I was up early a few weeks ago and the morning star was burning bright just above the horizon as the glow of impending morning created a gorgeous silhouette of the tree line behind our home. I grabbed my camera and snapped this shot.
At daybreak, Jesus went out to a solitary place.
Luke 4:42 (NIV)
When our daughters were in high school our family took the Myers-Briggs personality inventory together. We then spent a few hours with my friend, who is a marriage and family therapist, talking about the results. It was fascinating, not only to see each others results (I’m an ENFP), but also to understand our perceptions of one another. I remember that Madison was shocked to discover that I was an extrovert, and I was shocked that she would think I was an introvert.
“But every morning,” she explained, “you get up and spend time alone in quiet.” Based on that daily observation, she assumed that I was introverted. I’ve learned that extraversion and introversion are really about personal energy rather than being particularly social or shy. As an extrovert, I get energized by being around people and social situations. In fact, just the other week I shared with Wendy that being alone together at the lake for days on end had my personal energy tank on reserve. Spending a few hours at the pool around a crowd of people helped fill me up.
The truth is, my time of solitude each morning is not about recharging my personal batteries (in fact, it often causes me to miss out on much needed sleep) as much as it’s about keeping myself centered and finding balance. My entire day feels off-kilter when I miss my time of quiet to read, think, write, and have conversations of spirit with God. Sleeping in, for me, has always been accompanied with the grief of missing my time of solitude.
This morning’s chapter reminds me that Jesus liked his morning solitude, too. This morning, as I type this post in the early morning quiet of my hotel room, I am taking selfish pleasure in this trivial connection; Jesus and I have a mutual appreciation and understanding of morning solitude.
Let the morning bring me word of your unfailing love,
for I have put my trust in you.
Show me the way I should go,
for to you I entrust my life.
Psalm 143:8 (NIV)
Morning has always been one of my favorite times of the day. Each day I wake up and the sun rises it is a fresh eucatastrophe of Life. Hope comes with the dawn and I have a fresh start and a clean slate in front of me. Whatever poor choices I made yesterday, the dawn brings opportunity to make different and better choices today. I can’t change the past, but each morning I am reminded that I have this day to love well, live well, laugh well, en-joy my blessings, be a blessing to others, and join the Creator in the art of creating something new.
The prophet Jeremiah wrote in his poem of Lamentation that God’s love and compassion are “new every morning.” Old things pass away each night, and new things come with the break of each dawn.
Today lies before me like a blank canvas. What picture will I paint in my relationships? What story will I write with my choices? I am not guaranteed a tomorrow. What will I do with this one day that is dawning; The one day I know I have before me?
Praise the Lord, all you servants of the Lord
who minister by night in the house of the Lord.
Psalm 134:1 (NIV)
In all my work experience, I have never worked “the graveyard shift.” I have, on occasion, been required to do training presentations for clients who have a graveyard shift. I’ll admit that doing customer service training at 2:00 a.m. stretched me a bit. It’s hard to crank up the energy when your body is screaming at you that you should be in bed. Being a morning person, I have worked plenty of early morning shifts as paperboy, breakfast cook, caterer, radio dj, and etc. There is something I like about being up and about when the majority of the world around you is still asleep.
I like the fact that the abbreviated lyric of today’s psalm pays homage to those who serve through the watches of the night. Perhaps the brevity of the song is a word picture of how little most of us can relate to the task of regularly serving all night and sleeping all day. Nevertheless, it’s a reminder that God is not bound by time and therefore His work does not wane with the setting of the sun.
It’s easy for me to be lulled by the daily work schedule. Because my occupational labor tends to end each weekday, I apply the general rule to spiritual service as if following Jesus is an activity to which I punch in and punch out. But, that’s not the case. Following Jesus, and serving others means being on call 24/7/365, and it sometimes requires staying up through the watches of the night to bring Life to the graveyard shift.
I wait for the Lord
more than watchmen wait for the morning,
more than watchmen wait for the morning.
Psalm 130:6 (NIV)
I have, in other blog posts, chronicled my adventures in sleeplessness. From childhood I’ve been a morning person. It’s in my DNA, I’m afraid. Especially in the depths of the winter, as we are in now, my day usually begins in the deep dark before dawn.
As a child, I would hate the early mornings as I lay in bed or sat in a dark house and waited. I waited for the light of dawn or the light in the bathroom which signaled that my dad was up and it was okay for me to be up too. As a kid, I hated sleeping over with friends, most of whom liked to sleep in. It meant I would wake up early in a strange house and have to wait hours for my friend to get up. As I got older and became the father of little ones, I began to relish my early morning hours of quiet before the house began to stir. I have embraced my early mornings as productive and peaceful on a number of levels.
