Cleaning out my office last week, I found letters I wrote to my wife, Jennifer, before we were married more than 40 years ago. One letter said I was up before 6am, reading and writing. That hasn’t changed much, except most days now it’s up before 5am.
I do like my routine. Most of us do. But with the Coronavirus disruption dislodging many of our regular routines this year, a lot of people are just worn out.
Back in the 1990s, Jennifer and I had a missionary couple stay with us for several weeks. They were back in the States on furlough from their cross-cultural assignment in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Though these friends traveled the world, within minutes of arriving at our home, they had set up house, working to establish their routines – setting up places for their computers, deciding where to put their personal effects in the bathroom, and asking what shelf in the refrigerator they could use for their special foods. They were respectful but said, “Home is where you are.”
Working at home so much of the time in recent months, St. Benedict’s “The Rule of St. Benedict,” has become my guide. Compiled in the 6th century, The Rule comprises 73 principals intended to assist the faithful in accomplishing interior changes.
Knowing that humans like to feather their nests, Benedict said each day should be divided so that there is time for meditation and prayer, time for meals and relationships, time for learning, time for work and time for rest.
Back in the 1990s I devoured Stephen Covey’s best-selling “7 Habits of Highly Effective People.” I wanted to maximize the 7 or 8 hours in the day I wasn’t working or sleeping. St. Benedict figured it out long before Stephen Covey, describing how each day we can enjoy meals, study, share encouragement with family and friends and pray.
Even disruptions like COVID-19 can be counted on, Benedict said. He anticipated the changing seasons in life that often descend on us suddenly, and without predictability. Therefore, he said adaptability must become a dear friend, not our enemy.
In 2001, a team of Gallup researchers introduced its first version of an online assessment called Strengthsfinder. Through studying human strengths for 40 years, the Gallup people discovered that adaptability is a formidable strength.
Gallup found that some people can stay calm and remain productive even when the demands of work and family pull them in several different directions at once.
Adaptable people can adjust to see the future as a place that they create out of the choices that can be made right now.
That doesn’t mean they don’t have plans. Some highly adaptable people are careful planners. But their adaptability enables them to respond willingly to the demands of the moment even if they get pulled away from their plans.
Who of us thought a year ago we could become adept at using Zoom? St. Benedict discovered adaptable people often give thanks more easily, knowing that life includes trouble as well as joy. Benedict’s wisdom reminds me a lot of the first line of the famous Serenity prayer: “Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change.”
Benedict says every single day comes from the great mystery that calls us each into being and awakens us each morning. And even though Jesus himself said each day has enough trouble of its own, Benedict felt each day is a marvelous gift from the creator.
One day a week Benedict felt should be a day of rest, taking time to reflect and renew. Many pastors have told me they especially have had a hard time finding a Sabbath rest during the last 7 months. One said he hasn’t preached from inside his church sanctuary since late March. “It’s weird, but I feel like I’m never on duty and always on duty. We video all our worship services on Thursdays and play them on Sunday.”
He watches himself preach on Sundays from inside his home. “Honestly, I am not near the preacher I sometimes fancy myself to be,” he said, half smiling.
Dressed in sweats, he watches himself preach while he flips pancakes for his kids, and empties the dishwasher. “Church life feels all jumbled together,” he said. “It’s unsettling and fills me with anxiety and uncertainty.”
“And yet, to tell you the truth, not being in church on Sunday is easier to get used to than I ever imagined. Does that sound crazy coming from the pastor? On the other hand, I long for my old Sunday routine.”
While taking Monday off has been part of his routine for years, he said, “My Monday Sabbath has flown out the window.”
I reminded him of what St. Benedict said. At the beginning of each day, after we open our eyes, resolve to treat each hour as the rarest of gifts. Be gentle, kind and adaptable. And then reach out and treat someone the way you want to be treated.
“All you can do is all you can do,” I assured pastor. “And all you can do is enough.”