I had some trouble deciding what to do for Lent this year. We gave up meat in 2002, but since then we’ve eaten so much less meat that giving it up completely wouldn’t make a noticeable daily difference. I toyed with several ideas and started into Lent by reading selections from the Gospel aloud to Nicholas every night, but although he likes to hear me tell the story of Jesus he did not appreciate the written version–like, he would not stop screaming–so that didn’t work out. We were nine days into Lent when I suddenly knew what I should renounce.
My alarm clock’s snooze button had been enabling bad habits for me, intermittently, for years. Most notably, in my last trimester of pregnancy, I typically pressed the snooze every eight minutes for up to two hours every morning, even though the clock was across the room and my hip joints ached and I had to crawl out of bed over the footboard because I like the side next to the wall–I would wake up immediately each time the alarm went off, but I would tell myself that I really deserved more rest and couldn’t possibly get up right now, even as I was in fact completely out of bed and vertical. The only factor preventing me from being that snooze-addicted more recently was the knowledge that I can’t work late to compensate for arriving late, because I have to pick up Nicholas–his childcare center’s closing time is the anchor point of my entire schedule! Still, I was hitting the snooze two to six times every morning. I told myself it was okay because I was setting my alarm early enough to allow for the snoozes. I knew this snoozing was not an effective strategy. I knew that I was not sleeping well, if at all, between alarms, and that I was getting less sleep than if I would just set the alarm for a later time and actually get up then.
The thing is, I saw it as a personal failing and a part of modern, artificial life, not anything to do with God. Lent is not a time for shallow self-improvement; it’s for soul-searching and cleansing and learning about things that really matter. My use of the snooze button did not matter; it wasn’t hurting anyone, and I was so tired, and it really isn’t fair that I’m the one who has to get the whole family up in the morning when there’s another so-called adult around here, so I was entitled to eight lousy minutes of extra rest.
Then I heard the word “sloth” in some zoological context on the radio one morning, just before I pressed the snooze one-very-last-I-really-mean-it-this-time, and as I flopped back into bed I couldn’t help thinking: Sloth is one of the Seven Deadly Sins. Laziness, aversion to facing the work that needs to be done, is not a teensy little quirk of eccentric personality; it’s a major problem. I knew what I had to do.
That happened to be a Friday, so I told myself, “I will start on Monday.” No, seriously.
For the weekend, I just turned my alarm off and trusted that Nicholas would wake me in time for church, which he did. Sunday night, I tweaked the alarm setting several times and finally settled for the time I had been reaching after three snoozes. While falling asleep, I prayed for help in renouncing sloth and sleepily pictured myself ordering a dejected sloth out of my Garden.
The radio came on in the morning, and I got out of bed, shut it off, walked into the bathroom, and turned on the shower. I was dizzier and clumsier than had been my accustomed state upon arising–in fact, I felt kind of like a three-toed sloth, with its tiny nearsighted eyes, bumbling around a human house–but getting up was easier than I’d expected. The next day, I actually awakened about ten minutes before the alarm and lay in bed stretching.
Over the next five weeks, some days were like each of the first two, and other days I felt I really could not get up just yet. So I didn’t. Instead of pressing the snooze button, I turned my alarm off and then reset it for 15, 20, or 30 minutes later. Then I walked into the bathroom for a drink of water, and while doing so I decided what part of my morning routine to sacrifice–skip my shower, or eat a faster breakfast? (If I began to feel that I’d rather forgo the extra sleep than anything else, I set the alarm back and stayed up.) Then I went back to bed and back to sleep, true sleep in which I was not braced for the next onslaught of noise. Upon awakening the second time, I always was able to get up, and I felt calm and collected because I had a plan to follow, instead of spending my first waking moments berating myself for snoozing.
I’d hoped that giving up the snooze button would grant me an amazing chunk of time, which I would use for spiritual growth, creating new harmony in our family life, catching up on basic tasks, and/or getting out of the house on time without losing any part of my mind. None of this happened, at least not more than one day in a row! There wasn’t much extra time because I was getting out of bed at about the same time as before, and any spare minutes were filled by the usual swirl of activity. It didn’t really make a difference in my schedule.
What changed was that the sloth was gone. It’s as if I used to have a sloth lying in my bed, tugging me back with his long furry arms, but all I had to do was decide to send that sloth away. For years I’d thought Daniel was the sloth; he was a bad influence on me; if he would just get out of bed in the mornings, it would be so much easier for me. Well, I still think it would! But after Nicholas was born and I started sleeping in his room instead of with Daniel, I found that I was tempted to snooze even when I had no idea whether Daniel was up yet or not. Excessive sleeper that he may be, he was not the sloth in my bed. He wasn’t the one whispering in my ear about how I shouldn’t have to get up, it’s not fair, I do everything around here, today is going to be busy busy busy, maybe I’m getting a headache, I deserve better, I can’t take it, I’m not ready. . . . I didn’t realize just how negative those half-formed early-morning thoughts were, until I stopped giving them time to yammer at me in between bursts of radio.
So I’ve sent the sloth away, and it’s still gone. I haven’t been much tempted to resume using the snooze button. I’m still sleepy sometimes, because 7:10 is just not the time my body wants to start the day. I still get annoyed with Daniel for oversleeping. But I’ve realized that those eight lousy minutes to which I felt so entitled were, in fact, lousy.