Getting up earlier does not make more hours in the day

Time is finite. I understand this intellectually. Yet I still went into my Lenten discipline of getting up at 5am every morning (weekends too) believing that this practice would give me MORE TIME. I held onto this delusion for a few weeks even though I pretty much immediately learned that getting up that early requires going to bed much earlier as well. And I can attest from those nights when I stayed up too late, that the quantity of time you gain is seriously compromised by the sleep-dreprived hazy quality of the time you get as a result. There are 24 hours in a day. You can slice and dice them any way you want, but you can’t make more of them. That’s the deal.

But, hey, if I am getting out of bed at 5am every morning, when I wasn’t before, I must be doing something with that slice of time, right? Without much any forethought, I sort of assumed I would do deeply meaningful and spiritual things at that hour. What have I actually been doing?  Uh, well, I started reading my work emails earlier. I started going in to work earlier too. I have been making far more of my breakfasts at home, so I guess I’m slightly healthier than when I went to the deli for breakfast every other day. This morning I watched Maid in Manhattan, which I enjoyed immensely (and maybe even cried a little when JLo’s character told Ralph Fiennes’ character that he never would have noticed her if he knew she was a maid), but that is hardly a meaningful or spiritual endeavor.

Okay, so much for the spiritual angle. Maybe I have at least become suddenly amazingly more productive at work. Not so much. I still have barely looked at my iPad since I started this practice – and reading blogs and sharing articles on Twitter is actually part of my job. If you go in earlier, you also burn out sooner at the end of day. Turns out there are just so many hours of professional productivity available as well. I think it’s fair to say that anyone I work with has noticed zero difference in my work output since I changed my sleeping habits. And looking at your inbox earlier in the morning only means you start getting stressed out about everything that’s in it sooner. It doesn’t change the number of emails you get.

Is there any point to this exercise other than a chronic lack of sleep? (As an aside, I do think it’s cosmically funny that Daylight Savings happened in the middle of Lent this year, ensuring I didn’t get *too* used to getting up at 5am before I had to get up yet an hour earlier.) I am re-learning again for the millionth time that magic doesn’t happen just because you temporarily change one thing in your life. Especially when you do it practically on a whim. Sometimes I think the reason I observe Lent each year is to keep reminding myself of how naive I am about the nature of personal transformation.

I am learning to appreciate that it is the choices you make about how you spend your time that matter, not the amount of time you have, even if I haven’t always been making those better choices.

858359_10151537763294179_864527148_oI have had one “stand out” moment in my early awakenings. A few weekends ago, Brian and I went to Alderbrook Resort on the Hood Canal. I really was not looking forward to getting up at 5am on a Sunday when I was supposed to be getting away to relax. I thought about invoking the Sunday-Lent exemption, but since I observe my sacrifices on Sundays too, I reluctantly picked up the phone, requested a wake-up call and hoped they would forget. They didn’t and so I rose before the sun was up and went into the sitting area in our room. I was able to find a small light that I could turn on without waking Brian and I sat near the window reading. It was quiet and peaceful and although there was no jaw dropping sunrise, I was present to see the dawn break. Nothing dramatic happened, but for that short and precious time, the jangling chaos that so often invades my life was held at bay, and that was a true gift.

For in the dew of little things the heart finds its morning and is refreshed. ~Khalil Gibran

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Does Lent still count if the sacrifice is small?

cybergedeon_BONG_grayMost years I know what I plan to sacrifice for Lent for weeks, sometimes months, in advance. Even the year I decided to give up giving stuff up I was clear on that well ahead of time. It’s not that I schedule making these decisions. Usually, what I need to set aside for a time is simply self-evident. There is an element of faith that is part of the process. But this year Lent snuck up on me. With Ash Wednesday only a few days away I suddenly realized that I had not actually given this Lenten season any of my time or attention. While it’s true that Easter is early this year, I don’t think that was the issue. And it’s not that my faith-life has been neglected – quite the opposite. Since this time last year, Brian and I have joined and become involved in the life of a new church. And we’re launching an organizational change at work. Oh, and let’s not forget that I am mentoring for Team in Training this spring…

