Lately I’ve been making use of a previously overlooked and formerly unavailable slot of time in my life: the very early morning. I was lamenting to my best friend at the beginning of January my very slow progress towards accomplishing anything outside my ordinary stream of productivity: laundry, the blog posts I compose for CNA every week, the meals I cook, the uniforms I wash, the floors I mop, any freelance work I take on, etc.
I can get more done than the bare minimum across all fields, but everything else seems to suffer when I do. I do know it’s only a season, and a brief one at that. My oldest is 8, next fall everyone but the baby will be in school all day, at least on Mondays and Tuesdays.
It’s wild to think in the span of 4 years I’ll have gone from 4 kids under 5 needing me every second of every day to, well, whatever the fall will look like. I remember acutely the bittersweet passage out of the season of all-together-all-the-time, and wondering if I would be able to withstand the heartache of separation from my oldest, and then his brother, and so on.
Spoiler alert: we withstood. And we flourished. And I have come to deeply love the rhythm of school year life. It has afforded me an occasion for intimacy with my younger kids that I would not otherwise have enjoyed, something approximating the life their older brothers led, but with a slightly older and wiser mom who is really much more relaxed and, I’d wager, more pleasant to be around. I’m not quite as bouncy on the playground as I once was, but I’m much more likely to let you keep eating that sucker you dropped on the ground.
Anyway, I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: God blessed us with a miraculously good baby. All babies are good babies, but this baby is an especially good baby, and sleep is her top performing skill.
So I can get up early. And the time I have always marked out as sacred and necessary for sleep (and will do so again as future babies come, no doubt) is suddenly available.
For more than a month now I’ve been creeping downstairs in the still dark hours before 6 am, hopping in a weird pattern from across the painted linoleum kitchen floor because the squeaky subfloor is sufficient to wake early birds (ask me how I know). I flip the espresso machine on and make my way to the couch or the kitchen table, depending on the temperature. The couch is warmer, but it’s hard to type there, sitting hunched over my laptop with an overstuffed pleather pillow cranking my neck forward in what I can only assume is a definite ergo-no-no position.
It’s hard to focus on prayer early in the morning. It’s hard to focus on prayer any time, honestly, when you’re human. When you’ve been lax about it or you’ve got a bunch of urgent tasks – however mundane – jockeying for your attention. I love my little people but they are nothing if not urgent. And I know God wants to grow in intimacy with me now, not 20 years in the future when I have uninterrupted time for Adoration and meditation and daily Mass.
Anyway, back to this morning. It was almost 6 now and the kids were starting to trickle downstairs one by one. I pulled the baby off the cat for the second time in as many minutes, (wondered briefly about feline brain damage caused by lack of oxygen from toddler Evie’s having smothered her as a kitten, because the cat, she does not move. She has no survival instincts.) and moved into the productivity portion of my pray + produce hour of power.
I didn’t get a ton of writing done, but I was satisfied to have another page, at least, Five paragraphs in need of polish but there on the screen, and better than the five I hadn’t written before this morning.
Later in the shower I lathered my hair with real shampoo, scrubbing away at the vestiges of a week’s worth of the dry kind. I’d set my phone down on the counter reluctantly to finally step into the steamy spray only reluctantly, wanting to keep…what?
It occured to me that on some level, I’ve become uncomfortable being alone with my thoughts, uncomfortable being in a “non-producing” state.
A state like, well, the shower. Which explains why I’d briefly considered launching a podcast episode to play in the background for those 8 otherwise fallow minutes, ultimately deciding no, it might drown out my ability to hear Luke wreaking havoc in the kitchen downstairs.
Dressing with a firefighter’s speed, eager to check in on Luke the destructor lest too much time pass without adult supervision, I flung piles of clean clothes from the floor up to the bed, mentally composing yet another task list for the day ahead. And in my restless, striving stream of though, the Lord bumped His way in, lobbing a football towards me that I reflexively stopped to catch. What He said was this:
“Remember to fill the space between your ribs before you fill the space between your ears.”
I think He meant this, that in my mad rush for productivity and achievement and results, it’s very easy to operate under my own power. I used to go hours and days without really stopping to pray. Still do, sometimes. I forget what the system runs on, so to speak. Until I come up against something that is bigger than I can handle, that is. Then I’m right back on my knees, yessir, pleading for help I didn’t think I needed when I was “competent.”
I have a bad habit of filling up on head stuff, to the detriment of heart stuff. I’ll read some spiritual writings or theological content, maybe recite a rosary while driving to school. And I should do those things! But I can easily forget that thinking about God isn’t the same as communing with Him in my heart. Isn’t the kind of intimacy human beings were made to run on. Not solely, anyway.
Yesterday we had a confusing doctor’s appointment for one of the kids. Afterwards, my head whirling, I spent hours messaging with friends, talking with my mom, Googling things, reading reviews of different providers. When night came and I was still wrestling with some anxiety about the situation, I realized I hadn’t once prayed about it. And look, I know God knows and sees everything we’re up against, is with us in every moment, but gosh do I spend a lot of time filling up that space between my ears, believing on some level that I can research or call my mom or crowd-source my way out of most any problem.
I also spend an awful lot of time filling my day to the brimful, overflowing with information and sensory input. A book in my car, my Kindle in my purse, my laptop on the counter, my phone in my hand…there is almost no need for me to ever sit idle, alone with my thoughts, or in conversation with God. And it shows. And I don’t think I’m unique in living in this manner that is almost a fleeing from silence.
Fill up the essential space first.
Fill the space between your ribs before you fill the space between your ears.