I longed to be a nun as a child. I was precocious and pious, and pictured religious life as it was depicted in The Sound of Music or Sister Act movies. I could pray and make rosaries all day? Sign me up! As I got older (and saw that I was called to the vocation of marriage) I sought to incorporate those elements of daily holiness that appealed to me from religious communities. My ideal day as a layperson was as follows:
6:00am: Rise easily, feeling well-rested. Devote at least an hour to praying the Divine Office, reading classic spiritual works, and talking to God. I would be joined in the quiet of the dawn by my purring cats and a steaming cup of tea.
7:30am: Get ready and commute to work. Listen to Catholic podcasts.
8:30am: Work productively with Gregorian chant in the background.
12:00pm: Attend daily mass
You get the drift, right? I found this utopia impossible to achieve, even as a young woman with only a husband and a few furry critters to care for. As a night owl, waking up early felt painful and pointless, even though I longed for uninterrupted time to spend with God. There wasn’t a daily mass close enough to my office so that I could go over my lunch break. By the time I got home from work and cooked dinner, all I wanted was to crash and watch a favorite show with my husband, not read my Bible or say a rosary without falling asleep.
And then I had children. Twin boys right out of the gate, then another boy five years later. Forget waking up pleasantly with the dawn; I was awakened by frantic little knocks on my bedroom door or fighting between brothers over shared toys. Even if I could somehow drag myself out of bed before the kids descended on me, there was no guarantee I’d get more than a few minutes of quiet before I heard the pitter patter of boisterous feet. Sometimes, even with the best of intentions to bounce out of bed with my alarm, they woke up early and I felt I’d failed at the day before it had even begun.
My mornings have a serious lack of what I was drawn to from the convent: structure, quiet, and the ability to give my full focus to God.
I stumbled upon something that worked for me, quite by accident, during Holy Week (my best Holy Spirit moments always seem to happen in the Lenten/Triduum season). I had resolved to wake up early to see the sunrise and pray that week, so I wrenched myself out of bed and onto the living room couch. I was still half-asleep and didn’t have the faculties to open a bible or finagle the ribbons in my breviary, so I pressed the Easy Button: I opened up the Hallow app and played one of their Holy Week praylists. I laid on the couch to listen and pray along with my eyes closed. It was just what I needed, and I felt the effects of a peaceful, God-centered start for the rest of my day: my cup was full, so I had more patience towards the kids, more brain cells for work, etc.
The next day I quite literally did bounce out of bed, because I was so looking forward to repeating the experience. Eventually I came to realize that if I could fit two tiny things into my mornings it made a huge difference: Praying the Morning Offering (takes less than a minute!) after lighting a candle. That’s it. If I had the time and quiet to fit in more prayer (such as Lauds or the Office of Readings, maybe some bible study) then it was a delightful bonus. Sometimes a little one comes to “help” me extinguish my candle, or I’m blearily praying the Morning Offering as I stumble out of bed to respond to a child up at the crack of dawn.
And that’s OK, because I’ve still started my day by offering it to the Lord, no matter how imperfect that looks.
As a recovering perfectionist, this mindset shift has been transformative. I often fall into thinking that my prayer life should look how it would be in a convent. But I don’t live in a convent (no matter how much I entertain the idea of building myself a hermitage in the backyard), I live in a very noisy domestic monastery.
May we all have radiantly imperfect dawns.