Waking up in the mornings has always been a terrible experience for me. Particularly in the winter, the process of wrenching myself out of bed before it is even light feels offensive, violent, and wrong. Over the years, I’ve come to understand that, contrary to the traditional “morning quiet time,” my most fruitful devotional practices happen in the evening. Before our children were born, I wondered (I know I’m not the only one) how I would manage the early-morning habits of babies. But over the years, I’ve trained myself to rouse myself effectively. This is how I do it:
I don’t usually set an alarm (too violent!) but I start to stir when my husband wanders back into the bedroom after his 6:00 am shower. Then I stumble into the bathroom for the basic necessities, all the while thinking "Oh my God, Oh my God, Oh my God," while I splash water on my face and brush my teeth. (Am I praying or swearing? It’s not entirely clear, but the Lord and I have come to an agreement that at this particular time of day, I mean no offense, and I desperately need some help.) After weighing myself (“Oh my God”) and strapping myself securely into my exercise clothes, I grab a glass of water and head into the living room for my daily exercise video. Thirty-five minutes later, Jillian Michaels has succeeded in boosting my heart rate, exercising my muscles, and elevating my mood to a neutral/positive position — a miracle considering her often-brutal style of motivation and regularly annoying demeanor. Now I am awake, and I’m pretty happy.
The funny thing is, I believe deeply in the importance of waking others up gently. Perhaps it is my own childhood experience of cold washcloths and overly cheerful singing, perhaps it is the impact of watching the opening scene of A Raisin in the Sun in which the young boy is awakened with little compassion. But in our house, I feel strongly about waking children gently. After my post-exercise shower, I venture into our children’s room to begin the awakening process: slowly pulling open the curtain, patting their heads with a soft “Good morning, sweetie,” and offering a little foot rub to get their blood moving. We talk about the dreams they had in the night, and I might mention a fun activity on the calendar for that day. (It only takes an extra few minutes per child and a relaxed parent — both of which can be in short supply — but the practice feels like a worthwhile investment in household happiness.) Then I leave them to get dressed for a few minutes. I might need to check back once or twice, but they’ve become accustomed to dressing fairly quickly in anticipation of their morning treat: a short cartoon before breakfast.
As I described these contrasting patterns with a group of friends the other day, I was surprised by how inconsistent my treatment of my morning self was with my treatment of the rest of my family. Apparently, I believe that only the other members of my family deserve a gentle awakening process. (My husband wakes up before me, but even on those occasions that I need to rouse him from a weekend nap, he tends to get kind words and a foot rub). There is something about this doesn’t seem quite right to me.
In the Time magazine article around Ash Wednesday last year, Pope Francis sounded a call for us to “fast from indifference toward others,” reminding us that refraining from chocolate or alcohol isn’t beneficial in itself if it doesn’t shape us more fully into the image of Christ. As much as this seems like the antithesis of joining in Christ’s sufferings, I am starting to think that my Lenten fast needs to be something that causes me to fast from indifference to myself, treating myself with a bit of the gentleness I offer so freely to my children. For it is written: “See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! (1 John 3.1)
So last night, I made myself a thermos of hot, sweet tea. And this morning, even though I woke up later than I intended, I spoke nicely to myself as I stumbled into the bathroom (“You’re doing okay, honey”), put a sweater on over my exercise clothes to keep out the chill, and then sat for a few minutes with a cup of that tea (the thermos was surprisingly effective), chatting with my husband and preparing my soul for the day. And y’know what? Jillian Michaels wasn’t nearly so disagreeable after that little ritual. Maybe this fast from indifference to myself can transform not only my exercise routine, but all I meet in this day.