Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Ruts, Graves and Routines

“The only difference between a rut and a grave are the dimensions.”
Ellen Glasgow

How many of us actually enjoy detours?  I know there are some; there always are.  Just as some actually enjoy Brussels Sprouts, there are some who enjoy detours.  With regard to both, I am not one. 

I can understand the necessity of detours.  Put up with them for a few weeks and you’re rewarded with newer, wider and, hopefully, safer roads.  I appreciate why we have them (the same is not true of Brussels Sprouts, however).

It’s just that I’m a creature of habit.  I like routines.  Though some of my parishioners over the years, once they learned my Sunday pre-worship routine, have compared it to the pre-game superstitions of baseball players, I find these routines center my spirit and give life.

Imagine my discomfort when I find myself preaching a sermon series in which my colleague Pastor Jenny Smith and I are challenging people to blast themselves out of their spiritual ruts and discover the blessings of the roads not taken.  I even used Ellen Glasgow’s famous quote (seen above) describing the difference between a rut and a grave.

So, I’ve been wondering what is the difference between a rut and a routine?  From the outside, they can appear frighteningly similar.  For me (as I sit here trying to justify my current routines), I experience routines as patterns that open me up to life, to God and to those with whom I’m in community.  Ruts, on the other hand, are patterns whose mindless and unexamined repetitions keep me from experiencing life, God and community.

Pastor Jenny Smith shared with our congregations an excellent example of the difference between a rut and a routine this week.  She confessed to being addicted to checking her email dozens of times each day and how it was robbing her of time with family (rut).  Over a period of 21 days she developed a new pattern in which she was in control rather than the behavior controlling her; in other words, she developed a routine.

In doing so, she also taught us about a relatively new online tool which provides the two most important ingredients for changing behavior: a community of folks seeking to make changes in their lives and accountability.  You can lean all about this at www.loopchange.com where, over a period of 21 days, you can be encouraged to make significant changes of your own design.

Whenever I’m challenged to make some serious changes in my life – whether it’s concerning my health, my relationships, or my spirituality – it feels like I’m being forced to take a detour.  It’s inconvenient.  It’s taking me somewhere I don’t usually go.  It feels like I’m taking the long way around (ruts can be very efficient in the ways they rob us of life).

One day, however, I wake up and this new pattern no longer feels like a detour.  Instead, I experience  it as a new way being and I wonder what in the world made me think the previous pattern was life-giving.

I think this is one of those posts where I’d like to challenge you to write your own ending.  Do you have ruts and routines?  Can you tell the difference?  How would life for you be richer if God were to blast you  out of a life-robbing, relationship-killing, spirit-breaking rut of your own making and replaced it with life-giving patterns of servanthood?

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