Over the past four months, I have been emerging from the fog of family life with preschoolers. My youngest of two preschool-age sons is getting ever-closer to age four, and the oldest one is almost off to Kindergarten. Christmas this year involved eight straight hours of focused Lego construction with no interruptions for nap time or diaper changes or incomprehensible meltdowns. In that space, I quickly realized that I am not a toddler mom anymore, and those long days of responding to minute-by-minute needs are fading. (Praise the Lord of the heavenly host, for ever and ever, Amen.) As an introvert with a currently very extroverted life, the last few years of having these little people with so many needs has taken its toll on me physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually. Through Christmas’ Lego construction marathon, however, I realized we were entering a new season of life. Once again, I could focus and rest and be. I could finally respond to that deep calling within me for space for silence and contemplation and communion with God. Because the nights were not so sleepless anymore, I could return to my preferred rhythm of mornings alone in a quiet home, one of my favorite parts of life on this earth.
To pursue the time for contemplation, I desperately needed a new rhythm to reset the habits of a chronically-exhausted person. The only morning rhythm I had through the infant and toddler years was coffee-making, so it was the only real habit to build off. With coffee as the anchor point, I started setting an alarm to get me to bed earlier (bye-bye evening Netflix), set my alarm for an earlier wakeup (hello “Early Riser” ringtone), rolled out of bed, flicked on the electric kettle, prayed the kids slept through the coffee grinding, and cleared a space at the kitchen table for quiet contemplation.
After some time of sitting in this space without a way to organize the time, I noticed a friend posting an Instagram of his new Sacred Ordinary Days liturgical planner. I was intrigued. I ordered my own copy, and immediately fell in love with the tool. In one book, it organizes daily lectionary readings in Scripture, provides space to journal about Sabbath, gives prompts for a weekly Prayer of Examen, and functions as a daily planner helping me prioritize my work/school/family schedules. It is brief enough that I can complete the readings in 15 minutes, but it is also spacious enough that if time allows, I can easily sit with it for an hour or more. It is a simple and well executed resource that provides the framing I needed to reset my daily rhythms. So now I sit down in the mornings, fresh cup of coffee in hand, pull out Sacred Ordinary Days, and flip through my Bible to the daily readings. After so many years of floundering through toddlerland, it’s like my parched soul is becoming new again in this contemplative morning space.
As I read, the lectionary moves me along in a rhythm before I’m even quite awake enough to realize what is happening. Sometimes I read and reread the same passage until it makes sense. Sometimes I copy down the passages that stand out, and consider them as God’s word for me that morning. Sometimes I stare off into space, clutching my now-lukewarm coffee mug in my hand thinking about nothing in particular. Sometimes I pray for people as they come to mind. I am filled with gratitude most days when it all comes together and that time and space is available.
At some point in time in the midst of this, the little ones emerge from their room, footie pajamas shuffling along the floor, and the silence transitions to the murmur of little voices asking to watch Power Rangers or requesting help peeling a banana. We’re in the same space together, but for a little while still, I can be miles away, deep in prayer and thought, responding to their needs with a bit more gratitude and patience than I used to. On mornings when I’m lucky, I make it all the way through the readings in time to review my calendar for the day and to-do list. On these days, the transition from being space to preparing to do the work of the day is beautiful and seamless.
Other days I realize the morning is passing too quickly and abandon the process partway to track down elusive sets of matching socks and get us out the door on time. Still other mornings, I still oversleep, my body claiming the rest it needs. On these mornings, there’s more chaos, more tears, and more stress. It’s not a perfect system by any means, but we hobble along and start again the next day or the next week. After a few months of practicing, though, the contemplative routine has taken root deeply enough that a few days away are enough to call me back to reset the daily rhythm.
In hindsight, it’s almost like the first few years of my children’s lives, they were so dependent on me that they literally sucked the lifeblood right out of me into their rapidly-growing bodies. Now that they can build Legos and function with a little bit more independence (not yet forsaking my amazing banana peeling skills), I’m responding by giving my body and soul the rhythms of rest and care that it needs. I’m returning to the regular practice of daily contemplation and prayer to seek God’s renewal. Also, mornings with my kids feel much more symbiotic than it used to, since I have a little bit more opportunity to get renewed before responding to their needs.
In a political season that’s been as chaotic as this one has been and continues to be, and as so many friends and family are being spurred onward in tackling good and important works, this kind of rhythm feels even more important. I love reading and processing what my friends write and post, and I love engaging in the dialogue as I’m able. I can’t do any of it well, however, if the me that greets the day is the exhausted, lifeblood-drained, “unable to nicely respond to a small person asking for help with breakfast” me. So, I commend practices of renewal to you, friends. Seek out the things that give you life and do them without guilt. Seek out a rhythm of health. If you’re a person of faith, seek out the daily time of prayer and reading God’s word. As you’re able, seek renewal daily before you confront a world in desperate need of the gifts you possess to share with them.
(By Heather Baker Utely at sinceaustin.wordpress.com)