Like most parents of young kids, I often find myself walking around in a perpetual state of exhaustion. Sleeping in hasn’t been an option in years, and while I aim to go to bed on the earlier side, there are plenty of nights where I’m up well past midnight, whether it’s because I’m finishing up work, taking care of household chores (quiet ones, of course), or lying awake stressing over the dozens of things I need to do but don’t know when I’ll be able to get around to them.
Even so, most days I get up a good 30 minutes earlier than necessary in order to do the one thing I need to ease into my day: pray. I started incorporating prayer into my daily routine during young adulthood. By the time I got married, my husband was used to my need for that early morning “me time” that he never pushed or questioned it.
When I got pregnant with our first child, I wondered if and how I’d managed to continue finding the time for prayer once the baby came. I certainly skimped on morning prayers during those first few postpartum months, but I eventually worked my way back up. These days, I spend anywhere from 20 to 30 minutes praying most mornings, and while that is time that I could be sleeping — or doing something on my always too-long to-do list — I’m willing to forgo rest, etc., for a number of reasons.
For one thing, starting my day off with prayer gives me a fresh start of sorts. On the nights I inevitably go to bed upset or stressed, engaging in meaningful prayer is my way of hitting “reset” the following day.
Praying also tends to help me focus on the positive. Without it, I’d probably be a much grumpier to my children in the morning. I mean, let’s face it, tending to a kindergartener as well as rambunctious toddler twins isn’t exactly easy when you’re exhausted and haven’t so much as taken a sip of coffee. But spending that time praying seems to put me in a better frame of mind, and that helps me approach the day without acting like a total beast.
Finally, spending some time deep in prayer actually helps wake up my brain. For me, prayer is energizing. It forces me to get out of sleepy mode and start formulating actual thoughts, which is hard to do when it’s dark outside and your eyes don’t seem to want to stay open.
The prayer I engage in doesn’t always conform to religious practices; much of the time, I make it up, as opposed to following words in a prayer book. Sometimes I’ll ask God for the things I need, but mostly I thank Him for the things I have. In fact, the one prayer I do tend to recite by rote is the Modeh Ani, the morning prayer of thanks to God for allowing us to live another day. I tend to expand upon it, though, adding in things for which I’m feeling particularly grateful.
Another thing: I like to do my praying out loud. Hearing the words makes them more meaningful for me. When my now almost-6-year-old would hear me doing this through the door, he’d often come in and ask whom I was talking to. Explaining that I was mid-conversation with God didn’t always go over so well, but eventually he began to understand not just what I was doing, but the importance of leaving me alone for those 20 to 30 minutes. (That isn’t to say I don’t ever get interrupted, but for the most part, my son gives me that time, and my daughters are late sleepers, so it tends to work out.)
Another prayer I happen to like is the Song of the Day. It’s not the most well-known, but what I appreciate is that there’s a different reading for each day of the week. It often inspires me to think about what I like best about each particular day. For example, on Thursdays, my favorite newspaper column gets published, so that’s a little treat to look forward to. And on Fridays, I’m thankful for Shabbat dinner (not so much having to cook it, but getting to enjoy it with my family).
Regardless of the prayers I choose, or how I adapt them, I’ve come to realize that the time I set aside for prayer enables me to transition peacefully into the day. I’m grateful that I’ve found a forum for doing so — even though it means a little less shut-eye.