Like most kids, I hated my bedtime. Until I hit 6th or 7th grade in middle school, my bed time was PRECISELY 8:00pm. The only exception to this dogmatic chronometric slavery by my parents was on special weekend family nights where we might rent a movie or the evening of some social gathering. But even then, the minute the movie was done or the moment we pulled into the driveway, the command was clear: get ready for bed quickly! I hated it. As a kid, I dreamed of the days when I would be emancipated from this unjustly sanctioned denial of my continued fun and agency over my own sleeping arrangements…
Two decades later, I’m the enforcer, the dictator of a similarly structured system of sleep security for my own kids who feel exactly the same way I did. Neither want to go to bed, both complain about it, and both find ways to try to circumvent the 8:00pm bedtime law (“I have to go potty,” “I need water,” “I’m hungry,” “Can I give you another kiss goodnight?” “Daddy, you laughed really loud and it woke me up,” okay, that last one might have been true). To them, it feels frustrating, unfair, maybe even emotionally “painful” that their mother and I have instituted this rule about sleeping. It’s no fun for them. We often interrupt a game they’ve been playing, a book they were reading, Lego Star Wars for the Nintendo Wii, Hot Wheels racing down an 8-foot speedway, or a complex social interaction concerning the relational dynamics between a monkey, a bear, and a lamb wearing tea dresses. In their minds, our legalism and their forced servitude to this infallible clock face (laughing at them as it strikes 8:00pm, as they probably imagine it) is extremely unfair. Our oldest has already begun talking about being “a teenager who gets to stay up late” as her form of legal civil disobedience.
But that’s their perspective. The reality is that when my wife and I force the issue of bedtime, we don’t do it because we want to ruin their fun or interfere with their lives. We do this because we love them! While they’re busy focused on their wants, we’re focused on their needs and how properly meeting their needs provides the climate where they can fully enjoy their wants. They NEED sleep. They NEED a lot of sleep because they are still very little. If they don’t get the sleep they need, they will get sick and be unable to play. Or they’ll wake up tired and, like most tired children, they’ll start having a bad attitude… which will turn to fighting with each other, or disrespecting their parents, or disobeying in a whole manner of different ways… and the consequences for that behavior will be the loss of privileges to get to do the things they want to do.
I’ve talked to our oldest about this and she’s starting to understand it at a basic hypothetical level, even if she still doesn’t like it. The youngest has no concept of this that I can tell. But whether they understand the reasons for the sleep rules or not, I am their father and it is my responsibility, out of the deepest love I have for them, to establish the rule, enforce the obedience of the rule, and dispense the punishment for breaking the rule. As their parent, one of my most important roles is to provide discipline in their lives.
The Bible talks about this very thing in Hebrews 12:5-11…
And have you forgotten the encouraging words God spoke to you as his children? He said, “My child, don’t make light of the LORD’s discipline, and don’t give up when he corrects you. For the LORD disciplines those he loves, and he punishes each one he accepts as his child.” As you endure this divine discipline, remember that God is treating you as his own children. Who ever heard of a child who is never disciplined by its father? If God doesn’t discipline you as he does all of his children, it means that you are illegitimate and are not really his children at all. Since we respected our earthly fathers who disciplined us, shouldn’t we submit even more to the discipline of the Father of our spirits, and live forever? For our earthly fathers disciplined us for a few years, doing the best they knew how. But God’s discipline is always good for us, so that we might share in his holiness. No discipline is enjoyable while it is happening—it’s painful! But afterward there will be a peaceful harvest of right living for those who are trained in this way.
The bedtime experience with my kids? It’s the same with God and us… there are plenty of situations, circumstances, unfulfilled dreams, unmet desires, unrealized goals, and challenges that God allows or brings into our lives… and they don’t always feel very good, very fair, very helpful, very encouraging, or very anything else we’d like. We look at these “problems” and argue with God, explaining to Him all the BETTER ways He could handle these things in our lives. We know what we WANT and we are angry with Him that He is not responding the way we think He should.
But He knows what we NEED, what is going to make us better, what is going to lead us into what He has called us to, and what is going to grow us into the individuals that He has designed us to be, and how to properly prepare us for what we really WANT. It might feel like a little bit of a slap in the face, but in the realm of the Eternal, we are children who do not have the experience to understand why God, our Father, is making us go through what He is making us go through. And in the same way that my children have no choice but to trust and obey me, we really have no choice but to trust and obey God. The good news is that God is the PERFECT FATHER and one day, we who have chosen to trust God, to obey Him, to call Him “Father” will learn that our trust was not misplaced… not in the least. But that “one day” probably isn’t “today” and, as the author of Hebrews rightly says it, no one enjoys discipline while it’s happening, right? But it’s good and the reward is even better.
Don’t misunderstand me… I’m not saying trusting God’s discipline in our lives should be easy… it’s not and that’s probably part of the discipline. Just like my kids obeying the bedtime requirement isn’t always easy for them. And, from a spiritual perspective, there are a lot of things in my life that feel like “8:00pm Bedtime” to me… things I’d change right now if I had the means. But I don’t. And I’m having to learn to trust God that He knows better… and that when I’m ready to “stay up later,” He’ll be the first to tell me!
Just like I’ll do with my kids… somewhere around the 6th or 7th grade mark…