I have to admit, we've let it get us down.
This sleep thing. Bryan and I have been tackling it for almost a month now. Sleeping in separate rooms, taking shifts. We have mere minutes a day alone together. And still, after four weeks, a "good" night is a night with only three or (dare to dream) two awakenings on the part of the baby. He is sleeping better, but not so much better. Not close enough to that holy grail of Through The Night which was originally our end goal.
We've got to get on with life, so we'll be waving a white flag, making compromises, hoping the baby waves a white flag back. It's time for us to spend the night in the same room again, even if it means giving up the ideal of having a zero-maintenance baby in the dark hours.
It's discouraging, though. We know that eventually it will be fine, but in the meantime it will not be fun. Not fun at all.
There's a phrase bandied about by Catholics of a certain persuasion: offer it up. The idea is theologically sound, but it's often used so flippantly that it begs to be disregarded. Have a class on the other side of campus on a rainy day? Offer it up. Ran out of coffee and feeling exhausted? Offer it up. Someone you love trying your patience? Offer it up.
Baby waking you up in the night? Offer it up.
But I'm supposed to offer it up when I stop at Arby's to get curly fries and their fryer is broken! Should I offer up night after night of exhaustion and stress in the same way?
I listened to Michael Card on the way to Mass Sunday evening. There's a powerful song on his Soul Anchor album, "Fellow Prisoners," about loving and praying for those who are suffering in the world. The chorus: After all, these could be your own children dying: your wives, your mothers, your husbands and your sons. We must weep the tears that they are crying...
The Gospel at Mass was the Beautitudes, and the deacon giving the homily said that "blessed are those who weep" doesn't mean you have to make your own life miserable so that God will love you. We might have a steady income, a loving family, plenty to eat; being one who weeps means recognizing the lightness of one's own burdens in order to weep for others. To help carry their enormous burdens as best we can.
When I'm in a rational mood I can recognize that my own life is enormously blessed. As I watch movies and read books and articles and blogs I often think that I would not willingly trade places with anyone in this world. I am married to a man better than any I could have invented for myself, and my *vocation* is to take care of the most enchanting children I've ever seen. All our material needs are met, generously, and we are all healthy and thriving.
I can't think of a single thing we need.
Recently I got an appeal letter from Food for the Poor that mentioned a mother of seven who wondered each day if she'd be able to buy food for her children. "Some days we eat, some days we don't," she said. "If we ever get a little money, we use it to buy rice and beans."
Some days we eat. Some days we don't.
I often lie in bed nursing my baby and imagine mothers all over the world doing the same. That night it occurred to me: many of them must snuggle their small suckling ones fearfully, wondering when the milk will dry up because they themselves are not getting enough to eat.
My three-year-old is unhappy when I tell her that she may not have ice cream. I cannot imagine being forced to tell her that she would have no food at all that day.
Our refrigerator and cupboards full of food, the chubby cheeks and thighs of my well-fed one-year-old, suddenly feel like treasures to me.
Thinking about all the people who suffer in the world, millions of them leading impossibly difficult lives, I wonder about God's purpose. Why should he allow them to suffer so much when I suffer so little?
There are countless answers to this question, and theology of suffering is a complicated thing, but I'm looking now for an answer that will set me on a concrete course of action in my own life. I hear this answer whispering in my heart: do what you can to make their lives better, so that your own life may be bettered in the process.
I would be lying if I said that we do all we can. We do, perhaps, more than average - by the numbers anyway - but I think that the call to help the poor is vocational. Each according to his means, and according to what God asks of him.
It doesn't matter *how much* I give, it matters what God is asking me to give, and whether I answer his call.
While I discern, trying to figure out which portions of my own life I might - as per the adage - live more simply that others may simply live, there is one thing that is immediately clear to me.
My baby wakes in the night. It is not wrong for me to desire this situation to improve, or to work to change it. But if I focus on it, grump about it, allow it to make me bitter and unhappy, I am failing to love so many people.
Those whose nighttime wakings are filled with fear that they will not be able to feed their families. Those who keep watch by the bedside of a sick child. Those who would happily give up sleep for the chance to hold a child they have lost.
Not so many years ago I myself would have readily sacrificed sleep for the chance to have a child at all. How quickly I forget the tears I cried then.
And in my discontent I am robbing myself of an opportunity, too. What if, instead of clenching my jaw in frustration when my baby stirs at night, I held his (well-fed, healthy) body gratefully? What if I accepted each waking and offered it up? Not in any flippant way, but with truth, saying: Lord, I accept the hardness of this. Please relieve the pain of those who suffer.
It's my opportunity to join those who weep. In the Beautitudes it says that they are blessed. I have no doubt I would be blessed, too, in my attempts.
It brings me last line of the chorus of Michael Card's song about the suffering ones: In prayer we take our stand beside them, so they won't be alone.
Every day and every night, I want to do that.