As I read the lyrics of Psalm 130 this morning, I ran across the verse above which has become very familiar and even dear to me in recent years. It is used in praying the hours (a.k.a. The Divine Offices), which I often do, especially The Office of Dawn. There is even The Prayer of the Night Watch, which are prayers offered between 1:30 and 4:30 a.m.
As a morning person, I feel a deep resonance with the wait for dawn. It is more than longing and desire. It is both the anticipation and expectation of what is to come. As persons of faith, the assurance of what we hope for and evidence of that which we do not see is a key ingredient in our day-to-day life journey. The physical and temporal is embodied in the instant gratification of our appetites and the blunt realities of our senses. That which is eternal and of the Spirit is generally realized at the end of the faithful, expectant, long watch of the night when eucatastrophe dawns and rends the unsuspecting darkness.
“Tom, you are man of routines,” my friend Sam once said to me. I guess he’s right, but I think we all have routines. There are little moments in life that we experience everyday, or almost every day, without giving them much thought. Here are my top five routine daily moments:
5. The quiet time. Most days I am up before anyone else in the house. I like the quiet to read, think, pray, ponder, get things done undisturbed.
4. The first sip of coffee. Ahhhhh.
3. The breakfast with my baby. After the quiet time, most days at home begin with Wendy and me sitting down with the Wall Street Journal to eat breakfast and read about what’s going on in the world. This usually leads to good and enjoyable conversation. I grieve that future generations will never experience the simple joy of reading the morning newspaper over breakfast. Technology is killing some really good things.
2. The hugs. I am an affectionate person. My home is an affectionate place. Hugs are physical, spiritual, emotional, relational and spiritual fuel for my day. I can’t count the number of hugs Wendy and I share each day. Some would find it ridiculous. Having Suzanna living with us this year and the subsequent increase in my daily hug quotient has made me realize just how much I’ve missed the days when Taylor and Madison lived at home and I experienced their hugs regularly.
1. The slide into bed. I love that first moment each night when I slide under the sheet next to Wendy. It is a subtle and peaceful moment. The day is done. Rest is imminent. I’m laying next to the one I love. Mm.
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Why am I discouraged?
Why is my heart so sad?
I will put my hope in God!
I will praise him again—
my Savior and my God!
Psalm 42:11 (NLT)
It’s not only Monday morning as I write this post, but it’s also the first morning back from a week of vacation. Wendy and I did what we hardly ever do, which is to try and unplug from work. Despite a few frantic e-mails and phone calls from work that I couldn’t ignore, I did pretty well at pushing the tyranny of the urgent to the back burner. It was refreshing, and I would be lying to you if I told you that I was really excited about the pile of e-mails, the pressing deadlines, and the dropped balls which I am facing this morning.
The thing that I noticed about today’s chapter is the juxtaposition of the questions “Why am I discouraged? Why is my heart so sad?” with the clear statements of determination “I will put my hope in God. I will praise him again.” The truth of the matter is that life is full of Monday mornings. The “back to work blues” is a familiar emotion. The important thing is not to exclude God from these moments, but to recognize God within them. When we choose to realize God’s presence in every moment – even a Monday morning back from vacation – and consciously decide to praise God in and through every circumstance, we find ourselves on the path toward both maturity and wisdom.
But the Lord is in his holy Temple;
the Lord still rules from heaven.
He watches everyone closely,
examining every person on earth.
Psalm 11:4 (NLT)
It is early. I’d planned on taking this week off of my chapter-a-day posts, but this morning I woke before dawn and, after laying awake for a while, felt called to the quiet. Rarely these days am I around so much noise and activity. The Playhouse has been full of life and kinetic energy this week with five very busy young people and six weary adults trying desperately to keep up. So much fun. So much noise. So much laughter and screaming. So many tears. The surround sound of life abundant.
I’ve always found quiet in the mornings, even at home in our empty nest where things are pretty much quiet all day. “The Lord is in His holy Temple” today’s chapter tells us, and how interesting to have God’s Message remind those who follow Jesus that we ourselves are temples of God’s Spirit, who dwells in us (1 Corinthians 3:16). And so, as light slowly rises in the east I come to the quiet to center in, to seek the Lord in His holy Temple where He can be found, and to find peace at the start of my day. I come to the quiet even on days that will be filled with relative quiet, but I find this time with God especially rich on days that I know will be brimming over with life’s joyful noises.
I thought I would take the week off from my chapter-a-day posts, and yet here I am once again. I come back to the quiet. I rest on the page.