A familiar popping sound yanks me out of a warm slumber. The doors in this old house have a habit of sticking, making the same sound my cookbook makes when I have to peel it off of a jam-sticky counter. Someone’s out of bed.
Half-awake I listen to the pad of feet in the hallway, determining whose body they belong to. It’s Jonathan, my early riser. I crack open my eyes (they have that same sticking-habit that the door has). 5:00 am. Can it really be morning already?
I debate getting up to start my day, consider all of the many things I could get started before the demands of home and school and children start pressing in. I feel overwhelmed just trying to decide what I’d do with the time. I find a fluffy spot in my pillow and fall back asleep.
Again, the familiar sound of that door opening. More footsteps, this time lighter, more graceful. It’s Ruby. I don’t have to look at the clock. I know it must be 5:30. I replay the same debate of 30 minutes ago, pull the covers a little higher, go back to sleep.
It seems I’ve barely drifted off when the sticky-door wakes me again. These footsteps are small and heavy and hurried. The last of the children who are not confined by the slats of a crib has arisen. The one child confined by the crib begins to bellow. It’s 6:00.
“Really, Erin,” I tell myself, “it’s time to get up. You should have done it the first time. What have you gained by this interrupted hour of half-sleep?”
This is how I wake myself every morning–shivering in a frigid shower of shame.
It’s not really the waking up that’s difficult for me. Many of the people in my life have trouble rising in the morning simply because they can’t wake up. No, I don’t have trouble waking up. I have trouble getting up. Getting out of bed. Getting my feet on the floor and getting moving.
The number of things that must be done in a day, just to be able to end it where I started it, is heavy. The washer and dryer will both be filled, and then emptied. The dishwasher will be filled, and then emptied. Plates and bellies will be filled, and then emptied. And all of them, once emptied, demand to be filled again.
So much of my day is spent doing things that are immediately undone that I become overwhelmed with the futility of it all. The thought of it makes me bone weary. And in those first moments of my morning, putting my feet on the floor and rushing out to meet all those awaiting tasks is the last thing I want to do.
Then recently, I read these words that fell on my weary heart like hopeful first morning light.
When you first awaken, immediately give your body to God as an act of faith, and prove that you mean it by getting out of bed. The discipline of getting up in the morning is a part of spiritual victory.
This battle with discouragement, despair, futility, and shame is won by actually getting up in the morning. I can literally step out in faith, put feet to the floor, and in doing so I have won a spiritual victory.
It doesn’t change a thing about what my day looks like–there are still diapers, dishes, laundry, sibling squabbles, and all the rest. But the way my day feels, and the way I feel in it, has completely changed.
These tasks that seem futile and meaningless are my acts of ministry, given to me, and only me, by God. They are the things He calls me to put my hands to each day. And not just my hands. Not just my hands.
Haven’t I always put my hands to them? Begrudgingly? Tallying debts that I am owed for my service? Yes, I put my hands to these tasks, but not my heart. And now I see that just “gettin’ ‘er done” isn’t what I’m called to do. God wants my hands, and my heart.
Not what my hands have done, can save my guilty soul;
Not what my toiling flesh has borne, can make my spirit whole….
Thy work alone, O Christ, can ease this weight of sin.
Thy blood alone, O Lamb of God, can give me peace within.
Thy love to me, O God, not mine, O Lord, to Thee
Can ride me of this dark unrest, and set my spirit free.
Not What my Hands Have Done, Horatius Bonar
This is still an awkward, unfamiliar dance for me. I hunger to do it gracefully, this waking and trusting and moving forward in faith. This knowing that even the things in my day that feel meaningless and finite, can be fruitful and eternal when I’m employing more than just my hands to complete them.