On being tired

October 14, 2008 | Motherhood | 29 comments

It occurred to me recently that I spend a large percentage of my time being tired — often really, really tired. These past few months have been worse than usual, this pregnancy bringing with it a crushing exhaustion that I haven’t been able to shake. Even before this pregnancy, though, long stretches of feeling well rested have been few and far between ever since my first child was born. A certain amount of weariness just comes with the territory of building a family.

The other day I had one of those all-too-frequent moments of wondering how I would get through the rest of the day. I leaned against the wall before I headed upstairs to get my two littlest ones up from nap, pausing to take a deep breath and look at all those stairs that loomed in front of me. If I’d had any other options, it would have been easy to tell myself that I “couldn’t” do it. It seemed impossible that I could muster up the energy to haul myself up those stairs and then lift a wiggly 24-pound baby and a wigglier 28-pound toddler out of their cribs, change diapers, listen to the inevitable post-nap whining and crying, help my other toddler with whatever he needs, and be on-call for two more hours until my husband got home.

As I leaned against the wall, I thought it was interesting that this is the life I want for my children.

I thought about how counterintuitive it is to say, “Hey, kids, I’m really freaking tired all the time because of the duties of my vocation, and I pray that in twenty or so years this will be your life, too!” I can see why so many of the Baby Boomers and their parents adopted the mentality that the best life you could give your kids is one of physical ease and personal freedom to do whatever you feel like doing — after all, that’s a whole lot more comfortable. Surely a “good” life would involve more relaxation than work, more pleasure than sacrifice, more amusement than perseverance.

Yet it only takes a glance through the Self-Help section of any bookstore to see that there is a silent undercurrent of angst raging through our society; that the “good life” isn’t as good as it seemed it would be; that something is missing in the lives of many people, and it’s something big.

When people start searching for the meaning of life, they often picture that once they find it it will involve sitting in the lotus position on a Tibetan mountaintop, or sipping Chianti in a Tuscan villa, or perhaps posing in a photo shoot for the cover of a major magazine. Those visions of discovering the meaning of life and reaching the pinnacle of the human experience almost never involve images of sitting in a foul-smelling nursing home room holding the hand of an abandoned Alzheimer’s patient, or kneeling in prayer in a nondescript church, or running to the grocery store to buy an economy-sized jug of generic brand detergent to get through yet another mountain of laundry.

That’s why it’s so easy to miss the truth when you hear it. It was for me, anyway.

When I heard the Catholic notion that each of us has a vocation, and that it’s not about what you’ll do but whom you’ll serve, it sounded outrageous. Insane, even. In this worldview, living for yourself is not a valid option — regularly taking time for yourself, yes; but structuring your life around selfish pursuits, no. It went against everything I believed. It seemed to even go against common sense.

But, as I’ve also said many times before, when I tried it, the proof was in the pudding. The way years of underlying angst melted away, how all areas of my life suddenly had so much more order and clarity, that feeling of peace I’d always yearned for but had never experienced (and wasn’t even sure it was possible to experience) — there was no doubt in my mind that Christianity had a lock on the answer to the meaning of life. Through a life centered around agape, self-giving love, I found He who is Agape itself; I found what every human who’s ever lived desires most, whether they know it or not: God.

So as I leaned there against the wall, my eyes drowsy as I mustered up my last few ounces of energy to get to the top of the stairs, I thought of how very much I want this life for my children. Not necessarily my exact circumstances — some of them may be called to the priesthood, religious life, or another vocation other than married life — but whatever it is it will revolve around living for God and others. It won’t be the easiest or most comfortable life, it will come with many challenges, and they probably won’t get as much sleep as they’d like. They will have their own moments of leaning against the wall, weary from the service of others. But they will have the peace of Christ, an invaluable peace found only in the practice of agape that I missed out on for 27 years while I was trapped in a self-focused prison.

What I will tell them is what I would tell myself if I could travel back in time and deliver a message to the younger me. I imagine walking up to a twenty-year-old girl who’s a little too thin and wears a little too much black eyeliner, catching her in mid-daydream about discovering life’s secrets through mountaintop meditations or strolls down sunset-soaked beaches, and leaning over to whisper in her ear, “Pssst. When you discover the meaning of life, it just might involve being a little tired.”

