Tag Archives: Routine

Love in the Ordinary

Do everything in love.
1 Corinthians 16:14 (NIV)

In her book, Liturgy of the Ordinary, Tish Harrison Warren  reminded me of what I fear is a largely forgotten and much needed truth. In a culture that worships bucket list experiences and adrenaline rushes, it is easy to allow the experience-seeker mentality to skew my spiritual life. I allow the mundane, everyday routines to become disconnected from spirit. In my mind they become the Life-less tasks I must necessarily trudge through to get to the next  mountaintop spiritual experience. Warren brought back into focus for me that in Jesus, everything is connected. Everything is sacred.

Wendy’s and my household is, I assume, like most married households. There are tasks that are my responsibility. The lawn care and snow removal, for example. It’s not that Wendy can’t do these things or assist with them. She grew up on a farm and can chore with the best of them. I just take them on as my responsibility. There are tasks Wendy takes on for herself. The laundry and the kitchen/pantry administration, for example. It’s not that I couldn’t capably do either, but Wendy likes these done a certain way so she just takes them on as her own. And then, there are household tasks that we share.

In Paul’s letter to the followers of Jesus in Corinth, he ends his letter by admonishing them to “do everything in love.” As I mulled over this simple command, I realized that it’s easy for me to apply that “experience seeking” mentality to this simple relational command. It’s also easy to assume that Paul is talking about being loving in all my relationships, to be a Good Samaritan, and to be loving toward outcasts and my enemies.  But, then I looked again. I realized that’s not what he wrote. He didn’t write “Be loving towards everyone” he wrote “Do everything (i.e. Laundry? Lawn care? Making the bed? Fixing supper? Washing the dishes?) in love. All of a sudden, this simple command takes on a whole new layer of meaning.

In my job I assess and train people in the art of giving good customer service. Quite regularly I am working with individuals who are tasked with serving co-workers (a corporate help-desk, for example). Other teams are tasked with serving the same key customers on a daily basis, and they often have very close, very personal relationships with these customers. I commonly have these team members argue that the customer service techniques I teach them “don’t apply” to them.

They’re not customers. They’re co-workers,” the help-desk agent will say to me.

He’s not like a customer. I talk to him on the phone every day. Sometimes it’s multiple times a day. He’s a friend. I don’t need to do all this customer service stuff with him. It would sound silly,” the key account  manager will say to me.

What are these service skills I’m asking of them?

  • Take ownership of a situation, say what you’ll do.
  • If something doesn’t go right, express empathy. Apologize.
  • Make sure you’ve met the need. Ask if they need anything else.
  • Express gratitude.

What these agents are arguing is that the closer you are to another person, you are excused from giving him or her exceptional service. The more intimate you become, the more you are free to just slide and “get by.” These mundane, everyday relationships don’t require good communication of active commitment, empathy, willingness, or gratitude. Wow. No wonder so many relationships are in trouble.

At that point I will usually tell a joke. Imagine if I told Wendy on the day we married, “I told you I love you today in front of everybody. So, now you know. If it ever changes I’ll let you know.” My challenger wife would have a few words of challenge for me.

I argue that the closer the relationship, the more everyday, mundane daily relationship that is shared between two individuals, the more I should want my communication to be a steady stream of commitment, empathy, willingness, gratitude, and love. Of course the words are going to be different and more familiar. Of course it’s going to look and sound more subtle, more intimate, and familiar than with a new acquaintance. Nevertheless, a healthy relationship requires it.

Last week I went out to blow 10 inches of heavy snow off our sidewalks and drive way in the dark while I was sick with a cold. When I walked in the house Wendy thanked me for doing it. She didn’t just thank me because it was hard, or I happened to be sick. She always thanks me. I can’t remember the last time I did the lawn or the driveway and Wendy didn’t immediately thank me when I walked in the house. In the same way, whenever Wendy finishes a day of multiple laundry loads I express my appreciation for it.

When Wendy asks me to do something for her, I always try to respond with what I teach my clients is called an ownership statement. It’s a statement of what you”can” or “will” do for a person that also expresses a positive attitude in doing so. “Sure, babe,” I say, “I’ll be happy to.” There is no one else who does as much for me everyday as Wendy. There is no one who deserves an ownership statement from me as much as she does.

Do  everything” Paul wrote, “in love.” In the quiet of my hotel room this morning I’m really mulling that over. It’s not just the big public actions that every one can see, but the ordinary, repetitive daily actions that hardly anyone sees. What does it mean for me to make coffee in the morning in love? To do my daily chores in love? To mow  the lawn in love? To answer my emails in love?