Brian tells me I am the queen of over-functioning. It’s good to be queen, right?  Except this honorific doesn’t come with a crown or any of the other trappings of royalty. This distinction comes with long hours, high stress, and little sleep. Plus one other by-product that has evolved over the past year. Although I am a died-in-the-wool morning person, it has become increasingly difficult for me to get out of bed and get going each morning. I have started lingering in bed longer and longer, with the excuse that I am using my iPad to follow blogs and share with my network. I work in the social media space, so that’s like work, right? Of course, what used to be 15-20 minutes each morning turned into a half-hour. And that doesn’t account for the rest of the time I spend watching TV, petting the cat, and calculating just how many more minutes I can stay in bed without being embarrassingly late for work. Get breakfast at the deli instead of at home?  Five more minutes. Get lunch at the deli instead of packing my own?  Five more… I set up the TV in the bedroom to turn on at 6:00 am and automatically shut off at 6:40. The theory was that I could get ready while watching the morning news and the TV clicked off right about the time I was heading to the kitchen to make breakfast. Now, I am generally still in bed and have to turn the TV back on because I haven’t even gotten up yet. I have an objective measure that I am now staying in bed at least 40 minutes longer than I was a year ago.

So, this year for Lent I am giving up sleeping in.

I set my alarm clock for 5am, every day, and the “rule” is that I must get up when the alarm goes off and cannot get back into bed.

My night-owl friends (of which, ironically, I have many) are probably laughing and/or rolling their eyes at the idea that I think I have an issue with sleeping late. One friend already commented that even with all my lolling about, I’m generally up and about by 7:30 most days, including the weekends. And my friends who already get up at 5am every day are not impressed either. Even if it’s ‘kind of’ hard at first, conventional wisdom is that my body will adjust to waking earlier. So, where is the so-called sacrifice?

Observing Lent is not a contest to see who has the most extreme sacrifice. The one who suffers most doesn’t win a prize. It is meant to be a time of personal preparation and to honor the time Jesus spent in the wilderness. Who is to say what is required for someone to do this preparation?  Is the classic ‘giving up sugar’ somehow more (or less) honoring than any other choice someone might make, like not sleeping in? A seemingly smaller choice may open the door just enough to let the Spirit in. I try not to judge my own Lenten choices and instead simply do my best to honor that choice and see where it takes me. I cannot think of a single Lenten season where I have not reaped unexpected insights from that season’s journey and I expect this time to be no different.

How is it going so far?  It’s early days yet, but here are a few initial observations…

  • To get up earlier, it helps to go to bed earlier, but going to bed earlier does not necessarily mean you will fall asleep earlier.
  • If you are going to get out of bed immediately, you have to put the iPad in the other room.
  • In spite of getting up easily 2 hours earlier than usual for the past 3 days, somehow I have not managed to use my iPad at all. While this was not an intended outcome, it does raise an interesting question about the chicken-and-egg nature of the cause of my problems with getting up in the morning.
  • Getting up and out of bed at 5am on Saturday is no fun (but it does contribute to getting blog posts written).
  • I already miss the delightfully wonderful luxury of lazing about in bed with my husband and my cat.
  • This may not be as easy as I thought.


There’s never enough time to do all the nothing you want.  ~Bill Watterson, Calvin and Hobbes


Sometimes the Wilderness Sucks

I have been coping pretty well with the absence of TV, Movies, Radio, and Books during Lent. I have found endless ways to entertain and amuse myself, but sooner or later there was bound to come a situation in which the best laid plans went out the window. Atypically, Brian had plans tonight that left me on my own (much more commonly, I am the one gallivanting off and leaving him home with the cat).

I actually thought I had it all worked out. When he left, I headed down to our favorite watering hole. However, when I got there I found it was jam-packed full or theater go-ers. No problem, it was about 20 mins to show time, so I ordered a glass of wine and figured I would wait out the crowd. Show time came and went and while about half the place emptied out, a LOT of people stayed. Every seat at the bar was taken and there were no friendly faces in sight (note: there were actually 2 *very* friendly faces, Elizabeth and Michael, who were working – but as the place was slammed they were more than occupied just trying to keep up with the crowd).

This left me sitting at a sofa in the back by myself, which felt vaguely pathetic. I’m perfectly happy and able to strike up a conversation with someone I’ve never met if I am sitting at the bar, but no one walks up to a person sitting by themselves in the corner and asks how their day went. Also, had it been slower, I could have been happy at the bar chatting with Michael and Elizabeth between other customers. My original plan was to order some food, slowly sip my wine and time my exit so I got home the same time as Brian. But given my current situation when Michael came to see if I wanted a second glass, I instead took the check. He asked what I was up to and I actually told him I was headed home to hang out with the cat. Oh my God, I just took one step to becoming the world’s most pathetic cat-lady.

Under other circumstances, this would have been a great time to swing by the store to grab some ice cream and curl up on the sofa (yes, with the cat) and watch a chick flick. But no movies, no TV, no distractions allowed these 40 days. I walked home to a quiet house and I was suddenly consumed by loneliness.

