There’s a bleary line between nighttime and morning. The clock and the sun wrestle over the boundary line every day, and this time of year it’s usually the digital timekeeper that wins. Most winter mornings begin before dawn.
When I was working in the kitchens at Camp Mini-Yo-We, my mornings began at 4:30AM on the regular, starting work at 5AM to feed people who had to leave by 6AM. I was gifted a fancy-pants sunrise alarm that Christmas, and it was a huge blessing to wake up naturally in a basement apartment in the wee hours. That season of making breakfast for the off-site crew was precious to me. I got out of bed with purpose, and my efforts were always met with appreciation.
We still set that sunrise alarm every morning, but it doesn't often wake me up anymore. Instead, just down the hallway lives another, more assertive alarm clock — with lungs. We have not yet figured out how to reliably set that one.
Somehow getting up to feed and care for my child at the crack of dawn (or earlier) feels harder than I remember it being five or six years ago, for those folks at Camp. Maybe because my commitment to that schedule only lasted a few months? Maybe I’ve just plain gotten older? Maybe I am too dependent on positive feedback, and when I don't get the praise often connected with service, my selflessness is too weak on its own. The fact is, my feet swing over the side of the bed every morning because of duty, not delight.
But duty still gets the job done.
Last year I picked up a very helpful self-evaluation tool from the lovely Jenn Martin, at a women's retreat. It wasn't the focus of her talk, but it was a golden nugget that I have revisited a great many times since she shared it. Goes something like, "while there are many bad reasons to do something good, good reasons can vary and be categorized into: duty, discipline, desire, and delight. If your heart is sitting in one of those places, you can act with a clear conscience."
The original context for this rubric was regarding Christian spiritual disciplines, but I think the principle can apply more broadly. Is it something you must do? Is it something you should do? Is it something you want to do, or that you simply love to do? Obviously, the amount of pleasure you get from fulfilling a duty is rather less than pursuing a delight -- but both are good reasons to do good and healthy things. And, hopefully, the things you faithfully slog through will also bring moments of joy, over time.
When I got home from retreat this year, I truly wanted to spend time with my kid. I'd only been gone a day, but I'd missed my needy little dude. I'm happy to report that feeding generally has been much more delightful since we went full-time formula! But when our little wiener wails at 4:30AM, it is duty alone that drags me from the cocoon of my blankets. I rouse because I must; I soothe and reassure him, and change his diaper, and do what I can because I'm his mom, and I love him -- even when I'm not loving the job of it.
Even long before sunrise.