This morning I got up and did something I’ve never done before: After waking up to feed Lucia at 4:50am (a norm), I laid back in bed only to follow a moment of inspiration to get up out of bed and go for a run with our dog. Me? Awake and Active? At 5am? Usually things like this pop into my head, but I always ignore them choosing instead to wake up groggily and grouchily to my little boy sitting on my head asking when we can get up. I usually have to convince myself to get out of bed, mostly because I know my babies need a diaper change and breakfast. It’s hardly gracious, and it’s rarely without excessive prompting from my children.
It was a great morning and offered me the opportunity to have some time to myself to pray, exercise, sort through bills, have my morning coffee, watch a little bit of this movie, and (gasp!) take a shower! All accomplished by my lonesome and without any interruptions. It was beautiful, and I’ve attacked more on my to-do list in these last few hours than I have in weeks. I suppose that’s why St. Jose Maria Escriva referred to this moment as the “heroic” moment.
The heroic minute. It is the time to get up, on the dot! Without hesitation, a supernatural thought and…up! The heroic minute; here you have a mortification that strengthens your will and does not weaken your body.
How is it that heroic minutes come in small moments? It happens in two ways, the first being self-denial. Our world today tells us that the path to happiness is exactly the opposite: happiness lies in self-gratification. It tells us day after day, and moment after moment to give in to our bodily desires. It tells us to eat what pleases you, laze about if it suits you, put in the minimal amount of work to get through your day, have sex whenever you want with whomever you want “worry free”; relax and indulge, relax and indulge. The idea of self-denial is so foreign to our modern world, and most all of us (in some way or another) have forgotten that achieving something great takes self-denial and commitment. Just as Tommy Haverford and Donna Meagle from “Parks and Recreation” once said:
But unlike Tommy and Donna who devote merely one day a year to “treating” themselves, we’ve become accustomed to treating ourselves on a daily basis.
Sure, I could have laid in bed today and gotten a few more hours of sleep, but I wouldn’t have had the special time to myself outside to take a deep breath and offer up some prayers before having to tackle the day. Today, continuing to lay in bed would have been (in my groggy little head) optimal and the most comfortable, but it wouldn’t have allowed me to accomplish so much before my day even usually begins. In that moment this morning I was able to overcome my own immediate sensible desires to accomplish something much more gratifying. For so long now I have been desiring to begin exercising regularly, but day after day I am faced with a schedule that is jam packed with things do with home and family. I’ve known for a while that the best time for me to exercise is in the morning before everyone is awake, but I’ve never been able to actually say yes to the day and wake up immediately to work. On top of all that, it afforded me the opportunity to wake up on my own and clear my head, a moment that is so very precious to a parent who is about to devote her whole day to her family. This moment, in turn, made me a better and more attentive mom today.
Why does St. Escriva remind us that mortification of our bodily desires is key to living a happy and heroic life? Because mortification (the action of subduing one’s bodily desires) is discipline. Mortification refines our very body and souls, which are so often inclined towards sloth, envy, greed, lust, pride, anger, and gluttony in one small form or another. Jose Maria also says, The world admires only the spectacular sacrifice, because it does not realize the value of the sacrifice that is hidden and silent. Simple ways to sanctify ourselves involve willingly taking on seemingly small sacrifices. In those moments when you choose to get out of bed to do something productive for yourself and your body, when you choose to omit inappropriate comments or judgements from your conversations, when you smile at someone who really kind of drives you nuts, when you carry on in kind company with people you’d rather not be around, when you make the time to exercise, when you willingly pass on putting creamer (a half cup if you are me) in your coffee, and when you chose to ignore those pet peeves in your family members that just make you crazy…these seemingly small choices to rise above have a great impact on your body and soul. Truly, in these moments, you are strengthening your will, and thus continuing to build a better version of yourself.
We are so accustomed to “treating” ourselves that we’ve become almost wholly immune in one way or another to the fact that we often refuse to deny ourselves. Wants become needs, and the difference between the two is blurred only by “Can I get this with my prime membership, or not?” The cup of ice-cream before bed becomes routine; the new shoes you want become the sixteenth pair in your closet; and the desire to laze about more than exercise becomes the flabby belly surrounding the six-pack of abs you so desire. (Surely they’re hidden in there somewhere, right?)
It’s a subtle but slippery slope.
The second way that heroic minutes comes in small moments is through response. Notice that Jose Maria points out that it is through a “supernatural thought” that one is prompted towards greatness. Often times, these nudgings of the Spirit are quiet and unassuming; they go completely unnoticed if we don’t open our hearts to them. Yet, when we respond to the Spirit within us, who gives a supernatural tone to all of our thoughts if we but let him, we are daily more conformed into his likeness. Listen to him. Pray to Him. Respond to Him. He is the guide that, like any loving father, wants the ultimate best for you.
In writing this I’m not saying I’m perfect. I fully realize that this was one day in a whole long history of days where I was able to sucker-punch my immediate desire for more rest in the face and get up. And 5am? I’m pretty sure that’s going to be a tough challenge to turn into a habit. But today gave me the opportunity to hope and dream for more days like these to come, and what’s more…to know that they are possible. That’s what mortification does for us: it reminds us that we can order even those seemingly small things we indulge in, and to acknowledge that there is something much more grand awaiting us on the other end of it all.
I’m sure there are many more days to come where I am not able to live out this “heroic minute,” but oh what I learned when I did. Today I was able to reflect on the reality that “no ideal becomes a reality without sacrifice,” and for that I am very thankful.