Loneliness is an unpleasant feeling in which a person feels a strong sense of emptiness and solitude resulting from inadequate levels of social relationships. ~Wikipedia

I did the next logical thing which was to fling myself across my bed and have a good cry. After I had no more use for that and I was just laying there, I started thinking about the whole point of Lent, which is to emulate Jesus’ 40 days in the wilderness. I wondered if Jesus was depressed and lonely during this time. The Gospels don’t say – the only clues we get are that he was hungry (Matthew and Luke), and that the angels attended him (Mathew and Mark). I know I certainly don’t do well when I haven’t eaten and if the angels were in attendance I’m guessing it wasn’t to hang out and socialize. I can only speculate, but I suspect he at least had some very lonely moments.

I considered giving up and turning on the TV. Easter is only a week away, it’s practically Sunday already, excuse, excuse, justification, rationalization, blah-blah-blah. But I didn’t. Darkness and temptation will find us whether we ‘fast’ for 40 days or not. Sometimes life sucks. Some days are filled with loneliness. But if we hold true to our beliefs (whatever they may be) we can resist temptation. I choose to observe Lent as a way to remind myself that it is possible to be faithful and true, regardless of the circumstance or difficulties I am facing. And this applies not only to my spiritual journey, but to my relationships, my running, and my work. It is easy to turn off the TV when I am with friends having fun, it is far harder when I am home alone and ‘hungry’ for human companionship. Learning to resist and to say no allows us to accomplish our goals and make our dreams come true, and the best way I know to learn is to practice.

“Anyone can give up, it’s the easiest thing in the world to do. But to hold it together when everyone else would understand if you fell apart, that’s true strength.” ~Unknown

 


You can turn off the radio, but you can’t shut out the music

I have a terrible affliction. Anyone who has been married to, or worked for me, has experienced it first-hand.  I get songs stuck in my head. Doesn’t matter what kind of music: Lady Gaga, Disney, church hymns, TV commercial jingles (think I’m kidding – ask my former team about the time I got the Xfinity theme stuck in my head…). Anything and everything can get stuck in there and it does not particularly seem to matter if I even like that song, or know all the words to it. I find the only solace I get is to share the ‘song of the day’ with those around me and see if I can find a kindred spirit. On those days when some tune is bouncing around in my head, I come into work and announce it out loud to see who is going to go on the musical journey with me. Generally speaking, I can find an innocent bystander who now has it stuck in their heads as well (and my personal favorite is when I announce that day’s song and the person has never heard of it, so they feel compelled to Google it and then they get it stuck in their heads).

After giving up the radio and MP3 player for Lent, I thought I might be freed from this scourge for 40 days. Ha!  I am going to church on Sundays, so the ratio of church hymns in my repertoire has gone up exponentially. But that’s not all, I find I can just read some reference to a song and, blammo, it’s now on the list. Or, let’s say it’s a particular day of the week, like, oh, Friday. And, yep, Rebecca Black’s, “Friday” starts playing on my mental mp3 player. (And, just for the record, I cannot stand that song!)

Plus the sickness has expanded and I have caught myself several times singing the song of the day out loud to the cat (with the words adjusted, of course, to either work her name into the lyrics, or to tailor the meaning of the song to be more relevant for cats). I am wandering around my stone cold silent house humming and singing to the cat, the husband, or even just to myself.

What is going on here??

I think if you are a musical person, if music touches your heart and soul, turning off the radio for 40 days is not going to change that. I’m not sure I actually realized I was a “musical person,” par se, but the truth is that I have always sung funny versions of songs to the cat, and getting songs stuck in my head is hardly anything new. Although you could not pay me good money to sing in front of people (seriously, there is not enough money or booze in the world to make me sing in public, so don’t even waste your time thinking you can figure out a way to make me), I do love to sing in the car along with the radio. One day years ago I was driving to work and belting my guts out to some song I don’t even remember now (but I do remember singing it very impressively…). I got into the kitchen at the office and a fellow employee commented that I must have enjoyed my commute that morning. He had driven up next to me on his motorcycle and said that I was giving the performance of a lifetime without even seeing him there next to me on the highway.

So, you can turn off the radio, pack up the MP3 player, but if you got the music in you, it’s there to stay.


