Sleep, Schedules, and Sleep Schedules: Challenges for the newly married

20150625-018-715 When we were going through our pre-marital counseling, one of the questions we asked one another was, "Are you an early riser or a late one?" I typically rose around 7, so my answer was quick: "Oh, I'm an early riser. I love mornings!" It was true, I would walk up to a usually quiet house—some of the girls might be at work already, some might still be asleep—make my coffee, and sit down in the Ikat armchair and read the Bible and write. Mornings felt sacred. Nate also answered, "Early riser." Perfect. A match made in heaven. Certain bliss would be our good fortune. Heart eye emoji.

What I came to learn in marriage, though, is that "Early" to him is "Middle of the Night" to humanity everywhere. He needs about six hours of sleep and usually gets up somewhere between the four o'clock and five o'clock hour. Some mornings he is breakfasted, coffeed, showered, dressed, bibled, podcasted, and sometimes run before I get out of bed at 6:30 am. We are also both very light sleepers and wake one another up several times a night. We also have a puppy who for the past eight months has kept us up several times a night. When Nate wakes up, he is up, at 'em, ready to talk, listen, commentate, and go. He chooses to go to work two hours before most of his co-workers because he is crazy. I, on the other hand, would just like a little peace and quiet, a cup of coffee, and no one to talk to me for like twenty minutes after rising. Our puppy, unfortunately, is more like Nate than me, and wants to play fetch while it is still dark outside.

What I'm saying is: when I was single I had a schedule that worked well for me. I liked my schedule. I liked my quiet, slow mornings. I liked sleeping eight hours. I liked waking up without an alarm, without a husband rolling out of bed, very literally squeaking across the floorboards, and fumbling around in the dark. Without a puppy breathing in my face at 5am. I also liked staying up late, writing in the still darkness of a house, to the light of a candle. I liked processing the day late into the night. But we made a decision to go to bed at the same time, and I think it was a good decision, even if Nate falls asleep the second his head hits the pillow and I'm awake for an hour or more, laying in the dark.

I'm not the only one making sacrifices though. Nate ran Division 1 track and field for the University of Texas. He is fast. He says, like Eric Liddell, when he runs he feels God's glory. Since we got married, though, and especially now that he is gone so many hours a day, he doesn't have time to run like he used to and would like to. By the time he gets home after 12 hours away, his wife is anxious to see him, and there's only a few hours before his head will hit the pillow like a rock. Marriage had to change our priorities. Sleep for me, running for him.

These are small examples, and the truth is, they're kind of petty examples. There are much larger things happening in the melding of two people schedules, primarily the discipline of not growing weary in well-doing. There is a kind of selflessness at play when our schedule preferences meet with one another and clash, a constant and minute opportunity to resent instead of serve. And those opportunities mount day by day by day, particularly if you think you will never get the thing you want. I have had to remind myself of two truths regularly in our new marriage:

1. My schedule is to serve his schedule

The bible says the wife is to be concerned with how she may please her husband, and I take that to mean, very seriously, my primary occupation is to make sure he can go about his day feeling loved, fed, nourished, rested, and released to lead our family. That means my schedule submits to his schedule. My schedule bends to his schedule. We eat when he comes home. We go to sleep when he is tired. We wake when he wakes. I stop my paying work when he comes home on the train, and begin my at home work. And sometimes my paying work plays second fiddle to my at home work. I had to turn down a great contract recently because I knew I couldn't serve my husband and this contract in this season. I knew if I took the contract, my flesh would want to please the contract more than it pleased my husband. My schedule is to lay my life down for him.

