Originally published by The CiRCE Institute. Reprinted with permission.
by Brian Phillips
Bright red numbers glow, burning my sleep-heavy eyes. It takes a few moments for my brain to process what I’m seeing, but there’s little doubt now – “5:30.” Surely such horrific buzzing should be reserved for air raid alarms. I only use the torturous device when I have to awaken early, and then only for its persuasiveness. It is 5:30 a.m. on a Monday morning, and I do not want to get out of bed.
As a pastor, I generally find Sundays to be a strange blend of exhaustion and sleeplessness, which compounds my Monday morning problem. But, here I am, awake before the dawn, because I have a class to teach. A dozen ninth graders will gather to talk about King Arthur with me in a couple of hours and I have a traffic-filled journey to get to them.
Perhaps my problem resides in a truth of which I am gradually becoming aware: I am not a morning person. I love the idea of being a morning person, but the reality generally escapes me. Watching sunrises, drinking coffee on the porch, hearing the first tunes of songbirds somehow echoing over Edvard Grieg’s Morning Mood (Peer Gynt Suite No. 1, Op. 46) – it all sounds great, until the blaring siren begins.
My son also likes to wake me up in the middle of the night, usually to accompany him to the bathroom. He doesn’t really “need” me, but I get up anyway. He always grins to see me stumbling behind him. I wait for him, tousle his hair as he walks out of the bathroom, and then I tuck him into bed all over again, kiss him, whisper “I love you, Ian” and wait for his reply. One day, I know I will miss our routine, 3:00 a.m. or not.
The seemingly constant state of tiredness in which I live arises from callings that are bigger than me - whether related to teaching early classes, my pastoral duties, or my “on call” status as Dad. These are vocations which, even when thought of individually, can overwhelm. Who is sufficient for these things, or even, this one thing? Sure, waking up early and battling tiredness for a season is a minuscule price for eternal work, but that is an incomplete assessment. “Tired” is only one difficulty among many we face in our labors.
Perhaps the problem resides less in my “morning mood” and more in the assumption that life should be easier, that even the richest of work should be less troublesome, that somehow life should just be simpler? Many of us recognize the insanity of modern life, and strive for greater simplicity, paring down our schedules, eliminating unnecessary stresses, buying whatever books promise to help. Recently, I read (and immediately began rereading) George Herbert’s 1632 work The Country Parson, in which he describes his life and needed character as a priest in rural England. Here is one short chapter, entitled “The Parson in Mirth”:
“The Country Parson is generally sad, because he knows nothing but the cross of Christ; his mind being defixed on it with those nails wherewith his Master was. Or, if he have any leisure to look off from thence, he meets continually with two most sad spectacles, - sin and misery; God dishonored every day, and man afflicted. Nevertheless, he sometimes refresheth himself, as knowing that nature will not bear everlasting droopings, and that pleasantness of disposition is a great key to do good: not only because all men shun the company of perpetual severity; but also for that, when they are in company, instructions seasoned with pleasantness both enter sooner, and root deeper. Wherefore he condescends to human frailties, both in himself and others; and intermingles some mirth in his discourses occasionally, according to the pulse of the hearer.”
Modern life, with its blinding pace, technological addictions, incessant noise, and blaring alarm clocks, creates much needless anxiety, but apparently Herbert found 17th-century life in a remote English parish to be troubling as well. Despite the differences in the nature and specifics of the work, all of us - every parent, homeschooler, teacher, pastor, and so on - labors in sorrow. We labor with the sorrow of romantics, knowing that things are not as they ought to be – that we are insufficient for the labors given to our hands, that our speech is lisping and our hearers dull, that we have too little of the wisdom we dearly hope to impart, and far more.
My petty tale of rising too early for my own comfort stands as one small weed in a field full. But, as I rise another day and stand before the weeds, hands and head still aching from the previous day’s labor, I do so with more than my romantic sorrow. I set to work with the picture of what could be, with mind fixed not only upon the sin and misery I will encounter in both myself and others, but upon the cross of my Master, and with the calling of Him whose wisdom is inscrutable. I believe my morning mood could improve.