Learning to Bend

In my early years of observing Lent, I was extremely strict with myself in regards to whatever sacrifice I happened to be making. There were no excuses, no loop holes, no skipping out on Sundays, no forgiveness, NO MERCY!  It was go big or go home, all or nothing, perfection or despair. Although I was always very clear that I never expected anyone else to follow suit or live by my Lenten restrictions, what I have learned over time is being around that version of me is incredibly annoying for everyone else. Others were constantly having to adjust their lives to meet my needs. I found that by marching around and trumpeting my “look at me and my Lenten goodness” others felt compelled to accommodate me. Even if I didn’t ask or want them to, some simply did it because they wanted to be supportive in the way that friends and family often give their support to whatever whack-o thing you’re up to at any given moment. (And, forget Lent for a minute, I have quite a track record in taking up whack-o things…)

I like to think I have improved on this front, but I also know it’s an area where I still need work. Last year (where I gave up going out to eat), I thought I was being super clever for a work-related offsite event by offering to bring lunch and happy hour fixins. I learned later that the sandwiches that I brought were not on a colleague’s low carb diet, not to mention he had to make special arrangements with the location for me to bring my food, but he was gracious enough not to stand in my way. And I believe an element of this discipline is not to make a big fuss about what you are doing, so writing blog posts about the whole business probably doesn’t help my cause either.

Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven.  ~Matthew 6, verse 1

This year I decided to be more conscientious about not taking those around me through my personal journey of Lenten sacrifice. Okay, obviously writing this post invites people to go along the journey with me in some respects; so to clarify, I mean I am working hard not to inflict my offline, “real life,” Lenten choices on others. As far as my online presence goes, people can choose whether or not to read this post, or whether they even agree with my sentiments. Perhaps I really shouldn’t be writing about my experience with Lent – at least not on a blog, but that will have to be a struggle for another season.

What this really means is that I have to make a conscious choice to set aside perfect devotion to my sacrifice. Sometimes I have to live with my own inability to fulfill the commitment I have made. This past Friday we got together with friends we hadn’t seen in some months. Our usual tradition involves getting together for a meal and then watching a movie or catching up on the reality shows they know I like that are on cable, which we don’t have. I was very conflicted about how to handle this situation since I gave up TV for Lent. I initially suggested we get together on Sunday because there is a bit of a loophole with Lent on Sundays, but I actually keep to my discipline on Sundays, so I still would have felt like I was cheating in my heart. {As an aside, I do this because when I think of Jesus out in the wilderness for 40 days being tempted by Satan, I’m guessing he wasn’t taking Sundays off…} I considered telling them I had given up TV and movies for Lent, but it just felt like I would have been making them suffer for my choices which was exactly what I did not want to do. I also considered that perhaps I could have waited to see them until after Easter. In the end we did get together and we did watch TV – and, yes, I ‘inhaled’ – and, yes, I had mixed feelings about that. But one of the things I also learned was the reason why we hadn’t heard from them in so long. They had been experiencing some personal challenges on a couple of different fronts and we were able to listen to them, give them our empathy and show that we cared about what was going on in their life by our presence. Does that excuse my breaking my commitment not to watch TV?  Honestly, no, and I have to live with my own disappointment about that. Am I glad we made the choice to go see them and not burden them with my TV-free life, absolutely.

The green reed which bends in the wind is stronger than the mighty oak which breaks in a storm. ~Confucius


The sound of silence

When I shared that I was giving up TV, Movies, Books, and Radio for Lent in Into the Lenten Wilderness, my friend Barb had this to say on Facebook:

I read the sentence twice thinking, surely she cannot mean books. The other things are evil, but not books! You go too far here.

At the time, I was far too distracted by how much withdrawal I was going through from my TV addiction to think about what giving up the other stuff was going to mean to me. But her comment stuck with me. Sacrifice is not about giving up stuff that’s bad for you (“evil things”), but rather things that are meaningful to you. I am a voracious reader and I love nothing more than losing myself in a book. The reason I decided to sacrifice books for Lent this year was because I spend all my time on the bus each day buried in the Kindle reader on my smart phone. So much so that I barely pay attention to anything else that is going on around me. On my morning commute this morning I noticed that the bus was stone cold silent. I looked around and everyone within eye shot was on some sort of digital device – phone, table, mp3 player. A couple of weeks ago I would have been one of them. And not only reading on my phone but listening to music on my mp3 player, which is why I decided to give up music too. For a short time I want to be more present to my surroundings.

As usual, I underestimated the impact of my choices. I thought giving up music was kind of a throw in and not that big of a deal. It wasn’t until I was sitting in church on Sunday and the music began to play that I felt the weight of that particular sacrifice. As we began to sing the hymn I could barely get through the words and was on the verge of tears. And what song brought me so emotionally to the edge?  Ode to Joy.  (Oh the irony…) I forgot that the songs I have selected on my mp3 player are not mere background noise. I picked music that either inspires me, touches me, or just plain makes me happy. They are my modern day odes to joy.

