Sometimes when I’m at work, my fingers poised over the keyboard to write another email, I daydream of leaving it all behind. I’d get in a camper with my husband and dog, drive far across the country into the horizon, have adventures and the time of our lives, and not once peek at the rear-view mirror.
Who hasn’t had a similar daydream? Now that the Easter holidays are over, we may feel like we’re returning to our ho-hum lives. Ordinary things might feel just like that: ordinary. The feelings of anticipation and excitement we felt now fall flat.
And while the laissez-faire, loose-hair, devil-may-care long-term road trip into the sunset might be tempting, the reality is, it’s not realistic for many — dare I say, “most”? — of us. We have responsibilities: to our children, our spouses, our aging parents, our pets, ourselves. We have professional lives. We have houses and backyards to care for. We have lunches to pack, floors to sweep, clothes to launder. We have bills to pay and retirement to save up for.
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So, our lives revert to a routine. For me, that includes exercising the dog, writing, going to work, swimming, cooking dinner, doing laundry, and starting all over again. But routines can feel old fast. They can turn stale. However, rather than railing against them, I think we’d be better off if we embrace the graces our routines can give us.
Choose a theme song
Routines can be like sacred music. Each of our daily lives has its own rhythm. Mine will sound and feel very different from yours. Sometimes even different days might have different rhythms, depending on whether it’s the workweek or a weekend, or early pickup from school, for instance. Regardless, our lives move to the rhythm that we set.
In a Zoom workplace ice breaker, I once was asked the question: What would be the theme song to your life? What if we applied this premise to our everyday lives? Moreover, what if we relied on our faith and paired our days’ rhythms to sacred music? Some of the most inspirational and moving songs for me are ones we sing in Church. In the morning, before the coffee’s made, we can think of a song that will become our “refrain” for the day. Some days, I feel refreshed and full of gratitude. I can think of “How Great Thou Art” or “Taste and See.” Other days, I need courage and strength. I can turn to “Be Not Afraid” or “I Am the Bread of Life.”
Setting our days to sacred hymns can help us move harmoniously with the rhythm of our lives. Each everyday moment is special in God’s eyes, and he wants his children (us) to strive for the joy of knowing his full presence. Returning periodically to the “background” music of our sacred song of the day can help us carry through our routines — and enjoy them.
Rooted in ritual
Routines can be anchors rooted in our faith. As Catholics, we are no stranger to ritual and tradition.
Take our seven sacraments, the high holy days, feast days, the Rosary, chaplets and novenas. These are beautiful traditions that remained relatively unchanged for centuries. That means that Catholics all around the world, for hundreds of years, have been doing the same things over and over again.
Consider the Mass. Every Sunday, millions of Catholics around the world worship Our Lord in the same exact way, albeit with different languages, styles and music, through the holy Mass.
The Church is rooted in tradition. Rituals help keep the Church truly universal. We attend Mass every Sunday even though it might be the same “routine” because we know that Jesus is truly present in the Eucharist.
In the same vein, even though our day to day lives may look the same, we need to remember that Jesus is with us every step of the way. Tradition anchors the Church; our routines can anchor us. If we do everything in our day for his greater glory, then we will feel at peace knowing we are enacting his will in our lives.
Routines should be life-affirming. What we do in our everyday lives matters. Our day-to-day
routines should give us an interior sense of peace and satisfaction because we are either attending to our personal wellbeing, the wellbeing of our families, or of our communities.
Folding laundry is not my favorite chore. But I know that doing it will ensure that my family has clean, fresh clothing for work and play. Similarly, there are some days when it’s very hard to wake up before dawn to exercise our high-energy dog in the park before work. But once I’m up and watching my dog chase down a tennis ball with the sun’s first rays touching her glistening fur, I melt. I feel full of praise for the Lord.
Routines, even on days when they are boring, difficult, or the last things we want to do, should nonetheless give us a deeper, intrinsic contentment. If this isn’t happening, then we may need to rethink our routines and make necessary changes. Is our weekly gathering with our friends at the café turning into a gossip session? Maybe we need to have a candid word with our friends or reevaluate our routine with them. Is our day job something that fills us with dread, anxiety or anger? Perhaps it’s time to rethink if this is the best place for us, and if it’s not, then we can start polishing those resumes to send elsewhere. Are we mindlessly scrolling through social media during breakfast or right before bed? Instead, we can reach for a book or a rosary bead.
Routines need to be life-affirming, not life-draining. If they compete with our sense of peace, our morals or our faith, then we need to reexamine and perhaps set new ones.
The best part of cultivating a good, life-sustaining routine is that we look forward to returning to it. When we go away for a weekend or a longer trip, the last thing we want to feel is a dread to return home to our daily lives. Instead, our routine should be a source of comfort and joy for us. Like a lost sheep returning to its shepherd, we should view our routines as a familiar hug from a beloved family member, as the outstretched arms of our God calling us by name.