Joy in Ritual?

My wife and I divide up many of the household chores and share responsibilities, normally, but since my first surgery on February sixth I have been very limited in what I can do. Over the last few months I have not had to put dishes in the dishwasher, do laundry, mow the yard…well, actually, I haven’t had to do anything but sit in a chair and take occasional walks! My normal routines and practices have been interrupted and the longer I go without doing them, the more difficult it is for me to start again.

Yesterday I finally unloaded, loaded and unloaded, again, the dishwasher. This was the first time I’ve done any sort of chore for quite some time. The really embarrassing thing is that it isn’t even a real chore. I mean, if I’d washed dishes in the sink that might be a real chore, but I just rinsed some dishes off and set them in a machine. Yet, this insignificant task seemed horrendous. I put it off all morning until I knew Carrie would be returning from work, and, finally, when I was at the eleventh hour, I went about a task that, in that moment, felt tedious and painfully slow.

How is it that a task could become so difficult when it is a routine I’ve done a million times and never felt particularly burdened (that I can remember). Well…now, to be fair I need to think back to when I first moved out on my own and had dishes to do (and no dishwasher). The dishes often mounted up and it often came down to eating on paper products before I would get around to washing dishes (I was a terrible bachelor).

Perhaps it is in the routine that tasks and ways-of-living become familiar and do-able. Perhaps, in forming a routine, we make a task more personal and intimate and, in doing so, make it tolerable, if not pleasurable.

The first time we make a bed or pick up clothes or change a diaper or run a vacuum… the list is infinite…. The first time or the first few times we do something we are bound to find it more difficult, but the more often we do it, the more it becomes part of our life-ritual, the more easy and familiar it becomes. One of the best examples is exercise, I think. It was easy to motivate myself to go to the gym the first time, but the next few times it was terribly difficult. I got home from work and I already felt exhausted. The last thing I wanted to do was walk over to the gym and wear myself down further, yet, once I got through a week or so of going to the gym, it became a highlight. It wasn’t until it became a ritual that I could enjoy it and I began to look forward to it!

In our lives of faith we have the same issue. If you are a church, synagogue or mosque-goer, then you may recognize this. If you skip worship one week, it is easier to miss it the next, and getting back to your faith practice becomes harder and harder. Prayer is the same way. Perhaps that is why muslims pray so often and methodically. By praying seven times each day they have built prayer into their life-ritual. The prayer becomes both familiar and easy, in a way.

For many, dare I say most, Christians it is more difficult to pray. We don’t have the ritual. Maybe we’ve developed a practice of saying a prayer before a meal or at bedtime, but do we interrupt our day for prayer or does our day follow our prayer cycle? I’d wager for most Christians it is the former!

I think practice is important in all that we do, if we want balanced and healthy lives. During my most recent stay in the hospital, I was feeling very sore in bed. I mentioned it to my physical therapist. She got me out of bed and tried to move my legs, but they couldn’t move more than a few degrees without pain. My muscles were tight from lying in bed all day everyday for so long! My legs were used to walking and bending and running. They were used to a certain practice, but they were out of practice. If any of you have gone to the gym, biked, or run further than you are used to, then you know what I mean. You’ve had the opposite experience as I: you went beyond your usual practice or ritual.

In life we need balance. If we want to start a new faith practice it is important to do so in a measured and responsible way. We should begin praying, reading the bible, or worshipping in a way that is tenable (sustainable). If you’ve not had a regular prayer life, then starting 20 times a day is likely not sustainable as a new practice, but finding one or two times during your day (or even 7?) might be. Finding 10 minutes each morning or evening to read the Bible is more likely to be sustainable, for most people, than trying to read a chapter everyday.

On the other hand, if we drop our habit, even for a day, we risk atrophy. In any of your life-practices, this is good advice I would wager. If you are a person of faith, I especially commend to you that you heed this advice and develop healthy practices. It maybe difficult, at first, but it will grow you, strengthen you, and help you in all of your other facets of life.























Images found at:  http://allwomenstalk.com/ & http://www.thegospelmatters.com/, respectively.

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