Learning to Wait on the Lord

Lady and Clock
Photo Credit: FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Here are two big lessons my first year of motherhood taught me: Number one: I am impatient. Number two: if I wait on the Lord, asking for his help where I am weak, he will answer.

No Rest for Mommy

Nowhere was my impatience more evident than when I was waiting for Sam to sleep through the night. Throughout Sam’s first year, I was not the loving, adoring mother so often pictured in movies. No. I was resentful, frustrated, anxious, and impatient. But not just impatient with Sam and his erratic sleeping. I was impatient with God.

Night after night of interrupted sleep, and day after day of droopy eyes, I moped; I complained; I acted like God wouldn’t ever work this out. I said things to friends and family, like, “Oh, Sam’ll eventually get there,” and “God is helping me.” But more often, I grumbled. I spoke words of despair. I acted like I didn’t really trust God.

Finally, Sam’s sleep improved, and I got some rest. And, surprise surprise, that’s when I looked back at the past nine months and realized that God had heard my prayers—slow to answer though he seemed.

I learned something then: that even when we feel weak and helpless in our prayers, and even when we keep repeating ourselves with no apparent results, we are doing an important thing. It’s the only thing we can do sometimes, and it’s a thing God commands us to do. We are “waiting on him” (Isa. 40:31). Eventually, he will renew our strength.

But boy, the waiting can be hard. Especially when we are waiting against our wills.

Three Stages of Waiting

In hindsight, I see three levels of waiting I did concerning Sam’s sleep.

First, I waited unwillingly, without peace. This level of waiting happens when you don’t agree to wait, but circumstances force you to. This happened for so many days and nights when I pleaded, bleary-eyed and bedraggled, “God, just let him sleep!” but Sam didn’t sleep (or not when or for as long as I wanted him to).

Second, I waited willingly, but not yet with peace. This level of waiting happens when you give up your plans and choose to trust God on faith, even while results tarry.

At this stage I changed my prayers from “Lord, help him sleep” to “Lord, give me the grace to deal with whatever this night brings.”

During this stage, improvements in Sam’s sleep came; but we had also started the distasteful process of sleep training. (We chose the Ferber method, which had us checking on Sam at ten-minute intervals while he cried–after we had tended to all his known needs, of course.) This stage of waiting was necessary, but it sure wasn’t comfortable, or very peaceful.

During those nights of “Ferberizing,” I had to get on my knees so I wouldn’t go into Sam’s room while he cried. I had to pray for strength to do not what felt right to me (soothing him at the first whimper), but to do what was right for Sam (letting him learn to soothe himself). I cried as Sam cried. It took every ounce of strength in me not to go in to him before ten minutes was up. It was HARD. But improvements came.

And then the third stage of waiting came—the stage where the situation wasn’t quite sewn up yet, but I could see God working—and I could feel his peace.

One evening during this stage, I realized I had come to a place of calm about the whole sleep situation. I remember putting down a fussy and crying Sam (a now fairly uncommon state at bedtime), and then calmly walking to the kitchen to begin my nightly cleanup routine.

“Lord, please help him to settle down,” I prayed, hands submerged in soapsuds. “But thank you that you are here to help me even if he doesn’t settle quickly. I know that eventually he will sleep, and I will survive. Even if I have to get up with him in the night.”

As we went through our sleep training program, Sam progressed from going down peacefully for naps, to crying less in the night, to consistently sleeping through the night—hallelujah! And as I saw God working, slowly moving Sam to more consistent sleep patterns, I found more and more peace. Now, on the occasional nights when he woke, I could handle the situation with thanksgiving.

If I were write a memoir of my first year of motherhood, this milestone would be the turning point in the book—the climax, the major lesson. Not a lesson on surviving a baby’s erratic sleep, but a lesson about waiting on the Lord. A lesson about how, if we get on our knees and petition him, and surrender our wills, and ask for his to be done, and ask for his help where we are weak (like I was weak in carrying out a consistent sleep routine), he will answer. Maybe not as quickly or in the way we want him to, but he will answer.

Here We Go Again

As a funny coda (funny only in hindsight), Sam’s sleep derailed once again after our move to St. Louis; and I, sleep deprived and stressed from the move, derailed again, too…for a few days. But then I started the stages of waiting again…and Sam started sleeping better again…and I found some peace again. Sam’s sleep is not quite back to where it was before the move, but I am at the waiting stage where I believe we will get there.

It helps to realize that this cycle of waiting on the Lord repeats itself. Though it’s hard passing through the first two stages, it’s a relief to realize stage three will eventually come. And so we head into the next year, the next stage, the next growth opportunity.

But those who wait on the Lord
Shall renew their strength;
They shall mount up with wings like eagles,
They shall run and not be weary,
They shall walk and not faint. (Isa. 40:31)

Wait on the Lord;
Be of good courage,
And He shall strengthen your heart;
Wait, I say, on the Lord! (Ps. 27:14)

Truly my soul silently waits for God; From Him comes my salvation. (Ps. 62:1)

My soul waits for the Lord more than those who watch for the morning— Yes, more than those who watch for the morning. (Ps. 130:6) (How appropriate for new moms!)

Call Me a Desperate Housewife

I’m not gonna lie. Even though I’ve had what I call an “attitude change” about motherhood, I still have days when I feel like a desperate housewife. And not the sexy, Hollywood kind either. See below for the depressing details, but then keep reading…this post ends well!

sleep deprived 1Picture me bedraggled and frumpy as I haul myself out of bed at 1:50 a.m. to change a poopy diaper, administer medication, and give a bottle. At 3 a.m. he cries because he doesn’t want to go back to sleep. At 3:30, I cry because now I can’t go back to sleep. Sometime in the 4 or 5:00 hour I fall into an uneasy snooze, but by 6 a.m., the telltale wakeup cry pierces the monitor again.

