Office of the Night Watch: A Meditation on Nursing

by Rachel Held Evans Read Distraction Free

If this is not prayer—this wordless, rhythmic meeting of souls, this dance both utterly instinctual and pull-your-hair-out hard—then I don’t know what prayer is. Do you, little one? 

They say the church fathers gave us fixed-hour prayer, but now I know the church mothers marked sacred time long before these hours had names like lauds, sext, vespers, compline, matins, and the office of the night watch. Mamas have been keeping watch for as long as God has cooed and whimpered and shrieked through a baby’s tiny lungs every hour…every two hours…or, if you’re lucky, every three. If this is not prayer—this half-awake yet fully-alive cycle of feeding and being fed, of fussing and fumbling through the dark—then I don’t know what prayer is. Do you, little one?  

Once, before your were born, I tried keep the offices for forty days. Baby, I gave up after five! Only the joyless saints of bygone time, I reasoned, would wake at 3 a.m. to talk to God. But there is no giving up this time around.  You are far more hungry for milk than I have ever been hungry to pray, little one. And so I rise again, and again, and again, never knowing if you will be sleepy or ravenous or recalcitrant, or if our next session will be like walking beside the still waters or wrestling with an angel. 

Perhaps it’s wrong to say it out loud, little one, but I suspect I will love you more than I will ever love God. Critics may call this a failure, but if three weeks of motherhood offer but a glint of the Ultimate Love coursing through the universe, then my heart could never bear it full force.  I love God the way you love me—wholly, but not on purpose, the way you are learning to breathe without being told how to do it, the way you root and claw at my breast until you are filled.  It worried me at first, how you only looked me square in the eyes for a few seconds before glancing away, but the doctors said this is normal, that those gazes just beyond my face are your way of taking me in without growing overwhelmed, of loving me without looking right at me. If this is not prayer, little one, then I don’t know what prayer is. 

The office of the night watch, between 1:30 and 4:30 a.m., is the hardest and the best. We are resting, yet working  We are two, yet one.  We are saying everything there is to say to one another without uttering a single word. Sometimes it feels like we are the only two breathing bodies in the universe, the only two souls awake and alive. So I pray: 

Keep watch, dear Lord, with those who work, or watch, or weep this night, and give your angels charge over those who sleep. Tend the sick, Lord Christ; give rest to the weary, bless the dying, soothe the suffering, pity the afflicted, shield the joyous; and all for your love’s sake. Amen. 

The office of the night watch is the hardest and the best. 

We keep it together, little one, and I am so glad. 


Note: As you may know, Team Evans has officially expanded to become a family of three! Our sweet little guy met the big, wide world three weeks ago and we couldn’t be happier…or sleepier. A textbook pregnancy ended with a textbook delivery, with all the right doctors and nurses in place. Dan has risen to the occasion of fatherhood with more energy, tenderness, and support than seems possible, and so far motherhood has proven exactly as my friends said—harder and better than I could ever imagine. This past year has taught me a lot about the limits and dangers of social media, so while I’ll share some reflections on motherhood from time to time, I won’t be posting pictures or details about the little guy himself on my public media channels. As a memoirist and blogger, I love sharing stories from my life with readers who care and relate, but not everything is for public consumption. Thanks ahead of time for respecting that boundary. Thank you, too, for all the heartfelt congratulations and encouragement. It has meant so much over these last nine months and will continue to buoy me in the challenging weeks and months (and years!) ahead. I am deeply, profoundly, inexpressibly grateful. 


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