I pulled only one all-nighter in all my college years, the first semester of my freshman year. This wasn’t because I was the best student and never procrastinated, but because I loved sleep. I wasn’t going to stay up late if I didn’t have to, and I guarded those precious eight hours of rest.
When motherhood came, eight hours of uninterrupted sleep seemed like a distant dream. But as my daughter has gotten older and sleep routines have returned to a new normal, I have found that what once was a healthy practice of rest is now an idol in my heart.
As a young mom, sleep seems like a precious commodity that comes at all costs. I was told to “sleep when the baby sleeps,” and I read books about the importance of rest. And while what I learned was good and true, I was putting my desire of rest above my desire to love God and love my family. And that’s what an idol is—it’s a good gift of God that takes the place of God in our lives. It’s when creation rules above our Creator God (Romans 1:25).
Here’s how that looked in my life. I would become easily frustrated and bitter when my daughter would go through a sleep regression. I would go to bed early when my husband wanted to spend quality time with me after a long day. And, most grievously, I would hit the snooze button over and over, knowing that by the time I woke up, I would have missed that precious alone time with God before my daughter awoke.
Again, hear my heart, there is nothing inherently sinful about an early bedtime or the snooze button. But it was my attitude behind these actions. I was prioritizing my own selfish rest above my relationship with God and with my family. I would rather sacrifice alone time with God than sacrifice the extra minutes of sleep.
While your physical rest is important, especially in the early seasons of motherhood, your spiritual rest is more essential than any amount of sleep. Paul tells Timothy that while taking care of your body is important, taking care of yourself spiritually is even more important (1 Timothy 4:8). You are a better mother/father, wife/husband, worker, and friend not when you get a full eight hours of sleep, but when you prioritize your relationship with God above all else. The most important thing you can do for your own health and for your family’s is not to rest more in bed, but to rest more in God.
Believe me, I know how crazy I sound. From a girl who fully embraces a 9:00 bedtime and a good Sunday nap, when God began to reveal this idol in my heart, I was stubborn. The world teaches us to put our physical needs before everything else, but that is not what we see in Christ. After teaching all day long, he would still rise up early, go to a deserted place, and spend time with God before he would be on his feet all day again teaching (Mark 1:35). More than that, He sacrificed himself physically, to the point of death, for the sake of his people.
While rest is a good gift designed by God since creation, this gift should never supplant the giver. We rest best physically when we are resting in God spiritually.
What does that look like for me now? While I still make sure that I take care of myself by eating healthfully, exercising, and taking time to rest, I remember that these things are only good insofar as they help me serve God and others better. When my sleep gets cut short by a teething baby, I rely on God to give me physical strength to love her, even in my sleepy weakness. When I’ve had a long day and want to rest, I pray that God would give me energy to love my husband well in those last hours. I also remove other selfish obstacles that are stealing time from true rest, like mindlessly scrolling through social media or watching TV. And, most importantly, I aim to sacrifice my snooze button for the sake of those precious, quiet moments alone with God before the busyness of my day. So I encourage you to put sleep (or whatever your idol is) in its proper place. Remember that we best love our families, those around us, and even ourselves, when we love God first.