Everyday Christian: The sweet rebellion of staying up late

Lately, I have been procrastinating going to bed. My kids (4 years old and 18 months old) go to bed sometime between 6.30 and 7pm most nights. I tidy the kitchen, pick up the clothes scattered down the hallway and then curl up on the couch with the remote.

Despite it’s mundanity, I am protective of this time; this time I have to do whatever I want. Except, usually by that time of night ‘whatever I want’ is ‘whatever I can be bothered to do’. Which isn’t much. And yet, heaven forbid a child wakes up or someone tries to phone me. A monster awakens, and I am resentful of anyone eating into ‘my time’.

I am also resentful of the need to sleep. I know that if I don’t go to sleep early enough, I’ll be a horrible, grumpy person in the morning, when my children wake up at the crack of dawn (and at all hours before dawn). I know this is what will happen. And yet, I go to bed later and later.

I hoard time. I am greedy for it.

At this stage in my life, staying up late is an act of rebellion. So much of my life is dictated by other people’s needs that once they are in bed, my job is done and I feel like I deserve to do what I want. I don’t want to squander that well-earned time by sleeping it away.

But I am tired.

It doesn’t take a theological degree for me to know that I should go to sleep earlier.

Tish Harrison Warren, author of The Liturgy of the Ordinary, writes that one of her favourite moments in the gospels is when we find Jesus in the back of a boat conked out in the middle of a storm.

“His sleep was theological in that it displays an unwavering trust in his Father. But let us not forget that this is also the ordinary embodiment of a tired man taking a nap.”

“Sleep,” she writes, “reminds us that theology, at the end of the day, is always creaturely.

“David worshipped God by sleeping: ‘I lie down and sleep; I wake again, because the LORD sustains me.”

I don’t want to go to sleep because I crave more time to do what I want. To have agency over my time and my body in a period of life where that is so not often the case (tiny people like to wrestle … and sit on you … and cling to you … and play with you).

There is a term for this in China: 報復性熬夜. It means ‘revenge bedtime procrastination’ – defined on Twitter (where the term spread like wildfire in 2020) as when “people who don’t have much control over their daytime life refuse to sleep early in order to regain some sense of freedom during late-night hours”.

“Get more sleep” is not a message I want to hear. But, here are the things I know:

  • I know that when I sleep enough, I am more able to obey God and love the people he has put in my life.
  • I know that when I sleep enough, I am healthier and happier.
  • I know that parenting tiny people who suck up time will not last forever.

And here are the things I am learning:

  • God created humans who need sleep.
  • Humans are weak and vulnerable but cared for and provided for by God.
  • God has given us sleep as a gift.
  • I like gifts.

These are hard lessons. But I am trying.

As Tish Harrison Warren put it, “When unbelievers encounter our community, I hope we’d be an alternative people known by love, justice-seeking, humility, and good humour. But I also hope that the world would take note: ‘Those Christians sure are well-rested.’ “