2. His schedule is to serve my schedule

Before your feminism gets its panties in a twist, his schedule is to serve mine too. He is working to provide for our family, to keep a roof over our heads, food on our table, and to pay for that pesky puppy who wakes me up every morning. He has submitted his life to leading and caring for our family, instead of out running, reading theology all day, and traveling the world. He washes the dishes every single night after I cook. He tiptoes across the squeaking floorboards, doing his best to miss the really loud ones. He showers in our guest bathroom so it's not as loud. If I'm up when he leaves, he makes sure there's coffee in the French Press. He always gets up with the puppy in the middle of the night. Always. When he has a day off, he always asks me what I would like to do with the day, instead of putting his preferences ahead of mine. His schedule is to lay his life down for mine.

. . .

There's an interdependence in marriage that I didn't have when I was single—as much as I tried to craft my life in such a way that there were daily opportunities to lay it down. In marriage you go to sleep with that person every night, and the worst thing you can do is go to sleep with a running list of all the ways you sacrificed for him and all the ways he didn't for you. I want to take every opportunity to cheer my husband on, encourage him when he is down, make space for things he loves, and please him—not in order that he might do the same, but because God has said a wife is a good thing, and I want to be a good thing for my husband.

If you're newly married and this clash of wills rears its ugly head primarily around your schedules, first, maybe you need some sleep, but second, what would it look like for you to lay your life down this week for his? To craft your life around what the cares of your household are? To prefer his needs above yours? I am praying for us, newly married sisters, that we would be wives who say, "I'm not my own flesh anymore," knowing it is God who gets the glory of a relinquished will and schedule.

A Smattering of Thoughts, Thinks, and Links

I hope your Thanksgiving was lovely and full, if not of food, then of love. And if not love, then food, which is a kind of love too. Before I got married I thought often married people had a built in presence of love, a constant reminder that they were loved and known and kept. But living life forward is meant to teach us about what has passed under us, not about what comes in front of us, or as the philosopher said, "Life can only be understood backwards, but it must be lived forwards." I wish I hadn't thought that holidays were harder for me as an unmarried person than they would be as a married person. The truth is both have beauties and both have challenges. In many ways my holidays or birthdays or other celebrations were richer and fuller when I was single, and that's partially because we are far from those we love and are loved by most. But in other ways it is because we are in the infancy of our marriage, growing and bending and breaking in new traditions. I love everything to do with celebrating others, giving gifts, and making every holiday special and unique, but the husband God gave me cares more about the every day of our lives, rhythms and routines of life, discipline, the predictable motions of the week and weekend. I crave New! and Special! He clings to solid and faithful. For us, holidays and special days have actually been hard to learn how to do well, how to serve one another in, and how to not feel hurt when things don't go as hoped. They are actually just as painful as the feeling of aloneness I had in singleness, not more or less. And I wonder if this is the case for more of my married sisters, particularly the newly married ones.

I've had a few conversations with some of my newly married sisters (within the past two years) in recent months and been surprised that though we may be all over the place in terms of age, work, location, etc., we have some very similar struggles. My heart has grown burdened for this demographic and I've wanted to talk about it more on Sayable, but feared losing readers who are further ahead in the journey of marriage and think it is over-reactive, or those readers who long for marriage and for whom reading one more post on the struggles of those who have what they want would be painful. But the more I've thought and prayed about it, the more I've decided I think it's important, so next week I'll be writing on a few things that affect us in our newly married-ness. I hope you are encouraged, whatever season of life you're in.

Here are some things I read this past week and wanted to share:

Neither a Republican nor a Democrat. Words from Mark Dever, pastor of Capitol Hill Baptist Church in D.C. on the Sunday after the election to his church, made of both Republicans and Democrats.

The Challenge in Praying with your Spouse. Nate and I have found we love to pray for and with one another, and yet rarely do it together. This article challenged me to do it more.

Friday Night Meatballs. The seasons of life where a weekly dinner has been a part it, have been some of the best times of community in my life. I got to know Nate during one of those weekly dinners. A total win in my book.

Ten Spurgeon Quotes for Wounded Christians. It is a comfort to me a thousand times over that this giant in faith struggled so deeply with the same besetting wrestle I have.

