Winter rest

First slide

I spent the early days of this new year in that exceptional place of both time and space that is early postpartum. I traveled from my home in Virginia to my son’s home in Connecticut and helped to welcome twins to their family of four, now six. It was bitter cold, with formidable wind and snow, and I learned that Connecticut is, indeed, darker than Virginia. It’s lighter, too. In the sweet, milk-drunk haze of those exceptional days I noticed the dark, but I also notice the brilliant quality of precious light the short daylight hours held.

 

We are still in the dark days of winter. Though the calendar insists daylight is lengthening, it is only by mere moments. The days are short and the darkness is long. Whether there are three feet of snow outside with more predicted for tomorrow or the streets are paved with black ice, winter has a way of teaching us to be still — to rest in the quiet hush of hiddenness, to be blanketed inside while the insulation of snow outside serves to magnify light in ways never before noticed.

Postpartum days are more of everything. They are some of the most intense days of home-keeping that parents will ever experience. So much laundry and such important meals. The time of teaching new babies to eat and of feeding the mother who feeds them is quite literally essential to life. Relationships, too, are more during postpartum. Everyone in the family has a new role, and the old roles call for more attention.

Then there is rest. Rest should be more during postpartum. The whole family needs much-coveted rest. In a snug home living the season after a baby’s (or two babies’) birth — whether winter or summer — the family’s world is tuned to the rhythm of work and rest. That new family, fresh from the miraculous moment of birth, has much to teach us about how to live.

Every year, as people ponder January resolutions, they are offered advice about work-life balance. Mention the notion to a family learning life with twin newborns and you will get a bleary, incredulous stare. There is no division of work and life in the home of babies. Life is work and that is how it should be, every action ordered to sustaining and thriving in life itself. A Saturday looks much like a Monday and toil is certainly not limited to the hours between nine and five. New parents live in a tired state, pouring out faithfully into daytime and nighttime hours in order to care and to provide for children who are entirely dependent upon them for life itself. They go to bed bone-weary, having held back nothing from service to the people they love. If not work-life balance, then what about work-rest balance?

Rest is elusive, actual sleep even more so. But what can the winter of scarce light and the postpartum season of scarce sleep teach us about rest? In those dimly lit days when grownups stagger under the weight of responsibility and true sleep seems elusive at best, we are even more aware of our need to look to Christ for light and to ask Him to bear the burden of our crosses. We seek rest in the small moments and we let our eyes travel from clear winter skies to the ground below, where everything is fresh and quiet in the extraordinary light.  Rest in the hard seasons is all about noticing the light.

Rest in the hard seasons means accepting that some work will go undone, some problems will remain unsolved, some people will still want more from you. Rest in the seasons where life-sustaining work is relentless means reminding oneself all day long that the unfinished work is where God can and will pour His grace. Rest is knowing that we must relinquish control, and acknowledging that thinking we actually have control is erroneous anyway.

Cued by the winter, we rest when we acknowledge we have no power over the duration of the daylight. The dark will come unbidden. With it, we choose stillness (even if a baby nurses there in the circle of arms), and we relinquish our busy thoughts to the God who calms storms. And if, wearied by doing the good work of service to those we love, we nod off while praying, then all the better. A parent knows few more satisfying moments than when a child falls asleep in his or her arms. God wants those moments with us — He loves those moments when we rest in His presence and bring our thoughts to Him. Sometimes, they remain waking moments, gilded by His gentle light. Sometimes, there is holy sleep, and we awaken knowing that we were held.

Foss, whose website is takeupandread.org, is a freelance writer from Northern Virginia.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2018

@elizabethfoss