29 Comments

  1. SuburbanCorrespondent

    Who knows if she would have listened?

    And I urge you to take some brewer’s yeast tablets daily, or else some B-complex. Serial pregnancies (for want of a better term) deplete our stored-up supplies of nutrients; and by the fourth baby, you really need some extra supplementation. Brewer’s yeast contains small amounts of B-complex vitamins; yet they are more bio-available than the synthetic kind. I found it helped my energy levels. And it could help your new baby, too.

  2. Heather

    Oh my goodness, I remember those days. First beautiful. Second, I remember those days. Of course there is also the whole fact that you have extra children that makes this one harder (mine were 22 and 21 months apart and goodness I was exhausted.

  3. Sue

    I love it when you talk about the Catholic idea of “vocation”. I just like that word. We protestants use the word “calling” a lot, but the word “vacation” really reminds me that my calling involves work and sacrifice. That kind of work and sacrifice brings such peace and joy when fully embraced. I pray that I can convey that to my children as well.

    Thank you for your encouraging and insightful posts!

  4. Dawn

    So beautifully written and a timely encouragement, thank you!

  5. Suzanne

    I think my vocation is to be tired. I’m really good at it.

  6. Lynne

    “I imagine walking up to a twenty-year-old girl who’s a little too thin and wears a little too much black eyeliner…”

    Sounds like my daughter (who’s 17) but she told me she wants to grow up to be a mother. πŸ™‚

  7. Anonymous

    This was a beautiful post. It very much hit home for me today. Thank you for taking the time to share with us your experiences on this path.
    -Kim

  8. Sarah

    WOW!! This spoke to me DIRECTLY- I just this past summer did the whole “get out there and experience the world and discover myself and the true meaning of life” thing- only to realize how empty it left me. It brought me back to God and realizing that that’s what life’s all about- and that a life centered around Him is more meaningful than I could ever have imagined!

  9. Hairline Fracture

    Thank you for this post. You are so right, and your posts on accepting one’s vocation have been helpful to me. Right now, raising small children is my calling and even though it’s tiring, I’m grateful I have the opportunity to do it.

  10. Jeana

    You have no idea how much I needed to read this today. Thank you, Jennifer.

  11. The Trailovs

    I don’t really have anything profound to say other than I really love your blog. This post especially…

  12. Laura

    Unfortunately, the tiredness doesn’t go away even as your children get older. Many days I find it quite a challenge to get up bright and early and on time, even though I am sleeping through the night! Oh well, you’re right, I guess it comes with the territory and I wouldn’t change it for the world πŸ™‚ God Bless!

  13. Catherine

    I was just thinking tonight as I was out until 10:30pm buying that economy-sized jug of laundry detergent that it seems crazy, but I really love what I’m doing! God bless you and your family!

  14. michelle

    It was the birth of my son that really brought me back to God and raising him is definitely my vocation. I know the exhausted feeling these days. Thank you for another fabulous post.

  15. Sara

    Oh, I do soooo remember those days of crushing exhaustion with my 4th pregnancy! It was nothing like the others. I don't even think 5 & 6 were as bad.

    I think the kids look at us over the years and don't want to be like us, especially the tired part. But now I find that my oldest does want kids! I don't know how many, but I though I had scared her off! πŸ˜‰

  16. Anonymous

    I remember those days too. I hope to experience them again soon. However, I think you might want to make sure you are not iron deficient. I went through a period of time when I was bone-crushing exhausted….turned out I was severely anemic. Since you’ve had 4 pregnancies in a row, it is definitely a possibility. Jen in OK

  17. Chloe

    Oh thank you thank you thank you for posting this! Your posts always help me focus on the Big Picture.

    (Now go take some vitamins and get some rest!)

  18. Joanne

    I am beyond tired these days, I really thank you for this post. And all of them, actually, they really speak to me.

    I have an autistic three year old that never, ever sits down, a charming but bad sleeping 9 month old, and am two months pregnant with our third. In the afternoons lately, I truly do not think I am going to make it, but sometimes I do.