Why Read a Poem at a Time Like This. More of us should make the reading of poetry a part of our everyday, especially at times when the news from every angle threatens to push us over the edge. Poetry grounds us and reminds us.

One of my favorite things to do when I was small was to page through photo albums and ask my parents about the photos in it. One of the sad things about this new digital age we live in, is we're less likely to print photos for keepsake books. Chatbooks is a great way to do this. Whenever we get a new one in, Nate (who isn't on social media) sits down with it and pages through each photo and caption, reading, laughing, and remembering. Your kids will probably do the same. These cost the same as a roll of film cost back in the day, and you get to curate each book to your liking. A total win in my book.

chatbooks

Really, Truly, Deeply? Really?

I read a quote from two of my favorite people the other day: "In a gospel-centered marriage, we can be really, truly, deeply known and at the same time really, truly, deeply loved." I've learned more about the gospel from one of those people than anyone in my life so I'm reticent to push back on this idea, but it wouldn't be the first time I've given him a hard time, so here's my careful pushback to this common idea in the church. 1. Even within marriage you will never be wholly known by one another. 2. Outside of marriage you are still known and loved.

Within earthly marriage, which is a beautiful picture of the gospel, we are still clinging to these earthly tents. We can never be truly known inside any human relationship and indeed we are not meant to be. There is beautiful ahava, a give, a love within marriage. A selflessness, a caring, a joy, for sure. But there is not the elusive juxtaposition of being fully known/fully loved. This only exists within life in Christ. When we say this what we communicate to married people is they're missing something if they don't feel truly known by the other person. And we communicate to unmarried people they can never be really known outside of marriage.

The church should be the place that gently lifts the heads of two people in a less than perfect marriage (which is all of us) and sets their eyes on Christ as the one who knows and loves them fully now, so they can be set free to love and know one another as fully partially as they're able here on earth.

The church should be the place that gently lifts the heads of unmarried people and shows them how men like Paul and Jesus and women like Lydia and Mary were fully known and loved by their Father, but fully misunderstood by the men and women around them—and yet they still pressed forward in love doing amazing acts of church planting, bearing the Son of God, miracles, and writing more than half of the New Testament.

Neither married people, nor unmarried people will ever feel as really, truly, and deeply known as the ache in our hearts tells us we ought to feel. It is so easy to paint the picture within the Church that marriage can be the nirvana of earthly existence—but friends, if marriages quells all the longing inside of you for something more, than your marriage is not actually gospel-centered, but earthly-centered. Marriage should smack of a holy discontent and a fervent desire to be fully known and fully loved by Christ alone, who then empowers us to walk by the spirit in how we love and know others incompletely.

In the same vein, singleness should meet that holy discontent in the middle and know with full assurance that waiting for marriage to feel known and loved is foolish. Start now. First, Christ does it with more ardor than any spouse ever will. Second, the relationships you have in your life right now can be some of the richest you will ever know if you will submit yourself to being known and loved in them. It's an act of submission, to be sure, letting your weaknesses be seen, challenged, and pressed into, but Christ has set a good example for you in His submission to His Father on the cross.

Friend, you may be in the happiest marriage known to man or the hardest, you may be joyfully single for life or you may be limping through every day in your wait, but you are fully known and fully loved now. Go now, and love and know as truly as you're able—albeit imperfectly—knowing the gospel is no respecter of marital status even as it displays the perfect union of Christ and His bride.

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Four Ways Unmarried Women can Encourage Their Married Sisters

Encourage married friendsBefore I got married and was asked to write on singleness every other day, one of the questions I'd be asked often was, "How can married women encourage their unmarried sisters." I thought a lot about this question because I think it's a good one, but also because it can be easy to forget some pains of singleness once the vows are said. In order for us to truly mourn with those who mourn and rejoice with those who rejoice, it takes a great amount of empathy—entering into the sadness, fears, and joys of our sisters and brothers in Christ. What is unfortunate, though, is that the question is rarely flipped the other way around. "How can unmarried women encourage their married sisters?" I think this is perhaps due to an incorrect view that those who are unmarried are somehow lesser than and therefore need greater amounts of encouragement than those who are married. This simply isn't true. What is true is that an unmarried person has distinct and perfect gifts designed by God for their season, and a married person has distinct and perfect gifts designed by God for theirs. No one is less than, or has less than—though it's hard to believe that as an unmarried person who longs for what your sisters and brothers have through their spouses.

