So will I ever sing praises to your name as I perform my vows day after day (Psalm 61:8 ESV).
While “routine” isn’t a word I would choose to describe my life, my life is made up of a collection of routines. Patterns emerge that are repeated, sometimes weekly, sometimes daily. I’m always the first one up in the morning, making the coffee, getting in some time in the study before rousting the rest of the household to life. On Sunday nights we order pizza and watch “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition.” The rhythm of the week is marked by Wednesday nights at church, and Sunday mornings at church. The bulletin for the upcoming Sunday is reviewed every Monday afternoon. We have staff lunch on the first and third Wednesdays of the month.
On most weeks, these repeated patterns feel good to me, like a well worn pair of jeans that I wouldn’t throw away for anything. But there are times when the routines seem, well . . . routine. I don’t know who said it – but I’ve heard that the hardest thing about life is that it’s just so daily. You won’t find that line in the book of Proverbs, but it is good wisdom. Routines can be deadening. Boredom sets in. All the real living gets bleached out of life.
And when it comes to our walk with God and our understanding of what it means to live a robust life of faith, routines are like Novocain to the soul. We know our souls are there, we just can’t feel them.
This leads us to the following conclusion: if we could ditch the routines, we could really know God. We could truly live with a sense of God’s presence. We could get close to God. But for these dishes in the sink, and practices to run to, and clothes to be folded, and bulletins to be proofed, and cars that need an oil change, and baths to be overseen, and teacher conferences to attend - were it not for all this daily-ness, we could live a vibrant spiritual life.
But this conclusion is wrong. We don’t find God by losing routines and patterns and obligations. We don’t become more spiritual by becoming less predictable. We don’t get deep by getting free. If anything, the opposite is true. God is found and grace is received in the midst of ordinariness. We demonstrate a likeness to God in our own faithfulness and steadfast commitments.
The Psalmist seems to have experienced the right mingling of exuberant praise and daily faithfulness. The words of Psalm 61:8 clearly come from one who has discovered what it means to worship in the midst of the daily performance of vows. The vows the Psalmist kept may have been religious vows of some kind – but I think of other kinds of vows that we keep day after day.
Showing up for work . . . calling your mother . . . getting in line for car pool yet one more time . . . balancing the books . . . meeting with clients. . . a kiss goodnight for your child. When done often enough the presence of the Holy eventually disappears from these things, slowly and over time, like the smell of a new car.
But Psalm 61:8 is a reality check. Life, even in its most familiar forms, need not be experienced as empty routine. We can live with a heart full of praise even as we keep our commitments and perform our vows day after day. Praise and daily-ness belong together. What vows will you keep today? What will you do that you’ve done a thousand times before? Do it with a heart of praise. Worship can grow in the dirt of the daily.
Gracious God, the day before me looks all too familiar. I’ve been here before, and because I’ve been here before I easily forget that you are here now. Grant the gift of your Holy Spirit that in the living of this day and the routines that come with it, I may praise you with a thankful and glad heart, in Jesus’ name. Amen.