    After my second child was born, I started thinking of Mother Teresa so often. I would think, this is my vocation, to be a wife and mother. Mother Teresa’s vocation was to help the sick and poor and I guessed that she didn’t spend her days saying “Ugh! These people are SO SICK! And SO POOR!” So I tried to be more like Mother Teresa and I can’t tell you how much it has worked for me.

    I am still tired, but I feel so much stronger that I will make it and maybe even thrive! Thanks again for this post, I love what you write.

  19. Katie

    That is beautiful. You have an awesome way of wording your thoughts. I love reading your blog and I can’t wait to be tired like you πŸ™‚

  20. SixValentes

    This post made me laugh and cry. It made me laugh because we are in so much the same place. I loved how you said you were “On-call”. It’s exactly how I was feeling when I wrote:

    http://kingdomtwindom.blogspot.com/2008/10/home-alone.html

    Anyway, thanks again for another beautiful post. I appreciate, so much, that in your exhaustion you continue to share yourself with all of us.

  21. Tara

    Jennifer thanks for this. I remember it well. I had twins and I NEVER slept. I was on fully automatic until they turned 4! Now they will be 18 in December and I am a single mom going it alone. I am still always tired. And as woman with a vocation within a vocation….I know that this too shall pass and the next season will be ushered in. Peace to you and yours.

  22. reprehriestless warillever

    Wow — you are so spot on.

    As I spent this morning corralling three crazed children — just this side of frazzled — I caught my breath for just long enough to remind myself that this is just what I am supposed to be doing in this season of my life.

  23. Kylie w Warszawie

    It’s interesting that this idea of living for you is a Western view. A very Western view. Culturally, Eastern people – mostly Asian, but India and the Middle East too, are focused on others and the society as a whole, rather than themselves. Perhaps this is why Eastern religion has become somewhat trendy in the West these days. People just don’t realize that Christianity teaches that same idea.

  24. Teri

    “Might involve being a little tired,” indeed.
    I’m tired today, and your post is uplifting. Thanks!

  25. Steph at The Red Clay Diaries

    What a great meditation on “the good life!”

    This very day I was feeling cranky because one of my 3 stayed home from school and totally ruined MY plans for the day. I’d reverted to “selfish” without even realizing it. God pointed it out to me mid-rant, as I was busy making my daughter feel guilty for being sick. (Bad mom.) I pulled her into my lap and apologized. And told her I was being selfish. She didn’t get it. (Give her 20 years or so.) But I think I’ll make sure I let the kids see that good parenting = unselfishness. πŸ™‚

    Great post. Thanks for sharing.

  26. miller_schloss

    Thanks for this. I linked to it from my blog today. I really appreciated the line, “There’s a certain amount of weariness that comes with building a family.”

  27. Beth

    Wow, I can really, really relate to you on this one. I have not felt rested since my second (of three) boys was born. There is a certain amount of tiredness that comes with the territory. Some days it’s all I can do to stay awake, much less read to my children with animated voices, or go over sight words one last time. But it’s so worth it!

  28. Diane L. Harris

    Jennifer,

    I know my 20 year old self wouldn’t have listened. I used to want to bite off the heads of (usually older) people who said “we can sleep when we die”. Who knew commitment to God and family would take so much work? Tired is good.

    Diane L. Harris
    http://www.steppingintothelight.net

  29. Charlotte

    it's me again… i think what i'm trying to understand more is your thoughts on vocation with regards to motherhood… i have had a similar experience with understanding the concept of vocation–it was new to me when i learned about it a few years ago. very new to me. i haven't read your full post or the comments, but i look forward to doing so later today. in your current post about being open, i got the impression that you think moms' primary vocation is mothering their children. i struggle with seeing that as the most important thing we're called to do as Christians. Yes–it's an important thing we do, but i see the call to be an image-bearer of God, to love God, & to love our neighbors (in addition to our kids & husbands) as the highest calling. i think some Christian moms aren't open to other ways God wants to use them in the building of His kingdom, & the church (every church/denomination) hasn't done a very good job of helping us understand this or think about it in Biblical terms.

    thanks for creating the environment where these discussions are welcome…

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