In order to answer that question, I have to be open to embracing the Liturgy of the Ordinary.

“Labor” of Love

We remember before our God and Father your work produced by faith, your labor prompted by love, and your endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.
1 Thessalonians 1:3 (NIV)

Just this week our daughter Taylor publicly announced that she is pregnant with Wendy’s and my first grandchild. Her former husband, Clayton, is the father. We’ve known for several weeks, and have been eagerly engaged with her in processing this unlooked for curve in her life journey. When she showed up to tell us it came as a bit of a shock…well, a giant shock, to be honest. We had no idea that she and Clayton had seen each other while he was home from Africa. Taylor’s well-worded Facebook post nailed it: “Well, life is full of the hard, messy and unexpected. And yet experiencing all of that can also be full of goodness, beauty and purpose.”

I thought of this momentous new change in life this morning as I read the opening of Paul’s letter to Jesus’ followers in the bustling Greek seaport of Thessalonica. Paul begins his letter by expressing a trinity of goodness he and his companions observed in the Thessalonian believers:

  • work produced by faith
  • labor prompted by love
  • endurance inspired by hope

If the three motivators sound familiar, it’s because they anchor Paul’s famous discourse on love in his first letter to the believers in Corinth when he wrote, “And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.”

What really struck me however, was the fact that two synonyms were used in the triad. “Work” and “labor” can be defined in English as the same thing. So, I did a little digging into the original Greek words Paul used in this sentence. The Greek word translated as “work” (ergou) refers to more of a routine job. Think of it as daily chore on your task list that simply has to be done. The Greek word translated as “labor” (kopou) is more specifically defined as “laborious toil.”

Thus I find myself contemplating both work and labor this morning. I will “work” today analyzing a client’s phone calls, filling out an expense report, and attending a corporate Board meeting. I am doing the routine “work” of writing this blog post. I will “work” to carry out the tasks Wendy has for me on my trip to Des Moines. All of these are part of my journey of faith, doing what I need to do on the path I believe God has called me to tread on a day-by-day basis.

Both our adult daughters are out of the house and have been on their own for some time. The “work” of providing for them, making sure they’re up, making meals, doing laundry, driving them to activities, and et cetera are long over. These routine daily tasks were simple acts of faith, believing that we were raising capable young people who would be mature adults who would successfully follow the respective paths God would lead each of them. Mission accomplished.

But the labor never ends.

Last evening I happened to have conversations with both Taylor and Madison by phone. The work of parenting continues. It’s no longer the grunt work of daily provision. It’s different. It’s the loving labor of watching helplessly from a distance as they make their own decisions, choices, and occasional blunders. It’s the emotions that come from caring so deeply about lives you cannot (and should not) control. It’s the struggle of the protector in me wishing I could spare them the pains of “the hard, messy, and unexpected,” but knowing that it is that very hard, unexpected mess that teaches us the most important life lessons that lead to maturity. And so, I mostly labor from a distance as counselor, confidant, advocate, sage, comforter, cheerleader, and friend.

This morning in the quiet I’m thinking of the “work” ahead of me today and this weekend. I’m also contemplating the continued “labor” of love in the weeks and months ahead as father, and now as grandfather. I am so excited. I’ve learned along this life journey that the “hard, messy, and unexpected” usually produces life’s deepest, richest, most meaningful blessings.

Loving Devotion and Life-less Obligation

I have been on a pseudo-sabbatical from my daily chapter-a-day posts for the past month. I took the opportunity of late summer vacations both to the lake and to Kauai to rest from my normal routines, though when I rest from regular routines I have a penchant for developing new ones.. I’ve felt prompted, of late, to wade into the writings of the prophet Isaiah, which I’ve blogged through only once back in the spring of 2010. It’s rather daunting journey, merely for the length of it (66 chapters!). Like all lengthy journeys it affords both tedious plodding and memorable, breathtaking moments. Here we go.

One of the keys to reading the poetic verse and visions of the ancient prophets (nearly all of the prophetic writings of what we refer to as the Old Testament are penned as Hebrew poetry) are 1) the cultural and historic context of the time in which the author was writing and 2) the person and circumstance of the prophet himself.

Isaiah lived in the capital city of Jerusalem during a period of “the kings.” The twelve tribes of Israel had been united under the reigns of Saul, David, and Solomon, but then split in two during the reign of Solomon’s son. The southern kingdom was made up of the tribes of Judah and Benjamin and had its capital in Judah. Judah was loyal to the house and line of David. The northern kingdom (Israel) was made up of the rest of the tribes and claimed Bethel as its capital and religious center. Israel’s monarchy was continually a free-for-all which made for a lot of political intrigue.

