Living without routines can make life clumsy; but living without purpose can make life seem impossible. In my last post I wrote about how my lack of purpose and routine as a freshman in college brought me to the brink of suicide.
I’m so glad I have a different story now, eleven years later. That story is one of great purpose, and as many routines as life with a one-year-old will allow.
Because my life once lacked purpose, I love to remember my second year of teaching high school English—the year I found purpose, and the year I started observed the most important routine ever. (You can read more about that life-changing year in this post.)
In a nutshell, that year, my morning time with God saved my life. Amidst a backdrop of uncertainty unfolding with my family, I found purpose knowing that God still had a plan for me and for my family members. I couldn’t see the overall plan, but as I surrendered each day to him, I knew that it was enough to do what was in front of me. At that moment, the things within my control were teaching one-hundred high school students and developing my own character through Bible study and prayer. So I focused on excellence and consistency in those things. I had a wonderful school year, and found myself the most happy I had felt for years. And eventually, the stressful home situation resolved itself.
That year was my first memorable spiritual “peak,” and I’ve had many dips and bumps in the five years since. Life is always throwing us new realities, and these challenge our routines and often necessitate change (a new baby being a prime example.) That’s why it’s good to periodically re-examine our routines, assess what is and isn’t helping move us toward our goals, and change accordingly.
But what happens when life challenges routines that, for our best health, should never change?
Here are a few tips that could apply to not only new parents, but anyone in a schedule-upsetting situation.
Don’t Give Up
It’s an understatement to say that a baby complicates daily time with God—which I’ve argued is my life-saver. Same for daily showers. But that doesn’t mean we stop taking showers, right? Realize that showers, God times, and other important things may not be as frequent, long, or luxurious as they used to be. But don’t give up. If you can find five minutes to shower, you can find five minutes to talk to God and read a couple words.
Abbreviate Your Routine
If you have to shorten the time, so be it. Reading one Bible verse is better than reading none. Oftentimes I get more out of meditating on a single verse all day long than I get out of reading five chapters of the Bible in thirty minutes or an hour.
Move Your Routine to Another Time of Day
For months off and on, Sam woke at or before 5 a.m.—this after waking multiple times in the night. You can bet that a 4:30 Bible study wouldn’t result in much holiness. So when we went through those spurts, I moved my worship time to right before my bedtime—and I moved my bedtime earlier, too. If it doesn’t work to meet with God in the morning, find a time that does.
Don’t Confuse Routines with Schedules
Be careful not to confuse a schedule with a routine. Schedules tie activities to exact times and days. Routines have to do with the order in which you do things; but exact times can change if needed. For a mother of young children, a routine is an achievable goal, but a schedule may not be. If you’re in a season where life is predictably unpredictable, forget schedules; they will set you up for disappointment. But do establish some routines.
For the time being, Sam takes a pretty reliable two naps a day: one in the morning, one in the afternoon. The naptimes change based on when he wakes up for the day, so instead of planning to write at 10 a.m., or to prep supper at 2 p.m., I plan to write “during Sam’s morning nap,” and cook “during his afternoon nap.”
I don’t always accomplish what I hope to in a day, but I can relax knowing I made some progress toward my goals. If a daily worship is all I manage to get done, then that’s okay too, because I can honestly tell God I kept first things first. God tells me that if I seek him first, all my other needs (I include writing for my sanity in that list) will be added to me. Sooner or later. Either today’s nap or tomorrow’s, or next Tuesday’s.
Now, as soon as I post this, Sam will probably change his habits again. And I will have to adapt again, too. That’s the life of a mother. Can you tell how counterintuitive this is to me? I don’t like having to adapt all the time, but I didn’t like having to suffer depression and other bad things, either.
One thing I do know about struggles: they make us grow. We do best when we don’t resist being stretched; if we resist, we might break. If we can stretch a little along with our circumstances—adapting our routines as needed to fit our core purpose to glorify God—we recover faster, and can thrive sooner.
What routines have saved your life?
Thinking about routines, my mind comes up with a blank. I suppose I think more in terms of a schedule, which I intentionally keep flexible now; or a daily structure which is a much broader or general way to look at a day.
But now I’ve thought of something. Years ago, I worked at an ad agency and I became the target of an obscene phone caller. This was long before cell phones, caller ID, or any of the telecom tools we have now. In fact, the phone company’s method for tracing calls was cumbersome and antiquated. This guy was one of the serious obscene callers who threatens, harrasses, and eventually comes out of the night to terrorize. The police could do nothing for me but give advice. I talked with a victims’ help line, and I varied my daily schedule so that if the guy was following me, he couldn’t anymore.
At the time, I was also starting to run on a regular basis. I developed a non-routine for my running, and I always ran with someone. Somehow this routine of running kept me sane all through this ordeal (never caught the guy; yes, he did come out and showed himself but it was at night and he was in shadow). Physical exercise is a great way to relieve stress, and I was definitely under stress. When the whole thing was over and I was safe, I continued the running routine with a friend, late afternoon 4 or 5 times a week. It got me through many other stressful times, too.
Now, I’m trying to get back into my Falun gong practice. I know it will help me.
What a great response to the question I posed; and what a story you have to tell! Your anecdote reminded me of the running scenes in Perceval (it’s fun to see how aspects of writers’ lives end up in their fiction). I too have used exercise as a stress reliever over the years; I believe it has helped me cope with depression and other hard stuff. That would definitely go on my list of “life-saving” routines. Of course, it helps not only emotionally, but physically as well–physical exercise can quite literally save, or prolong, our lives. All best to you as you continue to practice your life-saving routines!