I know even as I write this there are those who are saying, "Well, of course you can say that, you're married. I'll bet it didn't feel like a gift when you were single!" To which I'd reply, actually, it did, and not just in hindsight. Yes, I felt the lack, and yes I mourned the reality that I might never have children or a husband, but it didn't make my unmarried life any less rich than my married life is today. If you're still disbelieving me, I encourage you to tend to the affections of your heart; if having a spouse is the pinnacle of joy for you, then your heart has settled for idolatry.

In hindsight, though, there is still one regret of my singleness: I wish I had encouraged, or known how to encourage, my married friends better. I prayed for them, loved them, tried to be specific about helping them and encouraging them when I knew how to, but I wish I had not looked at their lives and seen a form of completion that somehow (in my mind) negated my words and presence in their lives. There was a perception that the season they were in did not need my particular brand of encouragement as a single. I was wrong. Just as I needed their prayers, encouragement, vulnerability, and friendship, they needed mine.

Here are four ways the unmarried can encourage the married:

1. Fight the lie that says to you their lives are complete in a way yours is not.

This lie is not only damaging to you, it is damaging to them. Marriage does not complete a person, but when you believe it does, you remove the opportunity for them to be vulnerable about the ways marriage presses on them in difficult ways. If your answer to their struggles in marriage is always, "Well, at least you have a husband," the lie that can play on their minds and hearts is, "They're right. I have a husband. I shouldn't be struggling with this gnawing feeling of incompleteness." Now you're both believing lies. The truth is you are both complete and whole in Christ, nothing more, nothing less. The truth is also that you are both wholly incomplete in Christ, awaiting your final consummation with Christ. This is a beautiful truth if we can truly wrap our minds and hearts around it. Complete and not complete, but both in Christ, not in marital status.

I have really struggled with this in marriage because many of my still unmarried friends so long for marriage that they assume I can't possibly understand the struggle anymore, or I feel guilty talking about difficulties in this season of my life as though I'm not allowed to still struggle. God is doing a work on me in this area and I'm trying to be faithful to holding marriage up as a source of joy (though not the pinnacle of joy) while also being honest about the very real angsts within it.

2. Ask them probing questions about their marriage.

There has been an idea that one's marriage is somehow off limits for discussion. Perhaps you grew up in a broken home and any conflict meant divorce was around the corner, or perhaps you've heard men and women alike complaining about their marriages, or gossiping about their spouses. I've experienced both. There can be a paralyzing fear that if we talk about struggles we are having or our husbands are having with anyone, that we are slandering them or exposing our marriage.

The best thing for sin is to be exposed to the light, for the Holy Spirit to minister and heal, and for reconciliation to come. But often times as unmarried people, you can feel inept at asking those probing questions without seeming like you're digging for salacious details. I'll never forget being in a group of friends with one recently married and one of the other girls asking our newly married friend all kinds of details about marriage, sex, routines, etc.. I was embarrassed, but mostly because my newly married friend was embarrassed. But years later when that marriage had dissolved, I wished I'd asked more questions along the way. I wished I'd helped to be a minister of reconciliation instead of a bystander who thought I couldn't ask probing questions. You may not have all the answers (and in fact, none of us do), but hearing honest words about the difficulties within marriage can help dissolve the Hollywood version we all have in our heads—and God may use you to help heal brokenness along the way.

Here are a few questions that would be helpful for you and her: What does leadership and submission look like in your marriage? How does it make you feel? What is the hardest thing about being a wife? What are you afraid of in your marriage? What brings you joy in it? In what ways was what you were taught in the church right about sex in marriage? In what ways was it wrong? How can I pray for you and your husband today?