Like all great books, the beginning introduces the overarching themes. In today’s opening chapter Isaiah sets the scene in Jerusalem where Solomon’s temple was the center of Israel’s sacrificial system. Over the last few months I blogged through the book of Leviticus, in which set the sacrificial system into being as established through Moses. The dutiful, religious people of Judah continue to carry out their rituals, festivals and sacrifices. But, there’s a problem.

Isaiah gets right to the crux of the matter. The people were carrying out their religious duties, but had forsaken the heart of their relationship with God. They were like a spouse who manages the daily household routines of marital and family obligation while their heart wanders in desire for others. God wanted their obedient actions to be motivated out of love and desire, not rote obligation void of love and devotion.

I have confessed to being a person of routines, and this morning I am thinking about the religious routines in my own life. My daily quiet time and blog post are a routine. Attending church services on Sunday is a routine. Giving financially to my local church and other ministries is a routine. But, are these coming from a heart-felt love and devotion to God, or are they merely Life-less robotic religious behaviors? Do my actions point God toward a living love and desire within my heart or, like the people of Isaiah’s day, have my religious behaviors become absorbed by the rotting stench of my hypocrisy?

Dealing with that stain and stench is another major theme of Isaiah’s poetic visions, which he establishes in today’s chapter:

Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean;
    remove the evil of your doings
    from before my eyes;
cease to do evil,
    learn to do good;
seek justice,
    rescue the oppressed,
defend the orphan,
    plead for the widow.

Come now, let us argue it out,
    says the Lord:
though your sins are like scarlet,
    they shall be like snow;
though they are red like crimson,
    they shall become like wool.

 

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When It’s Time to Break Camp

The Lord our God spoke to us at Horeb, saying, “You have stayed long enough at this mountain. Resume your journey….”
Deuteronomy 1:6-7a (NRSV)

There is a chill in the air this morning as I sit in my office and write out this post. The blast furnace of midwest summer has given way to the crisp mornings and cool north breeze remind me of what is to come. The past couple of weeks have brought about our annual transition from what Nat King Cole crooned about as those “lazy, hazy, crazy days of summer” to the realities of routine school and work schedules.

Suzanna was home from college for the first time this weekend. When it came time to head back to school yesterday afternoon there was a fair amount of emotion expressed. Wendy and I surrounded her with hugs and prayer and reminded her that this is a normal part of life’s journey in which we learn the necessity of pressing on.

In this morning’s chapter, I picked up the retelling of the story of Moses and the tribes of Israel. As we pick things up in the first chapter of Deuteronomy, they’ve been camped out on Mount Horeb and have received from God the laws and commands about how they are to live as a nation. After the craziness of their exodus from Egypt, the mountain top experience of Horeb had been a welcome respite from their journey. But, God sends word that the respite is over. It’s time to break camp. The journey must continue.

Today, I’m reminded that the long, leisurely days of summer eventually give way to cool days of autumn and the realities of harvest. Summer vacations end and routines resume. Weekends in the familiar surrounding of home offer a respite from the anxieties of an unfamiliar college environment, but classes start again on Monday. Mountaintop experiences are wonderful, but eventually you have to break camp, leave the mountain, and resume the journey.

Press on.

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featured photo :  druclimb  via Flickr

 

“One day,…”

One Day

One day Peter and John were going up to the temple at the hour of prayer, at three o’clock in the afternoon. Acts 3:1 (NRSV)

In yesterday’s chapter we read about the miraculous events on Pentecost. Incredible public spectacle, heaven-sent pyrotechnics, all twelve of Jesus’ core team members speaking fluently in languages they didn’t even know, thousands of people from all over the world choosing to follow Jesus and be baptized.

What struck me this morning as I began the very next chapter was the return to ordinary, mundane, every day disciplines of life. Three o’clock was one of the fixed times for daily prayers at the temple. Peter and John head to the temple for the religious observance just as they did every day at that time, just as they had done with Jesus when their traveling ministry was in Jerusalem. Back to the routine. Return to the grind. Doing the same thing we did the day before; Going through the motions of the same thing we do every day.

I have learned in the journey that God’s supernatural intrusions happen amidst monotonous routines. Those who follow Jesus are called to certain spiritual disciplines in daily life. Like punching the clock at a job on the line, the daily disciplines of life can be repetitive, monotonous, and somewhat boring at times. That’s life, such as it it. C’est la vie.

