What to Say at 3 a.m.

Posted on June 21, 2011 · Posted in Parenting, Sleep

It is 3 a.m.  You finally got your three-year-old to sleep at 2 a.m. Now you are awakened once again by the call of a wide-awake child. You can’t believe it! What do you say or do?

This brings us to the second principle concerning children going to sleep—which is that all of your words are to acknowledge the commands of God that these instructions are to be deeply impressed on your heart so that you can speak about them to your children.  Some of you are probably thinking I need a reality check. Just let the baby cry!!! But before we see how this command applies at 3 a.m., let’s take a few steps back in time to 9 a.m. the previous day.

Your best friend from church just called.  She needs you to watch her  three-year-old while she takes her husband to the doctor because he just sprained his ankle. Even though you are tired, of course you agree, because this is meeting a true need for your friend.  Her toddler and your son, Sean, are not only great friends, but great mischiefs as well.  By the time your friend picks her child up at 4 p.m., you are exhausted. Whatever plans you had for the day were laid aside, as keeping track of the two toddlers more than filled your day. Things were so busy that you gave little thought to God—you were in survival mode. Just as your friend was pulling away in her car, you remembered that your husband’s sister and family were coming over for dinner  that night.  The only solution you can think of is to order pizza for everybody and hope the budget survives.  As bedtime approaches, you are at least grateful that your son should be so exhausted that he will probably sleep halfway through tomorrow. Your husband helps you with the clean-up, you put a sleepy Sean to bed, and the two of you head for bed as well. Somehow you have survived another day. Your friend was helped. A family dinner was achieved. The house isn’t even too much of a mess. Sean is wiped out and sleeping. All in all, a good day, despite the challenges. Just one thing was missing—acknowledging God. You were so busy that you forgot about God’s presence. But in reality, all of the things that happened this day were planned by God for your good. And yet you never thought of him.  Remember this familiar passage in Deuteronomy 6:5-7:

Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.  These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts.  Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.

New Testament passages, such as Ephesians 6:1-4 and Colossians 3:17 echo this same thought.  God is to be the point of all that we do and say. After all, he designed all that happened this day for your good and his glory. But on this day, as on many other days, God remained off in the distance of a hectic life. So when Sean unexpectedly wakes up at 1:30 a.m., you are shocked—he was so tired! So you work to get him down again, and at 2 a.m. Sean is again asleep. Pleased with yourself for getting him down, you fall off to sleep, with no thought of God. So now, here we are at 3 a.m., and Sean is definitely wide awake and you are overwhelmed and feeling very, very alone and frustrated.  You have done so much to help others today; this just isn’t fair! The idea of being comforted by the nearness of God doesn’t even cross your mind at this moment.

Now we have some context for this 3 a.m. encounter. But notice, it is an encounter that actually started at 9 a.m. the previous morning. It was God’s plan that led your friend to call you for help as she rushed her injured husband to the doctor.  It was God’s plan that had two lively toddlers spend the day together. It was God’s plan that brought dinner guests. Yet in all of these things, God was not even an afterthought.

Suppose you had started the day by telling Sean that God had brought about a change in plans for the day. You called your husband and asked for prayer to help you keep God first this day. You made a similar request to another friend from church. You prayed with Sean frequently throughout the day for help from God. Your husband called two or three times to encourage you. That night you thanked God for his care that day. You prayed with Sean the first time he woke up. Now, at 3 a.m., even though you are exhausted, you know that God is in the middle of all of this. You know that his word encourages you to talk about God, even in this challenging moment. Despite the noisiness of the world around you, you know the quiet comfort of God, like a weaned child on the lap of his mother.

Sean sees a mom who is tired, but who is also resting in God. Your first words are to thank God for your son. You ask God to help you love him and love God in the way that pleases him right now. You ask God to help you know his peace and to be an example to Sean, with whom you have been very blessed.  You thank God for being in control of this day, even now.

I don’t know exactly how this scene will turn out, compared to the one where God was not acknowledged. But what I do know is that it will be different. It pleases God when his children seek his help and depend on him.

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Jay Younts
John A. (Jay) Younts is the Shepherd Press blogger, and is a ruling elder serving at Redeemer Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church in Moore, South Carolina. He has written Everyday Talk, Everyday Talk About Sex & Marriage, Finding the Right Track, the In Touch With Paul stewardship series, and What About War. He has studied and taught about biblical childrearing for 30 years. He and his late wife Ruth have five adult children.