When our children were small, we set routines in place that carried us for long years of relative sanity. We set routines for two reasons – 1) to give them a sense of order and loving boundaries, and 2) to provide a consistent infrastructure in our own lives as their parents. We all knew what the rules were, and what we, the Mills, were about as a family.
If we don’t set up routines in our lives, then our time and energy can be taken captive by the whim of others. By our own brain-in-neutral “me-time”. Or, in my case, just an inescapable drive to do too much, such that if I’m not careful, I accomplish little well. It’s lifelong learning here for me…
In talking about routines, it’s not those of snacking late and falling asleep every night in front of the t.v. Those happen with little effort on our part. It is setting routines in place that reflect God-inspired values…the kinds of routines that will take us right through our elder years; routines that our children will remember and may want for themselves…because those routines mattered; they were good and life-affirming…they are still – no matter the times and culture in which we find ourselves.
The 10 disciplines listed below speak to routines in the rhythm of life. There are rituals that can be set in place to help us be more successful in turning disciplines into a lifestyle. This list is not meant to be prescriptive as much as it is to be descriptive of what we want for our lives. We fail at them regularly, but we aim at these goals daily.
1) Quiet Time in the morning – A friend of ours grew up with a dad who had the philosophy: “Bible before breakfast”. Setting a routine of prayer, Bible reading, and journaling in place can transform our personal lives and our families (even where there are small ones – this is the most challenging time to set this routine; if it’s before the babies come, it’s easier to maintain). It requires getting up early and going to bed early enough to get up early, but it is so worth it. So important for every other part of our daily life.
2) Live life in an orderly way. “A place for everything and everything in its place” is a wisdom statement whose origin is ascribed to several including Benjamin Franklin. As a piler (if my projects are put away, it’s as if they don’t exist), this is a life-long battle, but I work at it everyday. Especially the common areas of our home, the dishes, and the laundry. This could also relate to our email folders, but I won’t even go there on this one.
3) Tithe and avoid debt. Being generous toward God and toward others makes for a truly satisfying life. Living within our means and being thrifty help us develop the margin wherein we can exercise generosity. We have never had big salaries or huge debt, so we don’t know the temptation or struggle, respectively, of either of those. We have seen this principle of giving at work in our lives and that of others more generous than us. It is life-infusing, for sure.
4) Worship God. You can see there is no order to this list of 10. Worshipping God as a lifestyle can permeate all the other routines of life. This is not just about attending church; it’s really worshipping God, corporately with the church, as well as completely alone. Keeping a Sabbath makes for a huge jumpstart in a lifestyle of worship – setting aside a day of rest, as He has instructed us, and then using that day to reflect on Him. Amazing grace comes out of that. Then as we make remembering God a rhythm of life, all that happens to us and to those around us is set in the reality of a good and loving God.
5) Honoring Communications: This can be a prickly subject as our current technology has really not helped with communication as much as we think. We almost communicate, at best. When our children were growing up, we visited more, talked around the dinner table, and had guests in often. It can be a stretch for our introvert family members, but genuine, wholly engaged communication yields great gains for everyone involved. So…given where we are today: Answer those texts. Make phone calls when a situation is time- or message-sensitive. Write cards especially for those older, harder hearing, and far away. Deal with business communication in a timely manner. Exercise courtesy. Treat others in good faith. ‘Nuff said. I fail here regularly, but it’s always on my radar.
6) Work with your hands…whether it’s in the garden, or working in the kitchen, playing an instrument, or making things. When our children were young, they would sometimes complain of being bored. We would always tell them, “Go do something.” That seemed a simple instruction, but it seemed to help them rally, sort of “snap out of it”. I don’t understand boredom, really; there is so much out there to learn and do. I admire friends and family of ours who tackle challenging skillsets, figure things out, and create something of beauty or usefulness. Working with our hands makes a big difference in our lives. I know this experientially whether the science supports it or not.
7) Take time to be kind. Slowing down is really a requirement to being kind – to hold a door for someone, or make a meal for a new mom, or show care for someone instead of going straight to the business at hand. Time is a limited resource. Guard it…don’t squander it. Or redeem it – slowing down may not always be an option, but we can definitely restructure how we use our time. Have regular bedtimes and morning wake-up times. Healthier lives give us the fuel for both using our time better and showing kindness to those around us.
8) Honor your parents. I have had the great blessing of generous and wise mom and mom-in-law. They loved both Dave and me with open hands, encouraging us to watch out for both sides of our families. We gain so much in those relationships. We have a friend who talked to his elderly father every single day. He read the Bible to him over the phone when his eyesight got too bad to read it himself. His father has gone on to be with the Lord, but what a blessing that was for him, for them. Are you setting up routines in your life that serve those who loved you most?
9) Pray instead of worry or fret. You know what I’m talking about here. At night, I have a discipline of going back over the day with the Lord, placing people and situations in His hands. Then I can sleep. I try to do the same on waking, training my thoughts to God rather than stressing about the day ahead.
10) Be good stewards of your mind, body, and relationships. This is where all the healthy living stuff might come in. So much more than that though is the intentionality of being a good steward of your over-all life. For instance, life-long learning must be part of our routine or we really go into “slow”. Still another friend of ours has a routine of 45 minutes of reading a day (beyond his quiet time and reading at work), just for the purpose of learning. Regarding relationships, we can intentionally build routines that connect us with people. Breakfast clubs. Community Bible studies. Weekly prayer groups. Volunteer teams. Regular dates with friends (including our spouses or roommates and family). Just like our bodies and minds, our relationships require tending, and we will reap a harvest in how we steward them.
A few years ago, Jen Hatmaker wrote a book entitled 7: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess. It was a great help for me to examine the excesses in life that keep us from establishing life-giving routines. There are many helps for us out there, but her book came at a time when I was searching for more balance, more space, in life…it’s available to us as we determine to build in routines and rituals through the rhythms of life.
Routines will happen. Just be intentional on making the ones you truly want to happen. Do something. Do the next thing. Do the right thing. Serve somebody.