One day,” Dr. Luke writes as he begins to tell the story of the lame man. He doesn’t write “The next day” or “Soon after that.” Dr. Luke was a meticulous researcher and was very particular about the details of the story. The events of the third chapter happened on a random day some time after the events of the second. The spectacle had receded into past. Peter and John were back to every day life.

Today, I’m reminded that our life journey is filled stretches of time in which the daily, weekly, monthly terrain and the view look very much like the day, week, and month before. “One day,” as we trudge through our disciplined routine, God will surprise us with an amazing event, an unexpected companion, s stunning vista, a sudden curve in the road, or any number of possible new chapters in our own story. The key is to understand that we would never have arrived at that particular place on life’s road at just the right time had we not taken up the monotonous routine trek day after day after day after day.

Press on.

“I’ve Got This”

new house foundation

“Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to your life? Since you cannot do this very little thing, why do you worry about the rest?” Luke 12:25-26 (NIV)

I am up early after a fitful night’s sleep. As I write this post, summer is making its annual transition into the hectic pace of autumn. All around me, life is in transition. One of our daughters is in the midst of vocational transition, moving across the country this morning, and still uncertain where she is going to live. Our other daughter is packing up her worldly possessions, preparing to move across the ocean, and making a major investment in her education. Wendy’s sister, who has lived with us for the past year, is in the throes of that bumpy transition from youth to adulthood complete with the upheaval of routines, relationships and emotions that accompany it. My parents are in transition with the concerns of life and health as their life journey takes an unexpected twist in the road. This past weekend Wendy and I looked out over the newly poured foundation of the house we are building; A project that wasn’t even on our radar six months ago.

I have, for many years, made this chapter-a-day routine part of my daily life journey. One of the reasons for this habit is the regular experience I have of God meeting me right where I am in the moment, speaking to me in my need from the words in that day’s chapter. This morning is a perfect example

Worry was my bedfellow this past night; Anxiety my companion. Sitting red-eyed in the empty hotel lobby with my first cup of coffee I open my laptop, pull up today’s chapter, and silently enter into an intimate give and take with the Creator. Jesus says:

“Consider how the wild flowers grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you, not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today, and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, how much more will he clothe you—you of little faith! And do not set your heart on what you will eat or drink; do not worry about it. For the pagan world runs after all such things, and your Father knows that you need them. But seek his kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well.”

Don’t worry,” I hear Him quietly add to my spirit as I finish reading. “I’ve got this.”

A Man of Routines

 

Source: Lauren Finkel Photography via Flickr
Source: Lauren Finkel Photography via Flickr

Death is the reward of an undisciplined life;
    your foolish decisions trap you in a dead end.
Proverbs 5:23 (MSG)

My friend, you are a man of routines!” a friend said to me a while back. He laughed as he said it. I found it interesting because he hadn’t known me long and we hadn’t spent that much time together. It struck me like an unexpected slap in the face. The comment was like getting  a fresh, outside perspective and an objective view of how I am perceived by another.

I guess that it’s true. I have built certain routines and disciplines into my life. These chapter-a-day posts are perhaps the most public example, but there are others. Some routines and disciplines have come naturally (being a morning person). Others I’ve had to work at over time and have generated some success (time management, blogging). Many disciplines have been a long string of spurts and starts which meet with temporary success but fail to maintain over the long haul (e.g. simplicity, diet, exercise, focused prayer, saving). As I ponder this morning that I tend to see the cup half-empty. I see my failures more than my successes.

Perhaps that is why I was struck by the cup half-empty notion that “death is the reward of an undisciplined life” this morning. I totally get it. There are precious few successes in life (e.g. relationships, marriage, family, business, spiritual growth, education, writing, athletics, the arts, hobbies, and etc.) that do not require discipline. If we refuse to develop certain disciplines, we will utterly fail. The degree to which we succeed at developing particular disciplines will determine the degree of success we will ultimately realize in our lives. Not only is this true in things that really don’t matter all that much in the eternal sense (i.e. How good of a guitar player I become) but it is also true in matters of eternal significance (i.e. How good of a husband, father, and follower of Jesus I become).

I pray that I can continue to cultivate the discipines which, I come to understand, matter most in this life. In recent years I’ve developed a love for the prayer of St. Francis, which seems to capture the disciplines I increasingly crave to develop in my minute-by-minute, hour-by-hour, day-by-day  journey through this world:

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace,
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
Where there is injury, pardon;
Where there is doubt, faith;
Where there is despair, hope;
Where there is darkness, light;
Where there is sadness, joy.

O Divine Master,
grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled, as to console;
to be understood, as to understand;
to be loved, as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive.
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
and it is in dying that we are born to Eternal Life.
Amen.