On the front end of this journey I wondered if I had made too strict a list, but now that I have adjusted to life without TV and to quiet bus rides, I began to question if I made it too easy on myself. Hearing a taste of music and feeling in my heart the pang of what I was missing let me know that I had indeed selected sacrifices that are full of meaning and it’s these little discoveries along the way that draw me back to the Lenten discipline year after year. Sometimes you have to turn off the volume to truly hear.


Open Letter to Churches Seeking New Members

Dear Churches Seeking New Members, 

My husband and I moved to the city a few years ago and have been ‘between churches’ ever since. We’ve been to visit quite a few of you and have some observations you may find helpful in encouraging more new members:

  • No Public Humiliation – please don’t make us stand up in a room full of total strangers and introduce ourselves. We want to be anonymous because we’re not sure we want to see you again and, frankly, we’re still seeing other churches. It’s not you, it’s us, and we just don’t know you very well yet. (And, believe me, if we do decide to join you, you’ll be lucky to get us to shut up, so enjoy the quiet while you can get it.)
  • Acknowledge We Exist – Being anonymous is not the same as being invisible. We’re probably going to be a little confused about what to do and where to go so having someone to greet us and ask if we have questions, or let us know if you do something you own unique way, is most appreciated. Plus, if you act like we’re not there, we start to think we might as well not be there as it doesn’t seem to matter to you.
  • Put it in writing – spell out *everything* we need to know in the bulletin. When to sit, when to stand, where to find the words. Even if you have one of those groovy new digital displays, include in the bulletin what will and wont be on the display screen (’cause some of you like to mix it up and not everything goes up there.)
  • No stalking – please don’t run out of the church and down the street chasing after us to tell us you were glad to see us (and, yes, that really happened). When you act like it’s a miracle of God that you have visitors, it freaks us out. We may or may not fill out an information card, but that doesn’t mean we don’t like you, it may just mean we found everything we needed on your website.
  • Remember us – you get a gold star if we come back and you remember our names, but really just a friendly “nice to see you again” makes us feel like you noticed we were there (but remember the no stalking rule).
  • Have a website – if you don’t have a website, we wont be coming to your church. Nothing personal, but that alone tells us enough to know you aren’t ready for new people. You can get a basic website for free and your own URL for about $25 a year. There is simply no excuse not to have one. (Unless maybe you are Amish, in which case you aren’t even reading this post and we’re probably not coming to your church for a variety of other reasons anyway.)
  • When, Where, What – there are basically 3 things we want to know when we come to your website; when your worship services are held, where you are located, and what you believe. And we’d really like to see all 3 on the home page, but at least make them SUPER easy to find and no more than one click away. If you are having special services like Christmas Eve, Ash Wednesday, Easter (that visitors like us are likely to attend), please put those special worship times on the home page. We have encountered any number of church websites that seem to be more interested in looking pretty than actually being useful. You don’t have to be fancy-shmancy super-tech in order for us to get what we need to decide whether to come visit. (Here’s a great example of a simple, but effective, website from a church in Michigan that has all three covered on the home page.)
  • Tell us what you really believe – be proud of what you believe and s-p-e-l-l it out on your website. Progressive?  Great!  Theologically conservative?  Super!  But what do those things mean in the life of your community?  It’s really helpful before we show up waving our rainbow flags to know that you’ll be petitioning for an Intelligent Design curriculum in the local schools. And if that is your community’s belief, that’s wonderful, but we both know we’re not going to be a good fit there so we might as well save each other the frustration. We’re going to find out soon enough, so why don’t we get that awkward part out of the way online. Besides there is someone out there who would love to find a community like yours if only they knew it existed.

Finding a new church home is not always easy, especially if the one you came from was such an important part of both your faith journey and your personal life. We were very, very close to our previous faith community and it’s hard to think of anywhere else coming close. Or maybe we’ve never been to church and we want to explore that spiritual side of ourselves for the first time, but it’s all so new and confusing. Or perhaps we’re broken and we need a place where we can be broken and it’s still okay. Any number of the things that might bring us to your doorstep can make it hard to do much more than show up, sit quietly in the back, and sneak out afterwards. But that’s the beautiful thing about church communities – they bring new people into your life, they can open your heart and mind to new experiences, they can mend those deepest of wounds, and affirm your relationship with God.With all that on the line, don’t let the little things mentioned above get in the way of connecting people to the Good News.

In Peace, Lyda & Brian