Routines that Make Life Abundant -- Slowly and with Joy!
"Intimacy with God" hasn't been something that has come easily to me this week, if I fall into the error of considering only times of solitude and a sense of intimate and direct connection with Him as the only real intimacy with God. But if I allow myself to understand that intimacy with God can be there in cleaning up after Brooks when he is sick to his stomach and that it can be there as I sort my laundry or plan Noah's birthday party and create the invitation, then I can see that I have that sort of intimacy with God in those times these days that we also have with those who share our homes and lives. (Women in our culture tend to see intimacy as what we experience during those times of face-to-face attention and connection, while men in our culture are more likely to understand the intimacy experienced as two people give their full attention to the same endeavor or to the same outside experience. I hope we can raise our children -- and learn ourselves -- to experience the joy of both ways of being intimate!)
I have to admit that I much prefer to sit and listen to my God or to sit and spew words at Him -- or even to get up and do that which I heard Him tell me to do in this moment -- than to simply repeat the tedious chores that make up my life as they make up most of our lives. Yet I understand that a life of intimacy with God is mostly shown by faithfully exercising the repetitive tedious chores of each day and each week and each month. This is what writers and speakers are referring to when they speak of the difference between "the mountain-top" and "the valley", rather than the difference between joyful times and times full of grief. (It is much easier to "feel God" during times of grief than to stay connected to Him during the day-in-day-out tedium of real life, isn't it?)
So I have a routine to my day that allows me to integrate the parts of "intimacy with God" that come easily to me with the parts that don't, and I am becoming better at the parts of life that come to me only with great effort. I believe that is part of what God calls each of us to master as we steward our time and efforts and resources: we are called to fulfill each of our responsibilities and calls each day in a way that draws us closer to our God and closer to each other and closer to nature and closer to a true understanding and mastery of the person that God imagined each of us to be when He created us individually. And that call is miles away from a simple call to fulfill each responsibility individually.
This means that I am not just called to clean and decorate my home, or to raise my kids, or to befriend the friends He calls me to love, or to pursue and exercise the vocation to which He calls me. I am called to find ways to do each of those things that best foster my connection to Him and to all the people in my life. And that is a radical change for me.
I lived most of my life divided into two portions: the task/project/accomplishment/responsibility portion and the people/love/God/intimacy/joy portion. And so neither portion was anything like what God desired it to be for me. When I was in "task mode" I was "on a mission from God" but I was disconnected from God and from others and from the part of myself that I believe God most values. I was no fun. And when I was in "people mode" or "God mode" I was lazy and unmotivated and got nothing done toward the daily work of life -- at least, unless someone else was driving the work while I stayed in "relating" mode. So neither of these modes of mine accomplished God's Kingdom lived out in my life, right here and right now.
I am still pretty bad at this, I'm afraid. It has been my primary task these last three years: to integrate these two halves of my life. But it is slowly coming together in reality and not just in my ability to articulate and desire it. And the way it is coming together is as I turn the right routines into daily habit. I am learning to get stuff done without always flipping into that "task mode" that brackets people and God and emotions into something to deal with later, and reserve that ability to bracket for the times that life really requires me to use it. (It honors God to be able to focus like that and leave emotions for later when one is truly in a crisis, like injury or abuse or a time-sensitive emergency, but to flip there in order to get my kids to school on time every morning is to raise kids who need that rush of adrenaline to get normal stuff done and who echo my inability to stay connected with others as they live the daily routines of life.) And I am learning to be able to converse with God and people as I do my daily housework, and not have to sit and give Him my full attention in order to connect. (But, of course, I still need regular times of where my time and attention is completely focused on Him and in turn on each of the important people in my life.)
The way I am learning all this -- practicing it so it is a reality, and not just something I can process cognitively and articulate to you -- is by setting up routines each day that accomplish what I want in both areas, and then disciplining myself to follow those routines. These routines simply get done everything I want to get done each day in a certain order each day, with the flexibility and leisure to allow me to deal with phone calls and my kids' interruptions without keeping me from having adequate time to complete the tasks, but with the structure that gets me back on task once the interruption is over. This sounds simple enough, but the challenge in it is that I have had to give up many of my ideals of efficiency and achievement of as much as I possibly can. I have resigned myself to the idea that God is calling me to just get as much "accomplished" toward my life goals as He allows me to accomplish, and just at the rate at which it happens easily. The priority has to be simple daily obedience in simple tedious tasks in a way which allows me to still be responsive to Him and to people in the moment. And that may mean I never accomplish some of the things I wish I could accomplish educationally or vocationally. But it also means I will have been the person He wanted me to be, right here and right now.
It is a revolutionary change for me to acknowledge in my daily habits and routines that any lasting satisfaction in my "accomplishments" in life will require letting my pace be set by the needs of the man laying wounded at the side of the road, rather than by the speed my feet can carry me toward my next appointment or task in my project plan.
God values people, and all accomplishments mean nothing if they are not accomplished in genuine service of Him -- which mean in the genuine service of the stranger and of my enemy and of my loved ones.
This is radical.