3. Pray with them about their needs and desires.

Something happens when I pray. I don't mean God always answers my prayers. I mean something happens in me when I pray. My heart is softened and becomes more understanding to the plight of another. I can talk for hours about a particular angst or fear or whatever I or someone else is struggling with, but the moment I say, "Father," and follow it with an earnest prayer, my heart changes. I don't mean this in a mystical way, I just think it's the Holy Spirit in me communing with the Son who intercedes on behalf of me to our Father in heaven.

When you bring your own longings, fears, and angsts to the fervor behind a prayer for someone else, something settles within you. You are able to understand and sympathize with a friend—in whatever season of life they're in—matching your longings ache for ache.

One of my good friends has a baby right now and a tiny apartment she longs to be out of. I am renting a home but ache for a baby. We are able to have what the other longs for (in a way), but pray for the other as though we both long for the same thing because we understand what we ultimately long for is God. Pray with your married sisters—even if you think they should just be happy with what they have because it's what you want.

4. Rejoice with them when their dreams are fulfilled.

I've told this story a hundred times before but for the past six years I had three friends who all struggled with infertility. They each mourned differently and struggled in unique ways, but we prayed and cried for one another in the lack of what we desired: a baby for them, a husband for me. Within a year, we saw all of those prayers answered for each of us in various ways. I'm not saying this is a guarantee for everyone, but it was a sweet picture of God's attentiveness toward each of us and because we had been faithful to love and encourage one another in our particular season, we were able to rejoice with a fullness we wouldn't have had before.

It is much harder to look with jealous longing at a friend who has what you want when you've truly entered into her mourning when she didn't have it. The safeguard against jealousy is not coveting all the more what our neighbors have, but rejoicing with them when they get it. This is a blessed safeguard and an opportunity more of us should take. Rejoice, as fully as you're able, when God answers the prayers you've both been praying for them.

This has also been a struggle for me in marriage because most of my closest friends are still unmarried. I have struggled to rejoice around them because I fear my happiness will lead to their sadness. God is teaching me to model joy for earthly gifts while at the same time keeping Christ as my constant joy at the center.

. . .

In many ways these are things we all need to do with all of our friends, but many of us do them more easily with those who are in the same season as us. It is easier to pray for a husband with a friend who longs for one too. It's easier to understand infertility when you're walking through it too. It's easier to counsel difficult seasons in marriage when you've walked through them too. But crossing outside of those boundary lines can bring, I might argue, a better more lasting blessing.

I know it's hard to fight the lie that your married friend has everything you want and doesn't need your encouragement, but I beg you to fight through it, set your truest affections on Christ, trust He supplies every need according to His riches, and assume the position of being the answer to your friend's need. Your joy will be greater, I promise.

The Strange Math of Marriage

Screen Shot 2016-09-26 at 10.12.45 AMI am doing math in my head on a Sunday morning. The water beats hot against my back and I lean against the shower wall. I've been praying. My prayers are laundry lists and messy rooms and "Please God, thank yous" and things to pray for my husband these days. A father-friend asks me last week, "Have you been praying?" Nate asks me Friday as we drive through D.C. traffic for four hours, "Have you been praying?" I want to scream at them, "Yes! Yes I have been praying. The problem is I don't know what I'm praying for." Have you ever felt like a shell of yourself? I was quick to call it depression before and it is a form of it at least. The kind of depression that happens when you crush a caterpillar or smash a fly or squeeze a balloon until it pops, pressing your foot or your fingers or your hands deep into whatever it is you want to kill. That kind of depression. I think of Paul, "We are pressed but not crushed," and I wonder at the freedom to say that with confidence—they both feel the same in the process, it's just the end that's different.

Maybe compressed is a better word. That which makes cider or wine or those flattened pennies with the whole Declaration of Independence on them. Compressed and coming out a whole different thing.

