The Blessings and The Curse of Routine
Earlier today I was reading an article on creativity by Mark McGuinness, who is a coach for artists, creatives and entrepreneurs. The article is entitled “How mundane routines produce creative magic“. In short, McGuinness explains how many great creative artists have strictly regimented routines and those routines actually help them be creative. One artist, Haruki Murakami, explained how his routine “mesmerized” him to reach a deeper state of mind. I could see some parallels between what the artists were expressing and what I’ve experienced in my prayer life.
Routine plays a vital role in my ability to become centered on God’s presence and let go of distractions tugging me in many directions. I don’t think I would have used the word “mesmerizing” but routine definitely has a way of getting me into a very focused state of attentiveness. I have noticed this in my Lenten prayer discipline.
Throughout the season of Lent I’ve been spending half an hour in my prayer closet. 20 minutes are spent in the morning typically doing centering prayer, which is an old form of contemplative prayer. Centering prayer is a deep listening to God while sitting quietly in God’s presence. In the evening, I take 10 minutes to Journal and pray for someone specific whose name I have selected earlier in the day. Several routines have emerged as I have practiced these disciplines. I have noticed several blessings connected to these routines.
First, when I enter my prayer closet I pause and light a candle saying, “Lord, I light this candle as a sign of your presence with me.” The routine of that simple action, delineates my time and my attention. The more I repeat it as a practice for entering my time of prayer the easier it becomes to also shift my mind. Second, having a routine for what I do each day in terms of prayer keeps me not only focused, but faithful to praying daily. On days when I do not feel like praying because I’m tired or distracted the routine seems to silently get me over the hump of my resistance. The routine makes it easier for me to say “yes” and do what I know I should. For example, this morning I was actually very tired and wanted to skip my morning prayer time and do it later; however, I did pray. I am confident that the difference between praying and not praying was the fact that I have started doing it regularly in the morning. I’ve conditioned myself now to make it a priority.
A routine can easily become a rut, if you’re not careful. The key is awareness. How aware are you staying in the activity? Or, are you simply going through the motions? I’m not sure that there is always a clear-cut answer to these questions. If your mind is wandering more, or if afterwards you can’t really recall well how your time was spent, then you probably aren’t being very present. In that case, your routine is probably becoming a rut. Sometimes just the awareness that it’s becoming a rut is enough to prompt you to greater attentiveness. If not, then making slight changes to your routine can reinvigorate your attention.
I recommend that if you don’t have a daily routine for how you do your prayers that you create one. If you already do, take a moment to reflect on how effective that routine is. Is it helping you be more present to God? Is it helping you be disciplined in your prayer life? Does it help you shift your attention so that it is more focused? Reevaluate your routine if you can’t answer “yes” to these questions.
Blessings as you seek greater faithfulness in your prayer life.