On being tired

August 2, 2010 | 20 comments

This is a sort of Part II to the post I re-ran last week, so I thought I’d post it as well. It was originally published on October 14, 2008.

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.”


  1. blissful_e

    Thanks for reposting – I too am often tired, yet encouraged by my unmistakable vocation.

    As a practical matter, I use a water soluble iron supplement recommended by my midwife during pregnancy and breastfeeding. It makes a world of difference to my energy levels. It's called Spa-Tone here in Australia, but you might be able to find something similar in Texas.

    Enjoy your time away with Yaya! 🙂

  2. Marilyn

    I remember this post and I think it's one of the best. Thanks for re-posting it.

    I'm about to enter crushingly tired territory again, with my fourth child coming some time this month. I agree with iron supplements being a huge help too.

  3. Cammie Novara

    "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." I can completely relate to that from my own experience.

  4. Kathleen@so much to say, so little time

    Wow! This resonates so clearly this morning after a night spent on the couch because my sick daughter pre-empted my place in bed with her daddy. (It'll be a tossup which of her parents is more tired today!) I have lots of times when I think just as you did, staring up the stairs and thinking, "if there was any other option, I'd say I couldn't do it."

  5. Kelly @ Love Well

    I remember this post from the first time around, and I have to say, the way you communicated vocation (not what you do, but who you serve) has marked me forever. It piggybacks on a concept I'm learning more and more in my own spiritual time with God, which is that I think He cares way more about WHO we are than WHAT/WHERE we are. So often, in Western Christianity (certainly Western Evangelical Christianity), we get hung up on "What does God want me to do with my life? Where does he want me to live? What school should I attend?" When really, God is way more focused on who we are in the midst of life's circumstances.

    I just want to say, Jennifer, that I don't comment much these days (nursing baby + 3 other kids home for the summer; enough said). But I always read your posts. You are a thoughtful, witty, interesting writer, and I am the better for reading your thoughts.

  6. Nicole

    My husband just sent me this post and I am so glad he did. We are expecting #5 (whew) in Sept and what a blessing he will be. The beginning of your post I thought you were describing me!

    Thank you for the reminder of what our "vocation" really is. With 5 years between my middle two, I've learned a new way of involving my oldest with caring for the younger ones.

    Have a great day!!

  7. Rachel Gray

    Oh, great. As a single girl with no responsibility to anyone else, I slept in today, got up late and very well-rested, and then saw your post and realized that the meaning of life *isn't* being lazy! 🙂 Good reminder.

  8. Danya

    Lord, ain't that the truth! I'm tired to my bones but could not be happier!

  9. angela michelle

    ugh. So since you don't really know me, can I tell you that I'm pregnant (#6) but it's still a secret and I am so tired I really feel like I might die. But as I said, no one knows, not even the kids, so up those stairs I trudge, trying to be calm and cheerful to boot. 🙂

  10. amy


  11. melissa

    This post meant so much to me…I am 8 mths preg. with no.7 and completely crushed with exhaustion!!!!!! I pray to God every day to give me the strength to go on…..it's so hard not to be irritable all the time but you are such an inspiration to me!!!!………

  12. Anonymous

    While I agree with the exhaustion of pregnancy and the importance of focusing on Whom we serve and who we are called to be, what touched me most in this repost was what you would tell your former self. You didn't try to explain what you know now or why. Your message to her was more be open to a fulfilling life not looking the way you currently invision it.


  13. Elena

    Absolutely fabulous, Jen. I am nearing the end of pregnancy with my fifth child and feel the exhaustion. At the same time I want to scream from the mountain tops that this is the way to live but I lack the coherence of thought or word to do so. I would just love to cut and paste your whole blog post and pretend that its mine! I think I will liberally quote it.

  14. Hope

    Thanks for this post. Especially the part about "who will you serve?" I need to be reminded of that frequently when the demands of motherhood bog me down.

  15. Suzanne

    Oh, Jennifer,,,i can so relate, BUT my kids are grown and gone and i would give my eyeteeth to do it over again. Take a deep breath, give praise to God for his immeasurable gifts, and keep going!! It WILLLLLL be worth it!!!

  16. Anonymous

    A coworker commented on my FB page after I'd given the latest tale of tiredness from trying to get my 9mo daughter to change her feeding schedule to something more resembling sleeping through the night. "Not making motherhood look very rosy."

    My reply:

    We complain about the hours, lack of sleep, and whatever. But last night, at 2:30am, Shannon lifted her head off my chest, said "da da," put it back down, sighed happily, and went to sleep. If I must go without sleep for the rest of my life, I will happily do so for such moments. Every day I come home, her face lights up when she sees me as if the entire world has just become a brighter place. A week ago, I was holding her in my arms, and he leaned forward and for the first time (and only time) gave me a kiss. Somewhere there's a video of me singing to Shannon while she's still in the hospital. I will never forget that moment, ever.

    It's possible to get lost in the minutiae, the things you're 'giving up' (like a regular sleep schedule, a certain degree of personal grooming, and the ability to spontaneously at any moment tackle your husband and make wild monkey love on the kitchen floor). But am willing to offer up that for many (not all), defining parenthood in the language of 'what I'm giving up' is simply not the paradigm that is used from within the bubble, though it's easy to do so from outside.

    With regards to the article: Whom do you live for, indeed. Once it's not about you, and you can relish that fact, everything changes.

  17. Joe

    Thanks for sharing this.

  18. Anonymous

    I applaud you message, it should strike all Christians as true. However, the understanding that all are called to their respective duties, not just priests, is not really a Catholic doctrine, but one that is firmly grounded in the protestant faith.

  19. Anonymous

    With respect to the 21 August post,
    There are seven sacraments in Catholicism, beginning with baptism,then penance,then communion,then confirmation. These are followed by separate but equal sacrements of holy orders and matrimony. Either one OR the other.
    Finally, you can also receive the sacrament of the sick as you pass.

    Trust me, EVERYONE has a vocation.Some understand and follow through,some never get it! It is probably why the Buddists "created" reincarnation!

  20. Tom Perkins

    Someone forwarded this link to me. That was on the money. There is this “dark hole” of fatigue that engulfs a mom (according to my wife) until the last child is able to have a playmate. Until then, they figuratively and literally suck the life out of you. And yet, God provides moments of sheer joy and wonder that gives just enough energy and hope for the next round late nights and early mornings.
    And then, most mysteriously of all, they are gone, “in the twinkling of an eye.” And every mother wistfully looks back at those “dark hole” days with a melancholy fondness, wishing that they could have them all back.


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