{Practicing Benedict} On rising immediately

“All should be prepared to rise immediately without any delay as soon as the signal to get up is given; then they should hurry to see who can get first to the oratory for the work of God, but of course they should do this with due dignity and restraint. The young should not have their beds next to each other but they should be placed among those of the seniors. In the morning, as they are getting up for the work of God, they should quietly give encouragement to those who are sleepy and given to making excuses for being late” (The Rule of St. Benedict, Chapter 22).

Two years ago when I started this blog, I wrote a post on trying to get out of bed in the morning to pray and failing to “quietly give encouragement” to my husband (I wasn’t quiet or encouraging) so we could both get up for the “work of God.”

Isn’t it amazing that I’m still struggling with the getting out of bed for prayer thing? The truth is that getting up before 7 in the morning is just not an easy task for me. It may sound lazy and sloth-y (is that a word?) but I’ve come to accept that I am not a morning person. I know that responsible people go to bed at 10 and are up doing yoga at 5:30, but 10 pm is not when my body wants to sleep. My mind lights up at 10:30 and fires off ideas into my computer while I drink decaf tea. I love the late night checking off of lists and I love even more the late night reading of a good book.

But there’s a problem: I’m also a woman who loves the quiet of morning. In fact, the house at 6 am in the semi-darkness is my favorite time of day. I love getting to the couch with my coffee in hand. I have sweet memories in every place I ever lived of where I sat with my coffee for early morning prayer. Our last apartment in San Francisco had this view of the city that always made me gasp a little. And I could stand in the bay window and watch the sun rise toward me, like God was on route, heading my direction.

I want both. I want to stay up late and get up early. I want to spend all day with my babies and still have meaningful work. I want to use my time with my kids to develop  relationships with other women and still keep the house clean. I want to live everywhere and no where all at once. I want to be super human.

I want ease.

But my body demands rest, whether I like it or not. I have to make decisions about the way I spend my days and nights. Often making time for relationships calls for delayed toilet scrubbing. I cannot be both fully present to my work and fully present to my kids. Choices have to be made. When I chose to be stay-at-home mom, I chose the daily living with babies and this past fall, when I chose to hire a babysitter a few hours a week so I could write, I chose to give up those hours with my babies.

I’ve learned a secret that has been a long time coming: There is exactly enough time in each day. God designed our days for rest and play and work and prayer*. We are simply called to divide that time and rescue it, either from laziness or worthless striving.

Do you want to know what has changed the most in my life in the past two years? It’s simple really. I realized that I am God’s beloved. I learned to let God love me.

The greatest enemy of my life has been time. I’m a striver. (When I was in 4th grade, I carried around an egg timer every morning to make sure I only brushed my teeth for two minutes and got my shoes on in three. By the way, I failed and cried…a lot.) When my kids came into the picture, I felt out of control.

I wanted to be remarkable but I barely got my hair into a ponytail in those early days of August’s toddlerhood. Then I hated myself: for not praying, for not writing, for not exercising, for not cleaning the house, for not returning my friends’ phone calls and emails.      I didn’t love myself for loving August. Loving my son was too easy, I thought, too normal.

What is different now?   It’s a miracle really, but I think I am actually beginning to believe that Jesus loves me and that he redeems the places that I can’t reach. I’m actually believing that when I pray, Jesus is in love with me and when I don’t, Jesus in love with me. I’m actually believing that the moments I’m on the floor with my kids are miracles and the moments I’m not are blessings to my sanity.

And so, when I read St. Benedict’s words about rising immediately when I’m woken up, I most resonate with the quiet encouragement he calls on his monks to give to the ones who can’t get out of bed. I used to fear that God was waiting for me in those early mornings, stamping his feet, sick of my slothiness, marking my name in the “unremarkable” category. Now, when I wake, I believe God loves me like I’m loving the people in my home: the baby who comes into my bed for his morning milk, sleepy and cozy and moving from night into wakefulness; my husband who snoozes three times until I trick him into turning on the light. Mornings are for sweetness, despite our sticky eyes. Waking is a process we can either embrace or battle.

I’m learning that I make choices about the way my 24 hours will span out. So, I leave room in my day for an hour of dishes and spaces of time between lunch and nap time and when the boys and I need to be somewhere else. I know that if I want to make it out of bed for the miraculous hour between 6 and 7, I have to set the coffee the night before and I have to go to bed by 11, no matter how brilliant I think my thoughts are or how good the book is.

But, mostly, I’ve learned that the Spirit who calls me to “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control” is also the Spirit who treats me with the same kindness, the same gentleness. Time is sacred and so is the One who gathers time into the cup of 24 hours and pours it out for us.

So, yes, wake up early and rise immediately. Yes, get your body to the place of prayer because the “work of God” matters. But remember that your God draws you in with cords of kindness. Live as the beloved you are.

*A little shout-out to Kathleen Norris who first put that idea in my head in the preface to The Cloister Walk.
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