For one thing, insomnia loves me. If I go to bed happy, I know I won't fall asleep until three o'clock a.m. if I'm lucky. If I go to bed upset, I might as well stay up until the toddlers break loose on the new day. If I go to bed any other night, I try to arrange the thought process to entertain me until my body gives up and I fall asleep.
(I exaggerate a tiny bit. But only a bit.)
No matter how early I get up, no matter how little I sleep, I am always wired by 6:47 p.m. It's my official wake-up time. I am hardcore night owl. Period. End of story. Forever and always. Which would be fine, I suppose, if the rest of the world woke up more towards noon. But they don't, and I get branded with the Late riser stigma.
Rebelling against worldwide rising standards (that weren't subjected to a democratic vote) doesn't bother me. What does frustrate me is violating the Rule to Daily Devotions -- which occur regularly at 5 a.m. before anything happens because the morning is sacred and the day doomed without it and it must last at least five minutes unless you really aspire to spiritual greatness, in which case you'll spend an hour praying and two hours Bible reading and probably should get up at two to compensate.
Which begs the question...are we allowed to brush our teeth before devotions?
I've tried parading my Christian liberty about this issue but then feel guilty because I usually don't get any sit-down devotions done if I don't do it first thing in the morning. I've tried conforming to the Rule but get discouraged because it feels forced and fake. Either way, guilt makes it so repugnant that I drop the whole issue for a few months until another spiritual wave (of guilt) forces me back into the fray.
Not exactly the epitome of David's "My soul thirsts for You!"
Frankly, this thinking of duty and demand reaps nothing but guilt. It forces tired individuals to happily meditate on dull words and then sends off the already-weary troops with the rousing encouragement of Levitical by-laws or gruesome Old Testament stories. I know we're not supposed to say it, but let's not pretend -- daily devotions feels like that more often than not. We'd gladly change our opinion if it weren't the truth, but there we have it: it's not all that the spiritual gurus chalk it up to be.
The real problem, however, doesn't lay with the Bible or in getting up before the rooster or guilty spiritual performance. It lies with our whole concept of daily devotions. Name the passage in Scripture that outlines the secret to morning devotions. It's not there.
Phew, you might say -- but don't say it so soon. The Bible never talks about early morning devotionals to get the day off right. You know what it does say? This:
- His delight is in the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night (Psalm 1:2)
- My eyes are awake before the watches of the night, that I may meditate on your promise (Psalm 119:148)
- Pray without ceasing (1 Thessalonians 5:17)
- Et cetera
(As a random fun fact, David was a night owl. He stayed wide awake on his couch thinking and meditating and praying. A quick concordance check shows "meditation" hanging out with "night" and "evening" more often than not. Night Owls, Unite!)
Certainly it takes time and discipline to pray three times a day like Daniel or sit down and read through the Bible. Being creatures of habit, we naturally like to make time for things that are important. But after struggling, struggling, struggling and hearing other girls struggle, struggle, struggle, I realized something. I've looked, and the concept of early morning piety isn't one of the tenets of Christianity.
As I took in the New Testament, I saw conscientious removal from the world to pray, fast and commune with God at certain times -- but even more so a day-by-day, minute-by-minute fixed gaze on Jesus Christ. And that changes everything. Before, I tried to alter my outward habits, hoping that forcing myself to read five chapters a day would create in me a hungry heart. Now having that hunger for Christ distracts me from everyday distractions. It's more than a drive to read the Bible 24/7 or literally pray without ceasing: it puts Jesus at the center of everything. It makes every second a time for early-morning piety. It rests in constant communion with the Spirit, with instant access to the very throne room of God, instead of a magical morning moment based on what time I got up that morning.
We ought to live in the continual presence of God, a praise on our lips and a heart yearning to know Him more. It takes discipline to fix that gaze -- it isn't simply shrugging off the importance of prayer and Scripture and waiting for a spiritual feeling to give us that desire. But in time (as A. W. Tozer promised) that discipline becomes default. It's been amazing to see how interest in other things has fallen by the wayside, not as an attempt at being spiritual or purposefully "clearing away distractions" but simply because some things that I obsessed over before do not fit into the new reality of my life. It's also amazing how far I have to go: as I write this, I am convicted how my gaze has been shaken a bit and how quickly idols of the heart spring up.
Even thinking about that, it strikes me how differently I view this subject now. Instead of trying harder or punishing myself with extra Bible reading, I see it as an organic relationship where I don't have to be artificially spiritual, where I can be honest about my shortcomings and my lack of discipline, where I can surrender pride at successfully doing Bible study every morning for three days straight and let the Spirit change my heart (and thus my habits) -- even if it hurts. Because it's not about the Bible. It's not about prayer. It's about Jesus. And oh, how I love this Jesus.
I aim higher now -- sitting at the feet of Jesus all day, even when walking. I aim lower now -- yanking out the roots of laziness and lukewarmness, not scrambling to check off a good girl box. I've come to see the grace God has for night owls and their aversion to coming out from under the covers as well as the blessed discipline of fixing my gaze on Jesus.
But I probably should wake up before nine.