On Deserving


My sleep patterns change according to the season. At this time of year, as summer fades into fall and the days grow shorter and darker, I sleep deeply and long—but once the year has rolled around again, and light peeps into my bedroom late into the night and again early in the morning, I develop seasonal insomnia. Sleep doesn’t come easily to me in the springtime; even when exhausted, I feel the pull of so many things I’d rather be doing than closing my eyes. This year, as sunny days peaked around Midsummer, I found myself once again in the throes of my circadian sleeplessness. My mind seemed to whirl and spin, filled up with the promise of all that sunshine, leaving me spent and ironically too tired to do any of the things on the to-do list that called me out of bed again and again.

As the sun-filled days passed, I tried to unravel the layers of physical, emotional, and spiritual components to my lifetime of insomnia. I came up with many ideas: I didn’t feel safe; I had too much to do; I had a hard time convincing my irrational mind that I’d get more done if I also got more sleep.

And then, one afternoon as I lay on my couch trying and failing to take a much-needed nap, I thought: I don’t deserve to sleep. I don’t deserve to rest.

And that was an attitude I recognized. “Deserving” has played a large role in my life; I fight a constant battle with the insidious little voice inside me that is always fixated on what is fair and what is deserved. Because my energy is limited and must be parceled out in careful allotments, I find myself locked into a continual war with this voice of guilt over how I spend my time.

I don't deserve to rest, because I haven't done anything worthwhile today. I don't deserve to take it easy, because I have been lazy all morning. I don't deserve to have my husband make me dinner, because I ought to get up and do it, whether I feel well enough or not. Sometimes consciously, always unconsciously, I have a running tally always going in my mind. X amount of rest requires X amount of doing. If I have taken it easy today, I need to work extra hard tomorrow. If I have missed this many hours of church this week, I must make sure to go to all of them next week, even if I feel the same or worse. I must not do anything "fun" if I don't have all the "not fun" stuff finished, even if that means I will never have the time or energy for the "fun" stuff.

Since the winter of my junior year of high school, when I began this new life where my energy is so limited and I must live so carefully, I have been afraid. I've been so afraid of becoming that useless person, the one who just never musters up the willpower to get anything done, who always falls back on their physical failings as an excuse for checking out of life. This fear has clawed at me, ruled me, always dictated with precise care the doings of my day-to-day. It has made me feel enormous guilt when I fail to follow through on something I have assigned myself to do. It has made me hard on myself.

It has made me feel undeserving.

That summer afternoon as I lay sleeplessly on my couch, new thoughts came crowding in my mind.

What if it is okay to rest?

What if it is okay to take it easy when I need to?

What if it is okay to care for myself, regardless of what I have or haven’t done today?

What if it’s okay to cherish my body, even if it means letting go of some of the expectations I have for myself?

What if I deserve these things, not because of something I have accomplished or as a result of how clean my house is, but simply because I am a precious soul? What if we are all precious, not because of what we have done, but simply because of who we are?

What if we are all deserving of love? Of rest? Of joy?


.   .   .   .   .


In the months that have passed since that summer afternoon, I have felt my thinking gently shift. That voice—the one that harps so much on deserving, and tries to tell me that I do not deserve to rest—is still there; I suspect it always will be, somewhere deep inside my heart. And, all too often, I find myself listening to that voice, giving it leave to shape my thoughts and feelings about myself.

But I like to think that I’m making progress. I like to think that, in the last three months, there have been a few more times where I gave myself a little grace, a few more times where I reached out for peace and happiness in my life regardless of what I had or had not accomplished. I like to think that I’m a little closer to being able to claim these things for my own, to let go of what I can’t do and live abundantly with what I can.

Because you know what?

I deserve it.