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Sleep Training: Life Lessons in Humility

I am currently attempting a 90-day read through of the Bible. I say attempting, because I’m 13 plus days and hundreds of pages behind schedule. Fortunately, the Bible is a long book and I have managed to read a good chunk of the Old Testament in relatively quick succession. Reading through so much text so quickly is overwhelming. However, it also allows me to identify repetitive themes. Namely, God’s mercy and faithfulness in the face of man’s continuous failure. Again and again, God provides for His people. All He asks in return is obedience and recognition that He is the one true God. They must merely acknowledge God for who He is. The Israelites have plenty of proof pointing to God’s goodness. He delivered them from the callous hands of Pharaoh, provided for them in the wilderness, brought them to the promise land, and multiplied their number. Every time they obeyed God, blessings and abundance were their reward. If that wasn’t enough, God also warned them continually not to turn from Him. He reminded them that the blessings would cease if they forgot His role in their lives. Unfortunately, they quickly dismissed the source of their goodness. Before long they built gods with their own hands and sacrificed to these idols instead of God. Every time they walked away, they faced hardship and defeat, until, battered and bruised, they returned humbled to their compassionate God. God delivered them from their suffering each time they called upon His name. It’s exhausting the number of times the Israelites turned and returned to God. Reading their story, it’s easy to judge them. Their task is so simple and their reward so clear. It seems ridiculous that the Israelites, who reaped so much goodness from God, would have the audacity to turn away from Him. How could they be so fickle?

Naturally, God used my judgement of the flaky Israelites to expose my own prideful heart and foster some much needed humility. His chosen medium for instruction— sleep training my toddler. Since my sweet baby girl turned one, she has not been a great sleeper. Once upon a time, she slept better than most children her age. Then that fairytale ended and a night of uninterrupted sleep became a rare treat. With my husband gone, it was easier to make excuses then commit to training my daughter to be a good sleeper. So I clung to our mediocre nights of sleep, until they were no longer working for me. During a recent trip to my parents’ house, I finally reached my threshold for night wakings. In the comfort of someone else’s home (thanks mom and dad!) I decided, once and for all, to sleep train her. I’m very familiar with the idea of sleep training. I’ve watched friends and family members implement strategies to help their children self soothe and sleep through the night. Everybody wins. At my stage of sleep depravation, it seemed like a fairytale. The only problem is, the process is torture. Cry it out is the most effective method and the most painful. However, the less aggressive strategies take longer to implement. So the options include, suffering greatly for a short period of time, or suffering mildly for an extended period of time. Either way, things typically improve within 3 days. Despite the impending torture, I was ready to commit.

I concocted an initial strategy with encouragement from my parents and some tough love from a dear friend. We were still night nursing so my plan was three-fold. Step one, eliminate night nursing, offering whatever comfort needed to ease my child back to sleep. Step two, eliminate any physical touch during the night, but offer visual and vocal comfort as needed. Step three, stop adding external comfort and trust that baby girl is capable of putting herself back to bed. I was ready to go. The first night, I was unshakeable. She woke up in the middle of the night and it took her about an hour to fall asleep sans nursing. I rocked her to provide comfort but always put her down awake. The next morning, she woke up earlier than I would have liked, but, all in all, it was a success. We were off to a good start. It went much better than some of the stories I’d heard. Now all I had to do was make it through two more nights and things were sure to improve.The second night is often worse than the first, according to “them,” whoever “they” are. So, I had given myself a pep talk the night before. I wanted my conviction to be strong; I wanted to stand firm in my plan. On night two she also awoke in the middle of the night and it took her the same amount of time to get back to sleep. Then she woke up at 5 am. Unfortunately, when 5 am came around, I had a headache and just wanted to go back to sleep. The pep talk given hours prior had lost its magic. I should have just let her whine until 6 am or gotten up with her. It wouldn’t have been that bad and I could have gone back to sleep when my parents woke up. What did I do instead? The one thing I wasn’t supposed to do. I nursed her and put her back to bed. How could I be so weak? It wasn’t even that bad of a night and I caved.


And I failed at it. Even when the desired outcome is guaranteed, we humans fail at the follow through. Isn’t that just the truth? I am no better than the Israelites. Keeping God’s law was the obvious right choice for them. Anything else was asinine and led to destruction. Still their weary hearts wandered. And mine does to. The right choice is obvious, but, despite my good intentions, I am easily distracted and lose sight of my purpose. Thank God that my success does not rest on my perfect performance.

For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. (Romans 7:15 ESV)

My heart aches every time I read this verse, because it reveals so much of my struggle here on earth. I want so badly to do good, but often my best intentions are thwarted by the human condition. I have experienced God’s love and so I long to love better. I am the recipient of continuous undeserved grace and I want to give it abundantly and often. My efforts often fail. How comforting it is to know that God covers my insufficiencies. He offers grace in those moments when I deviate from the good plan. For example, on the third night my child slept from bedtime till morning, despite my inability to stick to the method. God was so gracious with me during that process, and He continues to show me His goodness in all of life’s little triumphs and challenges.

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