Catholic Spirituality,  Catholics Do What?,  mindfulness

The Heroic Minute

Another lifetime ago when I was young and single and working for FOCUS, the Fellowship of Catholic University Students, we were taught to strive for several of St. Josemaria Escriva’s recommended daily practices in order to be truly effective in our mission as an organization and to pursue personal sanctity. Some of the bigger ones, like daily Mass and a daily holy hour, are momentarily unachievable for me in my present reality as a mom to 4 small children. We might make daily Mass twice in a really, really good week. which is fine! There’s a reason the Church doesn’t require laypeople to worship at Mass 7 days a week, and it has everything to do with the primacy of our vocations.

But that doesn’t mean I’m off the hook for having a spiritual life. On the contrary, I can only really keep my head above water as a wife and mother to the extent that I make time for Him in my daily grind.

One small, unassuming practice which St. Josemaria was fond of is nicknamed “the Heroic Minute.” Essentially, it’s taking the first few moments of wakefulness each day and “conquering yourself” by giving it to God and getting right up out of bed. He says:

“Conquer yourself each day from the very first moment, getting up on the dot, at a fixed time, without yielding a single minute to laziness. If, with God’s help, you conquer yourself, you will be well ahead for the rest of the day. … The heroic minute. It is the time fixed for getting up. Without hesitation: a supernatural reflection and… up! The heroic minute: here you have a mortification that strengthens your will and does no harm to your body.”

To which, I must confess, my very being recoils in horror. Because if by some miracle of nature my children sleep past 6:34 am, there is nothing I’d like better than to keep on snoozing, undisturbed by plaintive cries for Netflix and oatmeal.

But a little while ago I started setting my alarm for 6:30 and then, when it beeped, heaving myself out of bed and padding downstairs to sit in the semi dark with a hot cup of coffee and an open Bible. Sometimes I just stare into space and allow the time between sleep and wakefulness to be filled with a more mindful awareness of the presence of God. Sometimes I go over the day’s agenda in my mind, organizing my thoughts and bracing myself for the hurricane of activity about to engulf our household.

But without fail, every time I’ve responded to that Heroic Minute, (and I realize 6:30 is far from heroic for a truly virtuous soul, but this sleep-addict is baby stepping her way to greatness) it has paid out in dividends of peace and gratitude and a serenity that I would not have believed possible for mornings.

Rather than starting the day under siege and feeling robbed of precious pillow time, I’m trying to choose to get up and tithe the first few minutes to Him. And He gives it all back tenfold – of course He does.

It doesn’t always feel particularly good or virtuous or beneficial, but there is grace where there might not have been had I rolled over and hit snooze. And there is a peaceful pause at the starting line of the day that makes me feel more in control and less like a hunted animal.

Mortifications and self denial do not come naturally for me, as I suspect they do not for most humans. But there is a snowball effect of virtue when I choose from the beginning to deny myself this small thing, to make this little act of humiliation and inflict a minuscule amount of mental pain, which bears within it the potential to set off an avalanche of good choices over the course of the coming day. Did I really need that extra dollop of ranch dressing with my lunch? Could I resist that piece of chocolate from the freezer and make of that small sacrifice a quick prayer for a friend’s intention? Should nap-time perhaps begin with a quiet recitation of the Rosary rather than a frantic headlong dive into productivity? Not to mention the, ahem, questionable decision to stay up past 11 watching “just one more episode” on any given weeknight.

All of this and more has flowed from the simple, silly decision to steal my kid’s alarm clock and start getting out of bed at a set time each day.

In denying myself sleep, I am giving myself the gift of quality time alone with my Creator.

And at the very least, I get a hot cup of coffee out of the deal.

(Cross posted at Catholic Exchange)

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15 Comments

  • Kirby

    I’m not a get up before the kids kind of mom (because my kids LOVE early mornings!), but I do dedicate a set amount of nap time to re-group, pray, and allow a little silence into my life. Love the heroic minute name!

  • Rachel

    I am always completely amazed at how much more peaceful and intentional I feel after an early wake up, prayer time, and a few moments of quiet before the kids wake up! LOVE this quote!

  • jeanette

    When you master the heroic minute, you won’t want to give it up at all. It will become ingrained, because you are doing it out of love and you won’t want to take it back. You won’t feel “heroic” but rather “complete” when you do it, because love makes us feel complete. Giving it up would feel like something is missing within yourself. That’s how you begin to master all types of mortifications. One at a time, cultivating love as the motive.

  • Cami

    Impressive effort, Jenny! My boys are up at 6am and I insist they stay in their room until 7 as to not disturb everyone and to encourage more rest (a mom can dream, right?). But Emily still sleeps with us and I’m pregnant so there is absolutely nothing heroic happening in my mornings. I stay in bed until someone makes me get up. It’s so hard to keep everyone asleep. They are so aware of each other and wake much too excited (in my opinion) to start the day. I’m sure it’ll get worse before it gets better with another newborn. But 4 kids under 5 is bound to be a busy and exhausting season!

    • jeanette

      The hardest part about trying to sleep when you are a mother is not always about getting up in the morning as much as making yourself go to bed at night. We sometimes need to set the “go to bed” alarm clock as much as the wake up one. Because if you go to bed early, your body won’t feel like sleeping in as much and your body will be more in sync with your kids.

      It takes self-discipline of a major kind to get ourselves to bed on time because we do fifty things on our way to the bedroom that just “have to” be done. Reigning in on our usual time wasters is one step towards help, but a mother needs downtime, too. So, balance is the key word and kids rightly demand lots from us that needs to fit into that balance equation! So we have to try to work with their body clocks (even though they get MUCH more pillow time than we do!)

      • Cami

        I know… It’s a tough one. My only time with my husband is after kids are asleep so that often takes priority over going to bed early. He works long hours so our time together is valuable. I’m also pregnant so that ups the tired factor.

        • jeanette

          Yeah, I know what you mean about time together with your husband is very important. The sacrifice is definitely worth it, tired or not. A friend of mine actually would wake up one hour sooner in the morning so that she and her husband could lay in bed together in the early hours to talk about the day before rising rather than staying up late to be alone together.

  • Helena

    Hello from the tiny Catholic community of Estonia! I’ve had times in my life when I did practice the heroic minute. (At the moment there’s a week-old baby in my arms, my sixth — that feels heroic too.) Time multiplies when you manage to give that one minute back to God. It’s a bit easier though with the help of one word in Latin, “Serviam!” – “I will serve!” The heroic war cry of St Michael.

    • Jenny Uebbing

      Welcome! And that gave me chills, so powerful – I will definitely give it a whirl.

      I should certainly think a 6th baby a heroic act of faith (and one that is not super compatible with a set waking time, nursing all hours takes care of that mortification, haha)

      Thanks for being here and congratulations on your new little babe!

      • Jenny Uebbing

        Amen sister. This is the first time in almost 7 years of marriage and babies that I’ve not relied on pregnancy sleep patterns or a nursing baby to wake me up at all hours and banish any thought of even needing an alarm clock. Verso alto!

  • Katie

    I needed to hear this. I’ve heard it before, but always push it to the back of my mind. I’m a classic snoozer and haven’t gotten up instantly with my alarm in…a very long time. But you inspired me to do so this morning, and it was followed by more prayer time! So thanks!

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