The perfect experiment should, for the most part, go smoothly. Just a hypothesis, a variable, a few simple actions, and suddenly, the outcome could change everything.
My sixth grade science teacher gave me this information with a smile when she handed out a sheet of paper in my class explaining the yearly science fair. Every sixth grader had to submit and display an experiment, and as we were lined up row by row on the day of the fair, all of us had the same look on our adolescent faces. It said, “My mom or dad did this for me.”
One particular boy, who stood next to me, had the most obnoxious and obvious display of this admittance. From what I can remember, his experiment involved a miniature automobile “he” had built, and when I peered at his method while he was away from his display, I could not decipher any of it on my sixth-grade reading level.
The judges for our category were university physics professors, and after watching them “ooh” and “awe” at his experiment, I wasn’t surprised when I returned from lunch to see a shiny ribbon hanging by his name. I rolled my eyes with a sigh, sloppily piled my experiment’s display board and visuals into a box to take home, and never looked back.
Ever since, I’ve had a somewhat muddied view of science experiments. But this year, I decided to give the experiment method another chance with something new—a spiritual experiment of my own. My objective was to give up an hour of sleep in the morning during Lent in hopes to learn something about the many Bible verses mentioning the “newness” and “love” of God in the morning. I was on the search for something new in my own life, and I wanted a front row seat if that’s when God was handing out mercies.
The first week was great. I awoke, padded barefooted into my kitchen, turned on the coffee pot, and settled into my favorite chair with the Bible and the blissful quiet. It was a precious time that God and I had to ourselves, and nothing was more peaceful than seeing the sun rise and journaling, all the while hearing the long sighs of my family, still asleep. I found that when they awoke, I was more joyful, selfless, and ready for the day. I felt triumphant. My relationship with God was growing, and my experiment was working!
The second and third week did not go as well. Sometimes I woke up and enjoyed my new routine; other times, I fell into bed the night before without setting my alarm. I woke up during those days with a pang in my heart when I discovered I had overslept. Those kind of days didn’t seem as full as the ones during the week before. I found myself missing God—even though I knew He was still there, early in the morning or late into the night.
The fourth week was when the bottom fell out. My family and I faced a particularly depressing situation with a difficult decision we had to make. Sleep was an escape from the stress and tension of my own thoughts, and day after day, I ignored my alarm and my previous attempts to go to bed early. My days were definitely not as organized as they had begun several weeks before—instead they were peppered with desperate prayers to God throughout them about my family’s plight. My silly experiment seemed secondary to life’s present events, even though I knew it would help in giving me strength to get through the day.
But I also knew that not participating in my experiment was helping me grow, too. I was falling on my knees more easily than I had before during one of the most difficult weeks of my life. I knew I needed more rest to face critical decisions for the next day. However, my soul was tired, my heart was broken, and more than anything, I was grasping for the presence of God.
Amazingly, through the provision of the Lord, I made it through. And my outlook of newness definitely changed, although not in the way I thought it would. I had envisioned rising up early, conversing with the Lord, and becoming a stronger, more spiritually astute person than before. Instead, I was staying up late, falling out of bed only when it was absolutely necessary, and feeling downright broken most of the time.
But the craziest thing was happening.
I was still being made new. I still found mercies. I still felt His unfailing love. My hypothesis was that I might gain an extraordinary insight to this time of the day. But, instead, I had gained an even more eye-opening insight into myself as His new creation. And though I felt disheveled, clumsy, and overwhelmed, I was even more aware that anything good in me was because of Him. His newness seemed more precious and cleansing than before.
As for anything anyone said to me that remotely resembled a compliment about my apparent positive demeanor, I was determined to change the ending of this experiment. Sixth grade may have been almost 20 years ago, but I still remembered my experience and behavior. And this time, I wanted to be honest. I smiled, took a deep breath, and told the truth, “Actually, my Father did this for me.”