"Woman Baking Bread" by Jean Francois Millet
"She gets up while it is still dark;
she provides food for her family
and portions for her servant girls."
In my neck of the woods, dawn is highly dependant on the time of year. For example, these days the sun peeks over the horizon around 5 AM. In the short December days, however, it doesn't come up until as late as 8:00. The Book of Proverbs was not written by a Seattlite, though, so I decided to check out what the hours of daylight look like in the Holy Land. It seems that in Israel, the sunrise usually occurs sometime between 6 AM and 6:30 AM all the year round.
If we go by the sunrise in Israel, then we can assume that the Proverbs 31 Woman was getting up sometime before 6:00 on a daily basis, probably closer to 4:30 or 5:00, as she would have to be sure that hot bread was coming out of the oven around dawn when the men would eat before heading out to work the land.
In this day and age, it can be tempting to say, "No way. I'm just not an early riser. I'm a night owl. I work better at night."
Granted, in this technologically advanced age, we have access to nighttime as never before. Our rooms can be flooded with light and we are able to stare at any number of screens at any hour of the day we choose. Nightlife in cities and elsewhere beckons, and even within the walls of our own homes, duties and pleasures and interests and time wasters sing their siren song once the sun sets and the children are finally asleep. Who wouldn't want to be a night owl? I am convinced, however, that this is not how the Lord intended things to be.
Scripture connects the night with two things: sleep and sin (1 Thessalonians 5:5-8). Do you think there aren't enough hours in the day? Read these words of Jesus. Yes, I know they are metaphorical, but the metaphor is still true and applicable.
Dawn, on the other hand, is a time for obedience (Genesis 19:15), action (Genesis 44:3), the beginning of work (Nehemiah 4:21), worship (Psalm 57:8, Psalm108:2), supplication (Psalm 119:147), deliverance (Daniel 6:19), learning (Jonah 4:7, John 8:2), and nourishment (Acts 27:33).
Dawn is a precious time, particularly for a wife and mother whose daylight hours are nearly all claimed by duties, responsibilities, and activities--not only her own, but also those of her household. Dawn is a precious time for these women, women like me, but I know as well as anyone that rising early can be hard. I need an inordinate amount of sleep--at least 7.5 hours, preferably 8, and in pregnancy as many as 12 every single day--in order to thrive. I know what a sacrifice it can be to look at the hour I need to wake in order to get up before my husband and children and start my day off with obedience, with action (usually a jog around my neighborhood in the pale dawn light), with work (making a hot breakfast for my family, perhaps starting a load of laundry), with worship, with prayer and supplication, with learning (reading Scripture or a devotional study), and with nourishment (both physical and spiritual, for both myself and my family). But that is what I am called to do, and let me tell you, the days on which I rise early are blessed days.
Proverbs 31 is not a "command" chapter; the Proverbs 31 Woman is the "Ideal Wife," someone to emulate, not someone to obey. Not everyone can do things the way she does. There are those who have to work night shifts, who must stay awake with a sick child, or who suffer from insomnia. There are also times when forgoing sleep for the purpose of a vigil or prayer is appropriate and good; we see evidence of this in Scripture and in the lives of the saints. These exceptions, however, should not negate a healthy normative rule of "early to bed, early to rise."
You may be a night owl now. Would it surprise you to know that I was, too, at one time? Back in high school, when my classes didn't start until 8:30. Oddly enough, it was in college, when most of my peers were partying until dawn and sleeping until noon, that I reshaped my sleep schedule so that I could retrain myself to be an early bird. Sometimes, I would have to go to bed at 9 PM so that I could wake up early enough to run my daily mile, shower, eat breakfast, and do my morning devotional before my first class. This wasn't easy, considering I often had rehearsals right up until 9:00. I still made it work, and oh! I cannot tell you what blissful, joyful, productive, blessed days those were!
These days, my husband and especially my children have more of an impact on my bedtime than I do, and I don't always make it down in time to rise before dawn. Besides, getting up before dawn these days (before 5 AM) would be a little excessive. But, it is my goal to get up sometime between 6:00 and 6:30 each morning so that I can begin my day well, offering up what is to come to my Lord who has preserved me through the night.