Back to a routine.

“I have to get back to a routine.”

Nancy has heard me say that many times in the last month. The summer months have a different feel to them, even though neither of us works in education any more. And now that Hope has graduated from college, we don’t have that reminder in our house. But summer still has a feeling of looseness, of flex, of informality. But I pay a price for that informality. When the pace of work picks up, I need some structure to keep me healthy physically, emotionally, and spiritually.

For me, a routine is a set of thoughts and behaviors performed consistently. Repeated actions, routines, shape us and can then remind us of a context. Those reminders can be a bad thing, like flashbacks. Or they can be very helpful, reminding us of commitments.

It’s easy to turn a routine, a way of living, into a ritual. We perform a ritual, hoping it has some value in itself. It’s a kind of magic. We wear our lucky underwear. We show up to church every week. We expect results from the formula.

When we look at the Old Testament, we see God, through his prophets, pointing out how actions of sacrifice, fasting, and Sabbath had become rituals to placate God, performed without thinking. Bodies did the sacrifice, minds and hearts were somewhere else. (You can read about this problem in Isaiah 58 and in Malachi.) But just because we ritualize behavior doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t look at routine.

Think of it this way: a ritual is something we do hoping to influence God. A routine is something we do to work on us. A routine like daily prayer or weekly Sabbath or a season of fasting can bring our minds back to the story of God’s work.

(I’ll have more on routine tomorrow. And If you’d like 300wordsaday in a weekly format (instead of daily), subscribe at The Sunday Morning Paper)