I roll out of bed scowling and muttering. Buc, my husband, is in the shower and will be gone by 6:30, and it takes every ounce of self-control I have not to blame him for how I feel like a single mother during the workweek. When he emerges from the bathroom, I break my vow to speak peace and instead pounce, listing all that’s wrong with my world. These are the only words he will get from me for the next twelve hours until he returns again. This is his sweet sendoff. Man, I feel terrible. This is where I realize yet again: I am a desperate housewife. Desperate for sleep, yes, but also desperate for wisdom to handle these days when adequate sleep is but a dream.

About four months ago, or half of Sam’s life ago, I made the remark to a fellow parent, “At least the hardest part is over.” He only laughed at me. Now with Sam’s mobility, I know why. Yes, the sleep is better some nights. But not always. And days have gotten 100% harder. Now during waking hours, Sam needs constant supervision, because he will almost certainly hurt himself if I’m not there to catch him, redirect him, or take something away. When does this phase end?

About two months ago when I noticed my attitude consistently lurking in the pits, I recognized a desperate need to get back to the basics. Hence the attitude change I blogged about a few weeks ago. This change happened as I committed to using my “spare time” to uplift my soul, as I paid attention to everything I fed on, from food to books to music and television. I made sure I put good “fuel” in my brain, such as Christian radio programming, the Bible, and other inspirational books. And it helped. Tremendously.

sleep deprived 3aBut then Sam started having trouble sleeping again. And it didn’t matter what nuggets of wisdom I found time to gobble up (not many, by the way), not as long as my hunger for sleep went unsatisfied. Despite my prayers and good intentions and promises to myself that I would not be unpleasant, I often woke up a witch.

Things came to a head as this weekend hit. By Friday, not only had Sam strung together several bad nights, but my babysitter for that day got sick and canceled, and then I started to feel sick. I fought to get Sam to nap in the afternoon, but my best efforts only resulted in a half hour siesta for both of us. Late Friday afternoon found me, head buried in hands, moaning, “I’m a failure,” texting Buc at work and asking if he could sneak out of the office early to help me. I was tired, I was sick, and I felt like a failure as a mother.

I had read enough books to know that babies can be trained to sleep well, and I knew several moms whose babies slept well every night, but I had obviously failed in that department. “Lord, help me!” I cried. I was, indeed, a desperate housewife. And until I got Sam’s and my sleep sorted out, I knew the desperation would continue.

To make a long story short, Buc stepped in like a champ this weekend to give me a much-needed break, time to regroup, and time to tune in to the wisdom God has placed all around me. While he and Sam went to church Saturday morning and to my in-laws’ for Saturday lunch, I rested, read the wisdom of Proverbs, and refreshed myself on what the sleep experts in my parenting books said.

sleep deprived 2The verse that spoke to me in Proverbs was: “Plans go wrong for lack of advice; many counselors bring success” (15:22, NLT). Proverbs has a lot to say about fools, and I faced the fact that I’d been a fool on the sleep issue, too often going with my feelings instead by wise counsel. Ever since Sam’s separation anxiety (and his “mommy” attachment) manifested, I’d become lax on having him fall asleep by himself and instead often allowed him to fall asleep in the stroller, with a bottle, or in my arms. It was no wonder his sleep had gotten worse. I had been coddling him far too much. But being soft on the sleep issue was not kind to him or to me.

So on my sick Saturday morning off, I spent several hours poring over the wise counsel of the sleep experts (whom I’d silently shut away on my bookshelf), and then I wrote out an action plan for what to do at naptimes and bedtimes. I knew myself: if I didn’t have a plan, and if I didn’t rehearse it in my mind before testing time, I would resort to what “felt right” when Sam cried—and we would go on and on in our desperate, sleep-deprived cycle indefinitely. But I needed still more help. When Buc got home Saturday afternoon, I enlisted him as my assistant. I ran the plan by him, we tweaked it a bit, we prayed, and then we implemented it last night at bedtime and this morning at naptime. And guess what? It’s working!

I don’t believe in “crying-it-out” indefinitely, but Sam can go five minutes, then ten, by himself. (I am relying heavily on the method known as “Ferberizing,” for those interested). So far, we haven’t had to wait more than about fifteen minutes for him to go to sleep. Of course, this morning after he went back down at 5:15, I was wide awake. But that’s okay. I had gone to bed early as a preemptive strike, I felt strangely rested, and I got to write in blissful silence for a whole hour and fifteen minutes!

How I have missed this! Not just the writing, but the quiet morning time. The settling, centering time before the day wakes. This is how days were meant to begin. This is what I need to refresh my soul. Quiet time with God and quiet time with my pen and the blank page.

parenting-quoteI’m glad I can admit when I’m desperate, because that’s when God can help me the most. He helps me by telling me where to go: sometimes to bed early, sometimes to the writing desk. He helps me by telling me who to talk to: this weekend, my husband. He helps me by telling me what to read: down to specific scriptures, and sometimes specific parenting books.

And he also talks by just whispering to me in his still, small voice: “You’re not a failure, my child. You’re just learning the ropes. And as long as you lean on me, you’re never a desperate housewife.”

So maybe I shouldn’t call myself a desperate housewife. But maybe I should. It made for a good blog title; and honestly, I never want to stop being desperate for wisdom. Because when I ask, God answers (James 1:5).