I recently finished reading a tiny (really tiny) book, titled “Make Your Bed”, by Admiral William H. McRaven.
I highly recommend it.
It’s not profound. It’s not deep, or enlightening, or educational.
But it will challenge you.
It is based on a speech that a friend shared with me some time ago–a commencement speech that McRaven gave to the 2014 graduating class of the University of Texas.
Yes, it was a “motivational” speech–and yes, I typically am cynical when it comes to motivational speeches.
But there was something about this speech that lodged in my brain and made sense–maybe because long before I ever listened to the speech, I had seen the impact of what Admiral McRaven was telling that class in my own life:
Make. Your. Bed.
I know that may sound crazy. Oversimplistic. Silly. Useless advice. What possible difference could the act of “making a bed” make, in the chaos that is our world and our lives?
In Admiral McRaven’s context, he spoke of how the “Proper Making of a Bed” was one of the first things each and every Navy recruit is taught. It must meet strict, protocol standards, every single day. No exceptions.
It is the very first “task” or “assignment” of every day.
Was it hard to do? Sure, it took some practice to get it just right, to where a coin could bounce off of the bed, should an officer decide to give it the “coin test”. But, in the grand scheme of things, it was an easy task; at least, much easier than the rest of the tasks planned for each day–long runs, tough swims, exhausting marches, hours and hours of training, physical and mental tests.
Making the bed was a cake walk, in comparison to a two-mile swim off of Coronado Island, in shark infested waters. In the dark.
Here are the Admiral’s words, regarding making the bed, as a recruit:
It was my first task of the day, and doing it right was important. It demonstrated my discipline. It showed my attention to detail, and at the end of the day, it would be a reminder that I had done something well, something to be proud of no matter how small the task.
He goes on to share about a terrible parachute accident that he was injured in, resulting in several weeks of being bedridden during the time of the attacks of 9/11–and the incredible frustration and depression that ensued. However, one of the first things he did once he was able to finally lift himself out of the bed unaided, was to make up his hospital bed.
And, in straightening those sheets of that hospital bed, he found the resolve to do the next thing. And the next. And the next.
Here’s the thing–sometimes the grief and despair and fear and the sense (whether accurate or not) of hopelessness is so overbearing–that we have to fight to not give up.
I know this full well. These things are old enemies of mine.
Oh, I am fully aware of God’s mercy and grace. He was brought me to a wide place, where I can breathe deeply. There is deep joy—All Is Well–and yet sometimes I still have to fight the pull to despair.
My soul, I know these verses in Psalm 18 to be truth:
He sent from on high, he took me;
he drew me out of many waters.
17 He rescued me from my strong enemy
and from those who hated me,
for they were too mighty for me.
18 They confronted me in the day of my calamity,
but the Lord was my support.
19 He brought me out into a broad place;
he rescued me, because he delighted in me. (Psalm 18:16-19)
- My God has drawn me out of waters that have threatened to drown me.
- He has rescued me from a horrifically strong enemy–too mighty for me to defeat on my own.
- He has been my support.
- He has brought me into a broad place, where I can breathe deeply and see the sky. Where I am not struggling to draw a breath.
- He has rescued me–because He delights in me–and the very idea that He delights in me is overwhelming to this day.
All of this is deep, deep, deep truth.
However–for whatever reason–I still sometimes have to fight against suffocating darkness. Not often, but sometimes.
Maybe you do, too.
John Piper addressed this once, in one of the most resonating pieces I have ever read from him. The title of his essay (or maybe it was a sermon?) was “Talk to Your Tears”. Here is a small sampling of his words, based on what we read in Psalm 126:
So here’s the lesson: When there are simple, straightforward jobs to be done, and you are full of sadness, and tears are flowing easily, go ahead and do the jobs with tears. Be realistic. Say to your tears: ‘Tears, I feel you. You make me want to quit life. But there is a field to be sown (dishes to be washed, car to be fixed, sermon to be written). I know you will wet my face several times today, but I have work to do and you will just have to go with me. I intend to take the bag of seeds and sow. If you come along then you will just have to wet the rows.”
Then say, on the basis of God’s word, ‘Tears, I know that you will not stay forever. The very fact that I just do my work (tears and all) will, in the end, bring a harvest of blessing. So go ahead and flow if you must. But I believe (I do not yet see it or feel it fully)—I believe that the simple work of my sowing will bring sheaves of harvest. And your tears will be turned to joy.”
In other words–Make. Your. Bed.
Do the next thing. And the next.
Yes, maybe that sounds crazy. How does accomplishing this mindless little task first thing in the morning, provide fuel within a person to fight the darkness that has descended upon their world–the kind of darkness that makes one consider the possibility of giving in to that despair and allowing it to bury them?
I get it. I know it sounds crazy.
But I also know that it does make a difference.
It has made a difference many times in my life when I have awakened unsettled in both mind and soul.
Alongside the spiritual disciplines of prayer and study that anchor my soul each day, making my bed has also become something of a spiritual discipline in my life. It is a strong weapon—the success of accomplishing that task helps me accomplish the next one on the list–and then the next, and then the next.
Prayer and scripture anchor my soul each morning. Making my bed anchors my ability to do the tasks that each day holds. The combination helps me fight despair.
It’s not that the grief or the pain that may descend without warning are ignored; but rather it is an act of acknowledging that even in midst of hard things, God is sovereign and in control….and therefore we will fight to be faithful in the tasks at hand, and we will fight to draw near to Him. Even if we don’t sense His presence in the midst of that pain.