I waited until I couldn’t wait any longer. I needed to see the doctor. Friends at church and colleagues at work kept asking me, “Are you okay?”
I understood their query. My eyes were so red that it looked like I had been crying. Only I hadn’t been. My eyes were just red. So I went to the doctor, because clearly, I had pink eye — in both eyes!
But the doctor peered into my face and said, “You don’t have pink eye.”
Upon hearing his pronouncement, I may have rolled my eyes. Of course I had pink eye! It was rather obvious.
Then the doctor sat on his stool and asked me, “How many hours of sleep are you getting at night?”
Um, not much. Three or four hours. Maybe. I had a full-time job to do and night classes to take and a daughter to raise — by myself. As a single mom, I didn’t have the luxury of a full night’s rest. Once my daughter was in bed, I stayed up late, studying. I was desperate to finish a college degree so I could earn more than the minimum-wage job I currently spent 40 hours a week doing.
So I looked at the doctor and said, “I dunno.”
The truth is, my life was an all-out sprint. Every. Single. Day.
Everything depended on me. The rent was up to me. The bills were up to me. And my daughter looked up to me.
The weight of being a single mom was almost too much to bear. And it was taking a toll on my body too. My health wasn’t great. But what else could I do?
The doctor prescribed a minimum of 8 hours sleep each night, plus some over-the-counter eye drops.
I left the doctor’s office frustrated. I had swapped babysitting with a friend so I could go to my appointment — only to have the doctor tell me that I needed more sleep? I already knew I needed more sleep! It just wasn’t possible. Not with my schedule.
My days were filled beyond maximum capacity, and I was crumbling, bit by bit. I knew it. But I didn’t know how to change. I didn’t know of any other way. All I could do was pray: Lord, if there’s anything I could be doing differently, please show me.
Slowly, the Lord began revealing to me the decisions I was making. In addition to my job and my night classes, I was also going to church at least three nights per week. I loved singing in the choir and on the worship team. But the rehearsals were on Thursday nights, and the were services on Saturday nights, plus Sunday mornings. And that’s to say nothing of the other volunteer hours I was giving.
But serving at church is a good thing, right?
Yes, serving at church is a wonderful thing, but at the root of all my serving was my need for a family. I didn’t have any extended family around. I felt completely alone in the world with a three-year-old little girl. So I was over-extending myself in an effort to feel like I “belonged” somewhere. And being at church gave me that sense of belonging.
My church became like family to me. I loved everyone there. But I also needed to find a way to get a little more sleep. So I met with a couple of the pastors and explained that I needed to volunteer a little less — at least until I finished my degree. They were completely understanding and very supportive.
Eventually, by God’s grace, I did finish my degree and was able to get a better job to support myself and my daughter. But during those crazy-hectic years, I learned the importance of saying the hard “no” in order to say a better “yes.” My daughter depended on it.
Being a single mom, I sometimes felt imprisoned by life, but I realized that my ultra-busyness was actually the thing that was imprisoning me. Since I didn’t have much margin to begin with, I needed to be very careful about which things I said “yes” to. By ending the cycle of ultra-busyness, I found a new freedom — a genuine freedom to enjoy each day more fully and to love my daughter and my church family more deeply.
Today, it’s hard to believe that almost two decades have passed since that doctor told me I needed more sleep. And his advice is just as true today as it was back then.
It’s just as true for single moms as it is for married moms too. It’s what we all have in common. We all need to learn which things to say “yes” to and which things to say “no” to. And we all need to take care of our health by getting decent rest.
And some days, I need to remind myself of this all over again.
What about you? Do you struggle with getting enough sleep?