Routines and Rituals


As the guy behind the counter of a little coffee shop in a quaint Texas town, I get a unique view not only through the big glass front windows, but also into the lives of everyday quaint town Texans. More often than not, looking outward leads to reflecting inward.

When the white pickup is waiting out front at sunrise for the open sign to flip on, I know Jessica’s baby Reid Luke probably didn’t sleep well and she needs a coffee for the commute. It’s Thursday, so I rush to get the blueberry pecan scones in for Sheila. At around a quarter to eight, Jimmy pulls in across the street at the same time Kasity and Ilya start their walk to school. I know it’s eight when John pulls in next door, and the Williamsons will soon be walking Hushpuppy in their morning routine.

Whether you’re in a small town or a big city, any store windows will witness many of the same daily pulses. The danger with routines, though, is that the more we go through the motion, the more we are going through the motions. If I have learned anything in life, it is that every moment is precious, as we are not promised another. If I die doing dishes, I don’t want my last thought to be, “I should have enjoyed washing the pots a little more.” When tasks become routine, our consciousness turns to an almost mindless autopilot.

But routines are unavoidable and necessary. Mindlessness is not. Here’s a thought: what is the difference between a routine and a ritual? A routine is strictly related to schedule, and is mostly the small, seemingly insignificant, and least exciting tasks that we do over and over. We have daily routines: getting dressed, morning tasks, getting to and from work, preparing supper, doing laundry, and washing dishes among many other duties.

Then there are less frequent but equally necessary obligations. Routine maintenance on the car, Spring and Fall cleaning, grocery shopping, looking over budget and finances, organizing the desk, and numerous other chores.

We do these things because if we don’t, life piles up or falls apart. Essentially, it’s less work to do it now than pretend like we don’t have to. If we pretend our car doesn’t need an oil change, it breaks down. If we convince ourselves it’s easier to let the dishes pile up for weeks, we’ll end up cleaning them anyway, just with a case of steel wool and special gloves that mice can’t bite through. If we don’t budget and keep track of finances, we end up spending more than what we have and there goes vacation dreams. We do these things because we have to.

And if we have to, is there a way to enjoy them?

Changing subjects without changing subject, when you hear the word ritual, you most likely start thinking along the lines of religion. Communion, prayer, tithing, hymns, and Sunday donuts are all familiar rituals in many churches. Can church become a routine? Sure. The difference between ritual and routine is this: though a routine is a task done repeatedly, a ritual has special meaning, spiritual value, and mindfulness. Your external world becomes chaos when routines are not kept. Your internal world falls apart when rituals are neglected.

So, how do we enjoy the mundane? We turn routines into rituals. Take dishes, for example. Have too much dish time, and too little prayer time?  With the first dish, “Lord, thank you for the reason I have these dishes. . .” From then on, each dish you wash, recite something or someone else you are thankful for. By the end of the pile of dishes, you will be looking for more because you haven’t run out of things you am thankful for.

Too little time to read your Bible? Stuck at the mechanic? Take your Bible, or some postcards to reach out to ones you love. Folding laundry? Put on some hymns and sing along. Mindless commute? Find a podcast of a favorite speaker (Ravi Zacharias is one of my regulars). Dreading the budget? Think of a project or family you would love to bless, then look for ways to save so you can enjoy the gift of giving.

There is no problem too big or routine too small for an ounce of mindful intentionality. Every routine we have has a underlying metaphor for our spirit. Let our world, both around us and within us, not fall apart. Let our routines find meaning in ritual, and let our rituals not become routine.

(And if you’ve found one last fork and you’ve already drained the sink, leave it as a reminder that the dishes are never really done, just as there is always something else to be thankful for). From the windows of Waverly’s, we are thankful for you.