Knowing What You Need

For anyone who's witnessed a toddler in full-blown meltdown mode, you know that they don't respond to logic.  There's wailing, gnashing of teeth, and frothing at the mouth.  There's crying, feet-kicking, and nonsensical belligerence.  But there's definitely no logic.

When my daughters were toddlers, they'd periodically fight against naps or bedtime despite their exhaustion.  Exerting all their remaining physical, mental, and emotional energy, they'd rail against sleep even though, ironically, sleep was the only thing that would bring them relief.  When they finally succumbed, instead of drifting peacefully into slumber, they'd hiccup, whimper, toss and turn their way into a fitful rest until finally, finally, sleep's restorative grip fully overcame them.

When they woke, they'd be human again.  Sleep made all the difference.  Simple as pie.

One of the beautiful things about aging is that we learn to listen to our bodies, discern our needs, and hopefully, act on them.  For example, unlike a toddler, my 40-year-old self knows it's best to go to bed when I'm tired.

The catch (there's always a catch) is that I don't always apply what I know, which makes me suspect that I still have some toddler-like aversion to logic.  I still scratch proverbial itches in less-than-productive ways, fighting against true remedies or accepting weaker substitutes.  I still push the boundaries of physical tiredness by staying up too late, thinking that some mindless television will refresh me.  When I feel the nudge of loneliness, instead of making plans to gather with actual people, I sometimes resort to scrolling Facebook. It's an easy option, after all, but merely a shell of connection.

To some degree, I think we're all guilty of this.

But let me tell you about yesterday.  Yesterday was a notably bleak and uninspiring day: gray skies, frigid rain, freezing roads.  I woke feeling sluggish and tired, and by midday, I was chilled, coughing, and miserable.  Some sickness was creeping up.  Part of my internal dialogue urged me to push through:  Stay on campus to get more work done.  Fit in the 3:45 class at the gym like you always do.  Suck it up, buttercup.

Then my mature 40-year-old self, the one who raised three children through their toddler years and witnessed their illogical protests, took control.  I gave myself permission to go home early.  (Work could be done from home, and what didn't get done could wait until the next day.)  I put on comfortable clothes, took a 20-minute power nap, skipped the gym, simplified dinner preparations, outsourced post-dinner clean-up, and went to bed abnormally early.

When I woke, I was human again.  Sleep made all the difference.

Knowing what we need -- what we truly need -- takes discernment.  It's easy to misinterpret or ignore the signs our bodies and lives are sending us, as if we're undisciplined or unproductive to experience and respond to our human needs.  But I don't want to be a grown-up toddler, railing against the only solutions that actually bring relief.

Sometimes we've just got to sleep.  Sometimes we've just got to address our own toddler-like irrationality and put ourselves in time-out until we can function better.

Know what we need and then act on it.  It might be the most mature and adult-like thing we can do today.

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