Things are not always what they seem. Knowing how important a good night’s rest is for health and well-being, people often ask me how much sleep I get—and for good reason. As a mother of five kids, I’ve spent many nights awake, feeding and soothing babies, cleaning up vomit from sick kids, and tending children having an asthma attack at 2 a.m. The assumption is that being up with kids at night is torturous and completely exhausting. And while the nights can be difficult, for me they are not the hardest practical part of daily life with young kids. I often actually feel strongest at night—it is quiet, and I treasure the quiet, and I’ve found something precious about being my kids’ nighttime caregiver. I enjoy helping them feel calm enough to sleep, I enjoy their sweet nighttime snuggles, I like being their safe place after a bad dream, and while I don’t exactly enjoy cleaning up vomit or giving medicine, I feel grateful that I’m able to care for my children in this way, with skill and competence.
So I don’t mind nocturnal throwups and wakeups. What I actually hate is mealtime with my kids.
I’ve always had a hard time figuring out what my children will eat, but this frustration plagues me especially with kids under the age of five. I remember when my oldest child was a toddler and we’d come home from a morning music class or trip to the zoo. The “what will she eat for lunch” dread would start to creep in around 11 a.m., and I would sometimes pray intermittently till noon: “Lord, help me find something she will actually eat. Help me provide her with a balanced diet. Give me the patience to clean up the food if she flips her plate over.”
This toddler mealtime trepidation has persisted through the years. I get anxious cutting up even simple food like pizza for my current two-year-old, because it could all be a wasted effort when she decides she doesn’t want it. I don’t particularly like planning meals or cooking for adults or older kids, but there is something utterly random and dehumanizing about a toddler who leaves delicious pizza, yogurt, and apple slices untouched even when she hasn’t eaten all morning. Yes, dehumanizing. I know that’s a strong word for describing a toddler refusing food, and I understand how ridiculous it sounds. I mean, refusing food is one of the top skills on pretty much every toddler’s resume! As a veteran mom feeding a fifth toddler, can’t I just get over this frustration?
Even the wilderness and desert will be glad in those days. The wasteland will rejoice and blossom with spring crocuses. Yes, there will be an abundance of flowers and singing and joy! The deserts will become as green as the mountains of Lebanon…the Lord will display his glory, the splendor of our God. With this news, strengthen those who have tired hands, and encourage those who have weak knees. Say to those with fearful hearts, “Be strong, and do not fear, for your God is coming to destroy your enemies. He is coming to save you.”
(Isaiah 35:1-4, NLT)
This is a messianic prophecy, a description of the healing and rejoicing of the earth when the Messiah comes. For Isaiah, he was anticipating the birth of Jesus. For us, we look for the second coming of Christ, and until then, for the daily ways he meets us in the joys and challenges we face. Sometimes our struggles are obvious—illness and pain that the world can clearly see and sympathize with. Other times, our problems are harder to share and sometimes even hard to identify. We hesitate to talk about or even admit to challenges we feel ashamed by or that we may not fully understand ourselves. It took me a long time to realize that I dislike meals with my family. It was only after having dozens, maybe hundreds, of 5 p.m. bowls of cereal on my own that it dawned on me that
- I was trying to increase my strength and stabilize my blood sugar to make it through dinnertime, and
- I needed to eat something early because I often lost my appetite during the combined stress of making the food and then making people eat it.
Things aren’t always what they seem, but in both our quiet battles and our unseen victories, God still meets us. You’d think that hours awake taking care of ill or insomniac children would drive me nuts, but it just, well, doesn’t. I don’t know why this is exactly, but I’ve come to believe that my Knack for Nighttime is a provision from the Lord and a taste of his glory here on earth, in my own home. Our household just wouldn’t function well, and our children could be in danger, if I didn’t have the awareness and ability to wake easily at night that I do. Additionally, my nighttime powers are a provision in my marriage, as my husband much prefers (like normal people) to have uninterrupted nights of rest. And as often happens with couples, my husband has abilities and aptitudes that complement mine and that fill in the gaps where I come up short—or where I simply feel paralyzed by irrational dread. My husband is a steady and skilled meal planner and an excellent cook. While I still make plenty of food for my family because I’m the parent who is home more, my husband cooks dinner frequently and has a beautiful breakfast system in place so that I don’t have to be involved in morning food decisions, preparations, or tussles. His stepping up to the plate in the meal arena has been a continual blessing to our family and especially to me. My tired hands and my trembling knees have been strengthened and calmed in the wasteland of meal preparation, and I am so grateful.
Where has God met you, steadying your weary limbs and turning your deserts green? Jesus can meet obvious needs. But he often shows up unexpectedly, where things are not as they seem but a need is just as great. Sometimes what people assume is difficult can actually be a source of joy, like my night duty, and what looks wholesome and pleasant is a daily distress, like family mealtime. In both, appearances are deceiving, and in both, the Lord is present.