This year, I will officially be a mother for half as long as I have been alive. That is a pretty significant detail to me. It also explains why I am so tired. I wonder what I did before I became a mom.
Oh wait, I remember. I planned out my day and did what I had planned. I ate independently without having to consider what other people had to eat. When I cleaned the house, it stayed clean (for the most part). And I am certain I went to the bathroom by myself, without someone knocking on the door asking me how to locate an item they lost.
I remember the first night we brought my son home from the hospital. He was a little sniffly and every time he sneezed, I would wake up and check up on him. Each night, I moved the bassinet closer to my bed. After one week, we ditched the bassinet and brought him into our double bed.
When I got pregnant with my second baby, we decided we to purchase a king sized bed and a toddler bed for my then 3-year-old son. After the birth of my third child, we bought bunk beds. Still, with all these lovely beds, we would wake up in the morning with a baby in my arms, one kid sleeping at our feet and another draped across us like an “H.”
When Johanna was born, my older kids were nine, six and three. Everyone was pretty well settled into a nice bedtime routine by that time. But I remember one of the concerns I expressed to our neurosurgeon after Johanna’s first brain surgery was could I still nurse her and could she sleep in our bed?
I recall that he chuckled and said “If this were my kid, she’d be sleeping in my bed until she turned 18 years old!” While we didn’t take him literally, we did find it so much easier to care for Johanna’s normal and critical needs as a baby in our bed.
I remember the last night our 3-year-old daughter slept in bed with us and Johanna. Johanna was six months old and had just had her third brain surgery. I woke up to hearing my 3-year-old scratching her head in her sleep. When I turned on the light, I discovered, much to my dismay, that this sweet toddler had head lice! I later learned that my neighbor was afraid to tell me that her son, my daughter’s best friend, had head lice. She didn’t want to worry us and add to our difficulties!
My husband moved with our 3-year-old into a separate bedroom. There I was, in the middle of the night, lying with a 6-month-old baby in my arms, with staples in her head, and I was laughing hysterically.
My husband yelled from the other room, “Are you okay, honey?”
“Yes!” I blurted out. “I have four kids, a baby who just had her third brain surgery and now a toddler with head lice! Most women would go off the deep end,” I quipped, “But I am laughing!”
“Umm,” my husband responded lovingly, “I hate to tell you this, but that’s what people do when the go off the deep end. They laugh hysterically.”
He was definitely right that night and for the next TWO MONTHS — which we spent washing, combing and treating our household for head lice. No one else was affected in our family except my 3-year-old and ME!
That was one of the most ridiculous and exhausting times in all my years of motherhood. But somehow we learned to navigate our way through, by the grace of God and a sense of humor.
In the midst of raising a family of six and a child with a medical disability, I found the joy that most escaped me was rest. I did sleep, despite the visitors to our bed (human and insect). But balancing homeschooling, ministry and these health crises, gave little time to truly rest. I could get eight hours of sleep and take a nap during the day (nap time was mandatory when my kids were young), but I still didn’t feel rested.
Over the years I learned that sleep is primarily a bodily function where my muscles stop moving and my heart rate and breathing slows, even while my brain keeps going. But restoration involves the whole person: body, mind and spirit. Rest begins while I am consciously awake deciding whether to obsess or to be at peace.
The scriptures are filled with many beautiful references to rest.
In Psalm 23 we are told: “The Lord is my Shepherd. He leads me beside restful waters. He restores my soul”(vs1-3).
Psalm 4:8 is a good verse to remember when you are going to sleep…
“As soon as lie down, I fall peacefully asleep, for you alone oh Lord keep me safe.”
As a nursing mom, this scripture helped me to understand rest: “I have quieted my soul like a weaned child on his mother’s lap. So is my soul within me.”
Rest goes beyond the sleep. It requires that our minds be quieted or at least directed out of the spiral of obsessive worry towards thoughts of peace. To truly be at rest, we need to surrender to God and realize that we can’t control everything in our lives. To find rest at night we need to find time to pray and reflect during the day, even if it’s on the go. We need time to practice mindfulness and be aware of our surroundings, taking in the beauty of this world. Rest also requires that we let go of hurts and be willing to forgive.
This was a long winter that stretched into an even longer spring. My daughter had four brain surgeries in three months. I find myself wondering why I am so tired. Still, in the midst of it, I have learned to rest. I find rest when I walk, sing, pray and even while pulling weeds in the garden.
The other day God used this scripture to speak to me about rest.
“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-31).
The Lord invited me to release my burdens to Him to find rest. Most times that doesn’t mean the burdens go away. Still, God promised that when we come to Him and release our burdens to Him, we can bear those burdens with new strength from a heart at rest.
This weekend, I decided to take God’s invitation literally, gather up my burdens and my blessings and head to Pennsylvania to attend a retreat on healing. I’m bringing my husband and my daughter along too. While the burdens of life will still be with us, I know that the songs of praise, the time for reflection and the beauty of nature around us will bring us closer to God’s gentle and humble heart. And in God’s heart, we will find rest for our souls.
How do you find rest? Think of ways you can come closer to God this week. Watch the sunrise on the fields and the sunset on the beach at Iron Pier. Find God in that time and space and you will find rest for your soul.
Eileen Benthal has a B.A. in theology from Franciscan University of Steubenville. She is a writer, speaker and wellness coach at 40DaysToFocus.com and NOFO Wellness Center. She works with clients locally and around the U.S. who are excited about balancing their health in body, mind and spirit.
Eileen and her husband Steve live in Jamesport and have four young adult children. Their youngest, 16-year-old Johanna, is a teenager with special needs. Eileen can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org andfacebook.com/40DaysToFocus.