First of all, thanks to all of you for your comments. Thanks, too, to Laney for raising her concern. As you can tell from the comments received here, and from the popularity of the book referred to in the original post, the topic of infants and children going to sleep is on peoples’ minds!
I have some specific comments to make to Laney and others, but let me begin by noting some biblical principles that actually do apply to children and going to sleep.
The first principle is that God is always right there with us. What difference does that make? Let’s unpack that a little. Because God is always with us, every moment is an opportunity to bring honor to him. He will always give us what we need to please and honor him. Psalm 139:1-6 says that God completely and wonderfully knows me more intimately than I can imagine. There is no time of day or night when this is not true. He also knows all that I am going to say or think before my words or thoughts even happen. This passage teaches that God has placed his hand around me, so that I am never cut off from him. David, as he composed this psalm, was [R1] blown away by these truths. The psalm says that even when we don’t feel close to God, he is, in fact, close to us. As the theme of the book on getting children to go to sleep indicates, and as some of your comments indicate, one of the times we can easily perceive that God is far from us is in the middle of the night, when we are faced with a toddler or infant who WILL NOT go to sleep.
Yet—could God really abandon you? Of course not! God is always there with his people.
If you do not know God, if you are not a Christian, then these moments with a child who will not go to sleep can be ones of agony and hopelessness, because there is no promise that the God of the universe will hear you and help you. But for the Christian, there should be comfort in knowing that God is right there with you and knows your frustrations even before you speak. This truth alone should bring comfort. The Lord who died for your sins is there with you when your child seems to have abandoned any need of sleep.
Now, I realize this may not directly address the situation of a wide-awake child in the middle of the night. You want to know, “What do I do???” But there is more here than may meet the eye.
Our children know when we are exasperated or upset, no matter how much we try to hide it. I do have some experience with this personally with my own children. For those of you who don’t know, Ruth and I had five children in eight years. With our first child, I would often be frustrated if he was not sleeping soon after his bedtime, at the “appropriate times,” but I also considered myself to be under control and even as I responded to him. Still he would seem restless or fussy. But the reality was I was internally frustrated and upset. My wife would then come in, even if she was tired or half-awake, and would immediately bring calm to my son. Even when she was tired, she was thinking first of God and his control of all situations, including a wide-awake fussing infant. Her concern was to bring the peace of God to her child, not primarily to get him to go to sleep.
Now, before anyone says this is just a mother thing, let me say that I was able to learn this lesson from my wife—to bring God’s peace to my children. Following her example, I became more concerned about showing the peace and care of God to my children. Amazing! They then began to respond to me the way they did to her. This is not to say there were never difficult or sleepless nights. But, by God’s grace, Ruth and I drew comfort that God was on throne, loving us even when our children seemed to care little for sleep. This allowed us to be more objective in determining if the children were up was because of disobedience or because of other factors which had nothing to do with obedience.
This same deep trust in God and his faithfulness has also been the source of Ruth’s remarkable peace in the face of brain cancer. She has never felt abandoned by God or doubted his love and care for her these last fourteen months since the cancer was diagnosed. She has always been confident of God’s goodness to her, regardless of what the MRI’s reveal or don’t reveal. I know that a number of you are praying for her. Thank you! Her progress continues to be good. The current phase of her treatment will be over in September and we will know more then about the effectiveness of the chemotherapy. But that aside, God has blessed us as a family immeasurably more than we could have asked or imagined.
Despite the noisiness of the world around us, we can know the quietness of God’s comfort within. Note the words of Psalm 131:
Surely I have composed and quieted my soul;
Like a weaned child rests against his mother,
My soul is like a weaned child within me.
So that is where to begin the search for peace and quiet—knowing that a wide-awake toddler has not somehow escaped the attention of God. The next principle then flows from this one. We will look at it in the next post. Let me know your thoughts.