, air, and food. And that was part of God’s design. Ours is the God who “maketh me to lie down in green pastures” (Psalm 23:2). He also instituted the Sabbath, making rest mandatory: “Six days may work be done; but in the seventh is the sabbath of rest, holy to the Lord: whosoever doeth any work in the Sabbath day, he shall surely be put to death” (Exodus 31:15).

Our Lord is the Prince of Peace, and what could be more peaceful than rest, relaxation, and sleep? St. Angela Merici said, “Remember that the Devil doesn’t sleep, but seeks our ruin in a thousand ways.” It is the restless spirit that cannot sleep; it is anxiety that keeps us up at night. But after the “dark night of the soul there is the promise of dawn. God gives us rest that we might be restored: “When thou liest down, thou shalt not be afraid: yea, thou shalt lie down, and thy sleep shall be sweet” (Prov. 3:24).

Before becoming a mother, I took sleep for granted, the same way I would give thanks before each meal without appreciating the food. It was through fasting that I realized how truly pleasurable food is, and how necessary and nourishing it is.

Likewise, my nocturnal newborn made sleep something I would have been willing to pay for. Now I savor the quiet time before sleep, to pray, to read, to anticipate the dawn of a new day and another chance to do better. And to appreciate the words of Our Lord: “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matt. 11:28).

The bedtime song most requested by my children is Silent Night.”  It was written by a priest and put to music hours before midnight Mass one snowy Christmas Eve in an Austrian village. It speaks to every weary mother, fussy baby, and all of us longing for a moments rest.

Silent Night,
Holy Night,
All is calm,
All is bright,
Round yon Virgin, Mother and Child,
Holy infant so tender and mild.
Sleep in heavenly peace.
Sleep in heavenly peace.

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