Another lifetime ago when I was young and single and working for FOCUS, the Fellowship of Catholic University Students, we were taught to strive for several of St. Josemaria Escriva’s recommended daily practices in order to be truly effective in our mission as an organization and to pursue personal sanctity. Some of the bigger ones like daily Mass and a daily holy hour are momentarily unachievable for me in my present reality as a mom to 4 small children. We might make daily Mass twice in a really, really good week, which is fine. There’s a reason the Church doesn’t require laypeople to worship at Mass 7 days a week, and it has everything to do with the primacy of our vocations.
But that doesn’t mean I’m off the hook for having a spiritual life. On the contrary, I can only really keep my head above water as a wife and mother to the extent that I make time for Him in my daily grind.
One small, unassuming practice which St. Josemaria was fond of is nicknamed “the Heroic Minute.” Essentially, it’s taking the first few moments of wakefulness each day and “conquering yourself” by giving it to God and getting right up out of bed. He says:
“Conquer yourself each day from the very first moment, getting up on the dot, at a fixed time, without yielding a single minute to laziness. If, with God’s help, you conquer yourself, you will be well ahead for the rest of the day. … The heroic minute. It is the time fixed for getting up. Without hesitation: a supernatural reflection and… up! The heroic minute: here you have a mortification that strengthens your will and does no harm to your body.”
To which, I must confess, my very being recoils in horror, because if by some miracle of nature my children sleep past 6:34 am, there is nothing I’d like better than to keep on snoozing, undisturbed by plaintive cries for Netflix and oatmeal.
But I’ve been setting my alarm for 6:30 and then, when it beeps, heaving myself out of bed and padding downstairs to sit in the semi dark with a hot cup of coffee and an open Bible. Sometimes I just stare into space and allow the time between sleep and wakefulness to be filled with a more mindful awareness of the presence of God. Sometimes I go over the day’s agenda in my mind, organizing my thoughts and bracing myself for the hurricane of activity about to engulf our household.
But without fail, every time I’ve responded to that Heroic Minute, (and I realize 6:30 is far from heroic for a truly virtuous soul, but this sleep addict is baby stepping her way to greatness) it has paid out in dividends of peace and gratitude and a serenity that I would not have believed possible for mornings.
Rather than starting the day under siege and feeling robbed of precious pillow time, I choose to get up and tithe the first few minutes to Him. And He gives it all back tenfold – of course He does.
It doesn’t always feel particularly good or virtuous or beneficial, but there is grace where there might not have been had I rolled over and hit snooze. And there is a peaceful pause at the starting line of the day that makes me feel more in control and less like a hunted animal.
Mortifications and self denial do not come naturally for me, as I suspect they do not for most humans. But there is a snowball effect of virtue when I choose from the beginning to deny myself this small thing, to make this little act of humiliation and inflict a minuscule amount of mental pain, which bears within it the potential to set off an avalanche of good choices over the course of the coming day. Did I really need that extra dollop of ranch dressing with my lunch? Could I resist that piece of chocolate from the freezer and make of that small sacrifice a quick prayer for a friend’s intention? Should nap-time perhaps begin with a quiet recitation of the Rosary rather than a frantic headlong dive into productivity? Not to mention the, ahem, questionable decision to stay up past 11 watching “just one more episode” on any given weeknight.
All of this and more has flowed from the simple, silly decision to steal my kid’s alarm clock and start getting out of bed at a set time each day.
In denying myself sleep, I am giving myself the gift of quality time alone with my Creator.
And at the very least, I get a hot cup of coffee out of the deal.