Habits to help your soul thrive, part 4: Routine
Photo by Content Pixie on Unsplash. Bible verses from NIVUK.
We are well into the second week of lock-down and now is the time to be thinking about routines.
Chances are, the novelty (or fear/anxiety/excitement – delete as appropriate) of home education / home working / home alone / home stuck with the family (-delete as appropriate!) is wearing off.
I am finding that life BCC (Before Covid Crisis) is rapidly fading from memory. I am also discovering how many aspects of that distant way-of-life I relied on to keep me sane.
As creatures of habit, I realise I am falling into a new routine. But I don’t just want to fall into a routine. Neither do I want a routine that means I limp out of lock-down. I want a routine that means I thrive, spiritually, emotionally and physically.
So, now is the time to review your routine.
Come and join me…
First up, get right the beginning and the night.
Left to myself, my default thing in the morning is to switch on the phone and check the news or check social media.
When I finally got to the Bible yesterday, I read Psalm 1. It begins like this:
Blessed is the one
who does not walk in step with the wicked
or stand in the way that sinners take
or sit in the company of mockers,
2 but whose delight is in the law of the Lord,
and who meditates on his law day and night.
3 That person is like a tree planted by streams of water,
which yields its fruit in season
and whose leaf does not wither –
whatever they do prospers.
Psalm 1:1-3 (NIVUK, emphasis added)
We will flourish when we begin and end the day with God’s word.
I’ve talked in previous posts about the importance of praise and honest prayer. We need to combine that with a healthy diet in God’s word: not just reading it, but chewing over it, saying it out loud (in fact the Hebrew word for “meditate” in verse 2 means murmuring).
What we put in our minds at the beginning and the end of the day has a big impact on our day and our sleep.
I am now making an effort in the morning to switch on my phone, play a couple of praise songs (priority of praise – CityAlight are my current go to), read my Bible. I find saying the Bible out loud really helps me think on it.
I admit it is hard not to check the news and the social media and email. But when the one who is the Beginning and the End is my priority at the beginning and end of the day, it is so worth it. My soul is fed, my gaze is lifted, my mind encouraged.
I just need to work on the end of the day. When I finish with prayer and some words of Scripture, it is much better than a final post/email/whatsapp/news update.
(On this, we are physical creatures. We are made for routine and rhythm. Regular bed-times and rising-times are good for us, but so easy to let slip when stuck at home.)
So, let me ask, what is your morning and evening routine so that your day can begin and end with the Lord?
Second, what are we thinking about during the day?
Two people I spoke to yesterday talked about the news. One has it on all the time. Another now just checks it once a day.
The eye is the lamp of the body
The Apostle Paul writes:
Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things.
This is in the context of rejoicing always. Our joy is intimately connected with what we feed our minds.
Covid-19 news is addictive: An unfolding crisis; daily government briefings; steadily rising death toll; pictures of nightingale hospitals being built. We need information. But we can have far too much.
So, what routines can we build into our week and day so that Paul’s words are true for us: "whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things." For me, I am now rarely checking the news, some days not at all, except for the odd occasion in case of significant announcements. And I am listening to praise songs, reading encouraging blogs. What works for you? How do you build that into your routine?
Third, together time
We’re realising a household routine helps break the day up: Morning prayer times individually all at the same time. Meal times together. Video-exercise together. Music time after lunch. These set times help to break up the day and provide boundaries between work and not working, between school and not school. Oh, and I'm trying not to bring work to the meal table and vice-versa.
The monks of old realised the benefit of this. Everyone in the monastery stopped work for times of prayer and for meals. Perhaps have a bell for breaks and meals? Seriously!
On this, one of the key things for home education is realising that it is not the same as doing school at home. (See our article here) Likewise, it is nigh impossibly simply to transpose working in an office to working at home. The boundaries and distance and head-clearing travel time is not there. You have to create different boundaries. A routine enables that. You may also find that the way you respond emotionally and your energy levels differ through the day when working from home. If possible, we have to adapt our working practices accordingly.
So how can you build together time into your household routine?
Fourth, physical exercise
God made us physical creatures. We need our exercise.
If I don’t plan it in and prioritise it, I don’t do it. Which is why doing it together as a family as part of our daily routine is vital for me. How can you prioritise it? It will be good for you, your company and your household. You will work better, sleep better, relate better.
As I mentioned above, as physical creatures our bodies need regular bed-times and meal-times. With working and schooling at home it is easy to let those slip.
How does your routine recognise that we are physical creatures?
Fifth, do something new, pick something back up
Why not set a goal for lock-down? See it as an opportunity to try something new or pick up something from the past. After all, God made us creative, in his image.
I know of one person learning the piano. Someone else is re-discovering board games. Build it in to your daily routine.
I’ve picked back up a hobby I had when I was younger and am doing it for ten minutes each day after lunch. Don’t just wait for life to go back to normal. Achieve something in this time that you perhaps couldn’t otherwise have done. What might it be for you?
We are made for hope.
Have some things you are looking forwards to, and not just the end of lock-down. For us it is Easter. How can we make Easter Sunday a day of huge celebration? Plan and then bake an Easter cake (I don’t know what one is, so we’re going to make it up). Get out the party poppers. Egg treasure hunt. Decorate the house.
And then we need the next goal. Weekly? Monthly?
Sixth, be kind to yourself and others
We are going through trauma – as individuals, as a culture and as a world. As the experts quoted in a previous post explain, that will affect us physically, emotionally, mentally… and spiritually. We will have less energy. Things will take longer. We will get annoyed more easily. Our capacity for coping with life will be reduced. Combine that with the absence of our usual coping mechanisms and… well, you are probably experiencing it, just like me. So we mustn’t try and fit as much in nor expect as much of others.
Saying that, a number of people I have spoken to have said that work is far busier working from home. In which case, the seventh bit of advice is vital…
Seventh, spend more time with the Lord, not less
Monday was a bad day for me. A very bad day. I was missing so many of my usual props. I was grumpy. Crotchety. Frustrated.
Thankfully the Lord doesn’t give up on us.
By the end of the day, I felt the Lord saying to me, “Nick, I am enough.” He directed me to Skye Jethani's book called “With” which is all about doing life with our heavenly Father, rather than living for God, under God, from God or over God.
Then on Tuesday I had a very encouraging conversation with a friend who said “Nick, God has got this". And he said all God wants from me is just time with him. That was when the penny dropped.
What I need most is not those other props, but the Lord. This is what he has been trying to teach me for a long time ( I am a very slow learner). So, I don't need replacement props. I need to be spending more quality time with the Lord – in praise, in his word, in honest prayer. It is him I need. He is our refuge and strength an ever present help in times of trouble!
My friends, the single most important thing we can build into our routine is more quality time with the Lord. Do the day with him. We will then discover the truth of the oft-quoted phrase:
You may never know that Jesus is all you need, until Jesus is all you have
So, don’t just fall into a routine. Create a routine for your household that enables your souls to thrive.
What will it look like for you? Over to you.