Earlier this week, my younger daughter and I were on the phone and the subject of sleep came up. Her habits are much like mine used to be: work hard all day (she home-schools), feed and bathe children before bedtime, focus on husband until he retires for the night, and finally, collapse on the couch to breathe in the wonderful, relaxing silence, the blessed me-time.
Sometime during that last interval, the urgency to notch various “accomplishments” (onto the day’s figurative belt) hits full force. For the next several hours, determination rules. Whether it’s a writing project or some other creative endeavor, the drive for project completion outweighs all tiredness … until at least 3 or 4 o’clock in the morning. When this accomplishment machine is engaged, all-nighters are not uncommon.
Needless to say, when one has small children (most especially when one is educating those children during daytime hours), this routine can’t go on long. For me, I could manage maybe one all-nighter over a two-week period. Late nights (or early mornings, to be more precise) were more easily sustained, because I hated to interrupt a project midstream. But eventually, even the late nights became unsustainable. My daughter’s now moving closer to this point in her life. She told me she wants to adopt a more realistic schedule of rising early and retiring at a reasonable hour.
What is it that drives us so doggedly to pursue accomplishments even to our own detriment? This question came to mind today as I reflected on the bitter cold our area experienced today. I wondered: What did people do in the frigid cold when there was no central heat to warm them? Of course, they bundled up as much as possible, even within the walls of their cabins or lean-tos. If they could manage a blazing fire, it didn’t always mean they were warm … unless they stayed gathered nearby. This kind of inactivity wouldn’t likely allow for significant accomplishments to happen, if you know what I mean.
Or think about those days when the cabin door was barred shut by a snowdrift. There’d be minimal or no getting out for the duration. Huddling around a fire for warmth or bundling together to share body heat might have been the only alternatives! Imagining this scenario in my own life, I think I’d have gone stir-crazy after twenty minutes! How would I get my work done?
Those of us who are obsessively driven are entertaining (I think) an arrogance about the importance of accomplishments. What if my work doesn’t get done? Will there be a huge cataclysm? Will the sun even rise tomorrow morning? If I’ve dropped the ball somewhere in my life, how can I even face my peers?!
I’m beginning to understand how false and foolish this mindset is. I remember many times in my younger years reaching the end of a day and exclaiming, “I can’t fit it all in! I just need more hours in my day!” The irony is if I’d had more hours, it still wouldn’t have been enough … and I’d have ended my days with the identical exclamation on my lips!
Each of us has a set number of hours in our days. We also have bodies that age and need sleep. I’m reminded of that lovely Psalm 127, verse 2 in which the psalmist states bluntly:
It is a waste of time to get up early and stay up late,
trying to make a living.
The Lord provides for those he loves,
even while they are sleeping.
When I read that verse, I’m reminded I’d rather not be wasting my time. Further, it’s a trap – vanity (as the King James version translates it) – to rise early and stay up late! I’ve been stuck in that trap, far too often! But I love how the verse continues: the Lord provides for those he loves even while they are sleeping. This is a gift! Sleep renews us, but even when we sleep, our bodies are working … in a sense, sleep is a unique kind of productive endeavor.
In my own experience, consistent sleep enables my creative process. Sometimes when I awaken in the night, I’m aware my brain has been working though a piece of writing as I slept. That is definitely a gift. And I bid you, G’night!