Life-Saving Routines

"Soap" by mimwickett
“Soap” by mimwickett

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?

Why People Need Plans

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“Future” by graur razvan ionut

I believe humans thrive on patterns and plans, because we were created for them. When we don’t plan how to spend our time, we open a door for Satan to run amuck in our lives. Like when I went off to college, failed to implement a study schedule, and found myself floundering in all areas of life. (More on that in a minute.)

The Bible says God is not a God of disorder, but of peace (1 Cor. 14:33).

He created a six-day workweek and commanded us to rest on the seventh day (Gen. 2:2, 3; Ex. 20:8-11). Through the example of Jesus, God showed us that it is good to start our day with solitude and prayer (Mark 1:35). Proverbs gives us many principles about using our time wisely, including these:

“Work brings profit, but mere talk leads to poverty”  (14:23, NLT).

[A wife of noble character] “works with eager hands,” “gets up while it is still night,” “provides food for her family,” “sets about her work vigorously,” and “does not eat the bread of idleness” (31:15, NIV).

Indeed, one of the most important lessons we can learn in life, and teach our children, is to use our time wisely.

“Teach us to number our days aright, that we may gain a heart of wisdom” (Ps. 90:12).

Here’s a personal example that shows the dire effects of not having a plan in place.

College Flop

For years before I got to college my home life was falling apart, yet I was able to hold myself together enough to maintain straight A’s and participate in sports, music, and drama. The rhythm of high school and a part-time job and scheduled activities gave me predictability, a pattern to follow. They gave me something to count on when everything else was up in the air.

But when I was loosed on the college scene, with huge chunks of free time gaping at me each day, I fell apart. I needed to set up a study routine, and times to practice my music each day (I was pursuing piano at the time), but instead I found myself sleeping away my afternoons. It didn’t help that I was recently off depression meds.

Before three months of my freshman year had elapsed, I dropped out, suicidal. Now, having routines and schedules may not have fixed my depression, but I think they could have kept me from the drastic actions I took.

The Need for Routines

flylady“Fly Lady” and organizational expert Marla Cilley maintains that routines are lifelines. Before she got super organized, she suffered depression and rock bottom self-esteem.

Now she encourages other women to get up and put on shoes every morning, get dressed, and put makeup on or whatever you do to get ready. Doing these simple actions start your day with intention. Then she gives ideas for routines to houseclean a little every day until it becomes second nature. One of her readers gave a testimonial to this effect (I’m paraphrasing to the best of my memory, as I’ve returned Cilley’s book to my friend):

After my hubby died I wouldn’t have known what to do with myself if I hadn’t had my cleaning routines in place. They gave me something to do. They gave me purpose in my day.

Purpose is key. Setting routines forces us to define a purpose–no matter how lofty or low. It’s possible to have “routines” that don’t buoy us in the long run—TV time, drinking—but those are addictions, not routines, because they control us, we don’t control them.

College Comeback

Flash forward a few years to my third try at college. I was married now, and we lived in married student housing, and my hubby worked nights. I was still covertly battling depression, but the stability of being married to a working man who very much likes his routines finally helped me implement some routines of my own.

My days had structure once again. When I was not in class, I was at work, cashiering or stocking shelves at a nutrition center. In the evenings Buc was gone, so I studied. I had little time for much else. To be sure, I didn’t really have hobbies at that time, and I didn’t really want them. I didn’t enjoy my life then, but I was feeling some stability. And that stability is largely what kept me from self-harm.

This was a better way to live, but still not a good way to live. With those routines during that period, I can truthfully say my purpose was to keep so busy I wouldn’t have time to be actively depressed, or rather, to act on my depression.

The Need for Purpose

Routines with a dismal purpose like this can only last so long. Humans need a better ultimate purpose than “to stay alive because I’m supposed to.” That purpose is to give glory to God.

But it takes time to get there. My journey to this point was slow and painful. It wouldn’t be until two years after completing my college degree that I would actually claim the purpose of glorifying God in my life. And then I would actually take joy in my days. My purpose would become not just to survive the day, but to thrive so that others might see something in me that pointed them to God.

As I wrote my memoir in 2012 and 2013, I had the insight that God gave me stability in my early twenties so I could learn to trust him again. Through the writing of that project, I realized that sometimes it takes having your physical needs met, and perhaps one person you are safe with (for me, my hubby), to free your mind of some temporal concerns so you can seek God.

When we come to that point, or when God enters our lives in a significant way, it’s time to set new routines: routines that are even more life-giving than basic routines that merely keep us moving.

I’ll write more about that in my next post.