In The Groove

I used to abjure routine.

As a college instructor, I was able to dictate my own schedule with the exception of the hours I had to be physically present in class each day.  I woke up when I wanted, I went to sleep when I wanted, and the hours between were mine to spend as I pleased.

Not only did I enjoy this, I advocated for it as a lifestyle.  I rolled my eyes at people who insisted they benefited from routines and structured schedules.  Not me.  I’m at my best creatively and spiritually when I abide by my own internal schedule and am subject to the whims of no man.

This should explain why moving to a standard-eight-hours job, albeit in academia, was deeply traumatic to me.

Suddenly I was getting up at the same eye-searing hour every day.  My hours until the afternoon belonged to my university.  And the imposition of one routine on my life meant the imposition of a whole lot of others: in order to make the most of my time at home, I had to make routines out of everything. 

Yoga and dance at 5.  Writing at 7.  Spa nights on Friday evenings.  Date nights on Thursdays.  Morning prayers at 7:15.  Evening prayers at 4:15.  And my husband’s routines have mated with my own to the point that our nighttime ritual of teeth-brushing and flossing and face-washing has become a delicate, mutual dance of reciprocity: me opening a cabinet for him, him handing me the toothpaste when he grabs his own, both of us entertaining kittens between spitting into the sink.

Although the me of one year ago would not have believed it, the advent of routine in my life has been deeply beneficial.  A routine acquaints you with itself, creates a profound intimacy.  A routine becomes something you anticipate: that you appreciate when it’s there, and miss when it isn’t.  A routine becomes, most importantly, an anchor: a point of comparison, a mark of past and future and progress.

A year ago, I approached my work commutes with trepidation over the heavy interstate traffic, the merge, and the general chaos.  Six months in, I was still not entirely at ease, but also mostly fine.  Today, a little over a year in, I rolled into the parking lot without even thinking about it.

When I first started yoga, my lack of flexibility was appalling.  I could not bend certain ways well or, in some cases, at all; I could not hold certain poses.  Now I can, and I can attempt new poses, and my body feels different.  The routine remains the same, but it has altered me slowly, subtly, over time.  My life runs now along well-worn grooves, but the grooves themselves are evidence of change and progress.

Something that has always frustrated me about my spiritual life is my lack of consistency.  I am not great at being habitual.  I am always forgetting a day, making up for a short prayer session after the fact, starting with a head of steam on something new only to stumble and have it become something sporadic, if fruitful.  And for all my desire to be a growing and mature believer, I always feel like I’m starting over every six weeks or so.

I try new things: new Bible studies, new prayers, new habits, new materials, new Bibles, new everything.  But it occurs to me as I learn from my work and my life now that what I need is consistency.  The same old thing, the same routine, over and over over.  Even when it seems dull or appears not to be working.  Especially then.

There is a small patch of grass in my yard that my husband and I refer to as Squirrel Road.  It is a tiny path through our property from the corner of the forest that abuts it to the tree with bird feeders in the center of our yard: a straight line of matted grass that is testament to the squirrels who make this journey, over and over again, to steal some birdseed.

We find this hilarious.  Squirrel Road did not appear the first time the squirrels popped up for seed, and probably not the twentieth—and yet one day we looked out the window and there it was, our landscape permanently altered by the tiniest of feet.  And I wonder, if I managed that level of consistency spiritually, who would I be?   What sort of believer would I look like?

You might be bemused, but also thinking you are deeply consistent because you spend time with God every day.  Alright, but are you consistent in everything?  Do you serve consistently?  Pray consistently?  Praise consistently?  Seek forgiveness consistently?  Minister consistently?  You’re not, because no one is.  Consistent in one area, we likely fail in others.

Sometimes it’s because we hate routine.  And sometimes I think we hate the idea of imposing routine on our relationship as God, as though it were something rote or tedious.  In the same way some couples roll their eyes at scheduling date night with a spouse – “Shouldn’t love be spontaneous and fun?” – we cringe at the thought of popping Christ onto a calendar and setting up a meeting every day.

I suspect God, far from minding, would be thrilled that we bothered to show up so much.  That we cared enough to show up so much.

One of my hopes as I ease into summer is that I can use what is traditionally a lighter time in the calendar to apply routine to my spiritual life in the places it is lacking.  What am I missing?  What small, daily steps can I take that will become a routine?  Because I suspect that such a routine, far from being a mindless act, will become one that changes me as I grow more and more into familiarity with it.



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