On Routine

Military-grade routine and discipline are two of my great comforts. Lately, I’ve been meaning to evaluate why those things soothe me, because I wonder if they’re really helping me be the best version of myself.

Every morning, weekday or weekend, I wake up at the same time. I don’t even need an alarm; I almost always awaken ten minutes before it rings. I make the bed even before the sleeping indentation I left there has smoothed out. I brush my teeth, apply deodorant, and fix my hair, and always in that order. I showered the night before, and I don’t need to waste water to wake up. I put on the clothes I laid out before bed: pants, socks, shoes, undershirt, overshirt, and always in that order. Then I feed the two cats, freshen their water, and give them their morning treat. I grab my lunch, which I pre-made the previous day, throw my laptop messenger bag over my shoulder, and I’m out the door. If everything goes smoothly, and I move swiftly, I can comfortably get from out-of-bed to out-the-door in ten minutes flat.

Years ago, I heard a phrase that has stuck with me. I think part of me aspires to it, even though on the surface it has a pejorative ring: “Ruthlessly efficient.” I don’t consciously make choices ruthlessly, or deliberately eschew joy for that efficiency. However, I still know that I’ve turned down opportunities for joy, or turned away from a chance to make someone happy, because something about the opportunity didn’t fit into my routine. I don’t really know why such a concept would appeal to me, but in retrospect, it’s easy to see why something like that would get in the way of interpersonal relationships. I know it has done so.

So the question remains: why? Why did I seek comfort in routine, in efficiency, and in muscle-memory? I think it’s because I had no peace in my heart. My mind was loud, and my heart was taxed and troubled. Routine helped quiet the churning thoughts, and I thought it would help ease my roiling soul. I think I believed that I simply had too much on my mind, and too many things to get done, and the only way to quiet myself was to tackle the mundane and monotonous tasks of everyday living with that ruthless efficiency.

Now, however, I wonder if all I really needed was faith in my life. My discipline and routine could only calm my inner turmoil so much. When I was thinking about this yesterday, I was reminded of Jesus calming the sea in the book of Matthew. “Then he got into the boat and his disciples followed him. Suddenly a furious storm came up on the lake, so that the waves swept over the boat. But Jesus was sleeping. The disciples went and woke him, saying, ‘Lord, save us! We’re going to drown!’ He replied, ‘You of little faith, why are you so afraid?’ Then he got up and rebuked the winds and the waves, and it was completely calm” (Matthew 8:23-26).

Part of the purpose of this story is to illustrate that all things are possible through God. In the story, Christ calms a literal sea. I think that what I’ve missed about it in the past, though, is how that metaphorically applies to my own soul. Faith has had a calming effect on me; I don’t feel as anxious or uneasy as I used to, and I have God to thank for that. I am still somewhat dedicated to my routines, of course–there’s a reason that they’re called habits. But now, I think that I adhere to them because they are simply an efficient way to live my life. That discipline is less of a crutch, and I think I’ve lost the “ruthless” part.

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