Because we are often still sleepy and perhaps “coming to,” we tend to not even notice these first minutes after waking. For many of us the day does not start to come into focus until we are up and dressed, or perhaps have had our morning coffee. But just because we do not notice or think about the first minutes of wakefulness each day does not mean they are not important. In fact, it can easily be argued that those two first minutes of our day are the most important, spiritually, of our whole day – of our whole lives.
Let me explain. It is often said that the beginning of a journey is not as important as its ending, but it is often the beginning of the journey – the planning, preparation, and mindset – that determines if we will ever reach the end of our journey and how successful it will be. The same may be said of a military operation or any important undertaking. Each day of life is no different. Stumbling into each day we are given is akin to starting on a long journey or going on an important mission with no preparation at all. Without proper preparation we will likely miss many of the opportunities – and be oblivious to many of the dangers – we may meet as we set out on each journey or into each day.
Lack of preparation also lessens our chances for success, as C.S. Lewis so aptly stressed in Mere Christianity, by opening us up to a world of distraction:
“... the real problem of the Christian life comes where people do not usually look for it. It comes the very moment you wake up each morning. All your wishes and hopes for the day rush at you like wild animals. And the first job each morning consists simply in shoving them all back; in listening to that other voice, taking that other point of view, letting that other, larger, stronger life come flowing in. And so on, all day.”
In these words, Lewis hit on one of the most important aspects of our spiritual growth – or lack of it: we must intentionally prepare our minds both to avoid distraction and to align ourselves with the way of God.
Speaking words of praise and thanks in the first minutes of each day is as much listening as it is speaking – we attune ourselves to hear what God wants us to hear as the day begins. The prophet Isaiah describes this very principle: “He wakens me morning by morning, wakens my ear to listen like one being instructed” (Isaiah 50:4) – and the result of this “hearing” is clear: “The Sovereign Lord has opened my ears; I have not been rebellious, I have not turned away” (Isaiah 50:5).
So how do we accomplish this? To properly prepare for each day and to maximize its opportunities, we must put our minds in spiritual gear from the moment we wake. Some may feel this would be almost impossible for them – that they are not “morning people” or that they don’t wake up properly until they get in the shower, get to their coffee, or whatever. But the truth is no matter how slow we may be to get started each day, we can still focus our minds in the first minute or two after waking just as we can focus our eyes in that same time.
This means that if we make our first conscious thoughts each day to be ones of thanksgiving for the gift of life, of praise for the One who has given it, and of dedication to the way of serving, giving, and helping – these thoughts not only set the tone for the whole day, they serve to reset the mind’s spiritual compass and increase the likelihood that as we go into the day it will not be to spiritually stumble and wander.
But it is imperative that this “orienting” of our minds and of our spiritual selves is done immediately when we wake. We can do this before we open our eyes if we wish, or we can simply focus our minds as our eyes come into focus. But if we start the practice and stick with it, we will find it not only becomes easier, but it also becomes ingrained and soon becomes second nature: we wake up and focus spiritually without having to think about it.
This may sound like a very small way to approach spiritual growth, but it is not. One or two minutes of spiritual preparation for the day invariably means that our days go better from that perspective. Our normal morning prayers will be more focused and effective, our first – and ongoing – interactions with others in the day will better reflect the attitude God wants us to display, and we will be better primed to use the day to learn and grow, to serve and help, to the full.
Spiritual growth does not happen by itself; preparing for growth is a big part of making growth possible on a daily basis. Walking with God means focusing and making necessary course corrections throughout the day, but our success in this and in growing in grace can be tremendously enhanced each morning in the first two minutes of daily life.