When I was a young homeschooling mom, I had a big fear when I was out in public with my children. It went something like this: I’d be in the supermarket checkout line playing over an imaginary conversation that might result from the inevitable question directed at my children: “Oh, is there no school today, or are you homeschooled?” Another version of the same scenario involved a conversation with the Homeschooling Mom Who Does Everything Better Than I Ever Will as she asks my children what they’ve done that morning.

In both scenarios, this would happen:

“Oh, Mommy doesn’t teach school in the morning, she just kind of sits there and stares into her coffee while we roam the house for hours on end like vagabonds in search of anything that might remotely stimulate us academically.”

Is it just me, or can you relate?

Okay, so I can admit this secret fear now because my youngest is sixteen, and the older ones all turned out well-educated despite my always shaky and oftentimes nonexistent morning schedule. Health issues only compounded my failure to launch before noon, but no matter the state of my health, I have never been what you’d call a “morning person.”

The truth is, all but one of my children also function better later in the day. That one, my now twenty-two-year-old daughter, is still like her dad—rarin’ to go in those wee hours of the morning, like 10 a.m. She’s in college and also holds down a job that starts at 5 in the morning. Piece of cake, she says.

And no, I didn’t really let the children run like vagabonds without my supervision. But still, I didn’t want anyone to know how much I struggled with morning routines, and especially with morning devotions. It seemed all my peers were talking about the importance of getting up earlier than their children and making this early time special between them and God, which they said made them more productive for ordering the rest of the day for the family. I read the same books and articles that promised more productivity in the day the earlier it started. But reading or hearing of these successes did little to actually help me achieve a glorious fresh start in the early morning. Maybe I could do it for a few days, but then, well, the baby up all night with fever and the toddler getting up so early just didn’t allow for a cheery morning.

No, all that would happen was I would try really hard but not succeed, and then I would think poorly of myself. And let me tell you, on days I blew it, the rest of the day just never got better. I’d end up feeling like a spiritual failure too.

I don’t have to tell you that feeling like a failure first thing in the morning doesn’t just go away as the day wears on. No, the failure complex just gets packed away and carried into the next morning and the next and the next. Can you relate?

Then I learned two important things that alleviated all that unnecessary guilt and shame.

As a young homeschool mom, I knew Psalm 63:1 as the rallying cry of mothers to rise up early before the family and spend time with God: “O God, thou art my God; early will I seek thee: my soul thirsteth for thee, my flesh longeth for thee in a dry and thirsty land, where no water is.”

But after spending some time looking at the original language of the Psalms, I received a fuller understanding of the Hebrew word translated “early.” It is the Hebrew word shaw-khar’, which means to seek early/earnestly; to look early/diligently with the implication of earnestness; to search for painstakingly; characterized by steady, earnest, and energetic effort, attentiveness, attention.

In other words, it has more to do with earnestness than time of day. Don’t get stuck on the time of day, but seek Him with your whole heart.

The second thing I learned was that according to the Bible, a day actually begins when the sun goes down. That’s right! According to Genesis 1:5, “God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And the evening and the morning were the first day.” The pattern of creation is this: first darkness and then light. Night first, then day.

If you think about it, you can see this pattern in the creation of new lives in Jesus too. Look at it this way: before knowing God, we are in a spiritual darkness, similar to the formlessness and void of the heavens and the earth of Genesis 1:2, before the Spirit of God hovered over the waters and called forth light and divided it from the darkness. So too, the light of Jesus shines on our lives, which were once spiritually dark, and illuminates the path we must take to know Him.

First darkness and then light. “And the evening and morning were the first day” (Genesis 1:5). It makes sense that some of us would have energy rhythms that mirror this pattern. There is no shame in this.

Somewhere along the way, we Westerners became distanced from both Hebrew word meanings and also this ancient pattern of darkness and then light, and it became the norm to demand high productivity in the morning. My point is not that we all have to start our new day at night, but that you don’t have to feel guilty if mornings are a struggle for you. We moms have enough on our shame plate already; we don’t need to get bogged down with thoughts that we’re doing it all wrong when we don’t do things according to tradition or custom even when they aren’t really working for us.

If your morning personal devotions are falling to the wayside, then switch them to the evening and rest confident that this too is an appropriate time to check in with the Holy One. Seek Him earnestly.

As a homeschooler of an early learner, you are already beginning to experience the truth that a one-size-fits-all education doesn’t work for your family, and you can already taste the sweet freedom of tailoring your children’s education to their particular needs and not the needs of institutional education. So why not apply this perspective to yourself too? If a tradition or custom doesn’t work for you, why keep it? Of course, as long as traditions and customs enhance our lives and don’t place us in bondage, they are good and can be important to pass down to our children. But we don’t need to pass down our shame at not doing enough or being enough according to tradition, do we?

If your best-intended morning plans constantly get waylaid, and it is causing you and your family stress, why don’t you try ordering your productivity around the ancient cycle of dark-and-light and see if these rhythms match your body rhythms better than what you have been using? The switch can be as simple as just doing the things that are most important, like connecting with God and each member in the family, at night. Connect with your children before they go to bed. There is something very sweet about making that connection with God right before going to sleep at night, earnestly and diligently asking to hear His voice in the still of the night as you begin your body’s physical rest.

You might even find a threefold blessing: more productivity, less shame, and a richer walk with God. Who doesn’t want that? 

This article was published in the May/June 2016 issue of Home School Enrichment Magazine.

Gail Heaton and her husband Randy live in Missoula, Montana. Their seven children, ages 25 to 16, have been homeschooled from the start. Just when life starts to go smoothly with three in college and the teens now launching into young adulthood, along comes the toddler, grandbaby number one, reminding her how much excitement the early learning years can bring.