It’s the time of day when we become most vulnerable. We are tired and tender, maybe at our most sensitive. Our defenses are down, and we feel exhausted and maybe overwhelmed by the busyness of the day, maybe a little emotionally exhausted if it was that kind of day. Maybe we feel the dull ache of an emotional wound reverberating through our souls, nagging at our minds. Sometimes it’s hard to quiet those thoughts. Sometimes it’s hard not to hear those harsh words spoken again and again in our minds, hard not to replay those hurtful moments or the moments that we failed. Or sometimes the day was so exciting and happy, we can’t quiet those feelings either.
But somehow, after all that, after we felt happy, excited, sad, scared, angry, embarrassed, left out, overstimulated, proud, and ashamed, somehow after all that and all the doing we have done and all the experiences we have lived, we are supposed to quiet our minds, still our bodies, soften all the sharp edges of the day, and soothe ourselves to sleep. As adults, this is sometimes an insurmountable challenge. But, for a child, new to this world, newly broken by its ugliness and simultaneously newly inspired by its beauty, that task can be impossible.
Most of the past six years of motherhood, bedtime has been the last chore to check off my list—the last thing I have to do before I can sit down and be me again, or not be so needed, to really have a chance to relax for an hour or so before I fall to the pillow exhausted. But I’m realizing I’ve been getting it wrong, and that is likely why it’s been a struggle so many nights.
I feel so convicted here, so deeply sad for all the times I have rushed my sweet, scared, sad, happy, anxious, excited babies off to bed instead of holding that space just a little longer, helping them to quiet the overwhelmed little spirits within them. I feel regret for every rushed and impatient moment I pushed them through rather than lingered to chat or show up calm instead of focused on my own end game.
Because motherhood is a death to self over and over and over again in the most refining and beautiful ways, I keep seeing these things with new eyes. Something feels not quite right, and once I’m really willing to look at why, I can see that my own selfishness once again needs to be stripped away. Bedtime, when seen through my own selfish perspective, is the last chore of the day and a rush to the finish line, the last hurtle before I can get the carrot at the end of the stick. But to see it through the eyes of my children, I feel called to change.
For just a little while, they are in my care. For just a little while, it is my job to show them what love is. For just a little while, I have been given this huge and wonderful opportunity to be love and comfort to a weary little soul. When I look at bedtime through the eyes of God, the eyes of love, I can see that bedtime is not about me. It is an opportunity to comfort, to connect, to die one last time to myself in order to shine a bit more of God’s love on a child who experienced a great big broken, beautiful world today.
If not me, then who? Who will remind these precious souls that love does exist in this world? Who will show them instead of just telling them they love them? Who will sit at the foot of the bed of an anxious child until he falls asleep if not me? Who will answer every question he can come up with just to prove he matters and is heard, seen, and understood? Who will prove he is special by sticking it out in patience and kindness if not me?
It can be overwhelming when I think of the underlying messages my children received all the times I rushed them through the bedtime routine, impatiently answering questions, or telling them no more, or worse, threatening a consequence if they couldn’t calm down and go to sleep. I could go down that guilt-path, but I know that doesn’t make me a better mom.
I’m learning. One thing at a time. And now I know that bedtime is sacred. It is one last chance to get a do-over, one last chance to show up in love and selflessness for my child, a chance to remember that he is still so, so new here and this place can be a lot. It is a chance to humble myself and put him first, to show what love is rather than recite an empty phrase. It is one last chance to be the peace and the love and the light—a soft place to land after a big, long day. God, help me not to rush it.