. . .

I'm the child of divorce and am married to a man who was divorced so I did not come into marriage with illusions of perfection. I knew it would be work. I knew there would be dark days and delightful ones. I knew there would be death involved and it wouldn't always be pretty—not the Austenian sort at least, where all the foibles and fractures of humanity are embraced and loved and kept as endearing. Real life is not like that. A real marriage is not like that.

I came into marriage believing it takes two whole people to make it work, and I still believe this is true. But that belief has to die the moment you say "I do," and I did not know that. I thought, having worked so hard in my singleness to be a whole person, I would get to keep that whole person in marriage. I liked the whole person I was. I liked the time I had. I liked my financial flexibility. I liked my independence. I liked my autonomy. I liked my friends. I liked my personality. I liked me. I worked hard to be independent, secure, faithful, well-liked, a friend to many, thought-full, deep, and more. I liked that person. And I liked the person my husband was, a minister to many hurting men, faithful friend, financially secure, a home-owner, well-regarded in the city gates. Someone who stayed up with me way past our self-imposed curfew because we had so much to say. I liked us. Two whole people, come to one another in wholeness.

. . .

I used to believe that "the two shall become one flesh" was some sort of sneaky illusion to sex (wink, wink), that sex would seal the deal. A wedding itself wasn't enough and a marriage license helped, but sex, two bodies becoming as close as humanly possible—this was when one flesh happened. I was wrong.

Marriage is not one + one = two

It isn't even one + one = one

Marriage is (one - one) + (one - one) = one

The math doesn't work like it's supposed to, or like a friend said, "I have always loved math. There are rules, and if you follow the rules you can always solve the problem (even though it can take some creativity). Marriage doesn't always seem so straightforward..."

Marriage, I am learning, is less about becoming more of who you are, or all of who you are, or your truest self, and more about becoming less of who you are. And that hurts.

It is the trendy thing in many circles today to abandon marriage when it gets too hard or when you feel like you're drowning or when you don't recognize the face you see in the mirror. I have been looking in the mirror for a year now, trying to find the self I used to be and she's gone. I cannot find her. She was full in a way I am depressed. She was in bloom in a way I am compressed. She was deep in the way I am shallow. She was whole in a way I am not. She was becoming more and I am becoming less.

. . .

I tell someone yesterday, "Sanctification in singleness is hard. It is in marriage too. But they're different kinds of sanctification. Pursuing wholeness in singleness is sanctifying. And pursuing togetherness in marriage is sanctifying. Neither one is more or less difficult or rewarding. Both hard. Both good." It's because they're so different though, this is what makes marriage sanctifying for those who worked hard to be whole in their singleness, to not feel the need to legitimize their presence by the presence of a spouse, to not feel unseen or unheard in the Church.

. . .

There is no advice in this post, I have none to give. But maybe some encouragement for the newly married among us? When you look in the mirror and the vestiges of your singleness are gone, when financial flexibility feels far away, when late nights or early mornings or free schedules seem like a thing of history, when comparing calendars feels challenging, when your single friends are traipsing over Europe or crying over heartbreak or dreaming of what they want to do with their lives, when you touch that face in the mirror and try to remember what she felt like a year or two years ago: turn away, you will not find her there, and the harder you look, the less you will see.

You will need a new mirror and one before which you only stand with your new spouse, your one flesh. You are no longer two, but one. You are less whole today than you have ever been before and your spouse is not your completion any more today than the hope of them was a few years ago. What does that man or woman beside you need to flourish in the kingdom and church? Where do they need to see God more wholly or to love Him more deeply? What depressions are made in his body by yours? In which ways does her presence compress you into something wholly different than before? You are being taken from, yes, and you are giving away. You are becoming less and will never again become more of who you are. But you are also becoming one, together, with the one God has given you.

The math doesn't add up: become less until you become one, but this is kingdom math, see: "He must increase, but I must decrease." John 3:30