Get up, start the coffee, 30 push-ups, 30 sit-ups, shower. Get dressed, eat some oats, drink the coffee, done.
Routine is the backbone of everything we do. I have a routine, you have a routine, we all have a routine. Even if you don’t think you have a routine, you’re fooling yourself, because routines form automatically, subconsciously, and whether you want them to or not. If we’re not consciously forming good routines, we’re unconsciously forming bad ones – so we must consciously form ones that build us up instead of tear us down, and ones that shape us into the people we ought to be. Some routines become so integral to the way we think, act, and live that they become the framework that supports our entire belief system; our entire lives. They become more than just routine; they become ritual.
As a Catholic, the foundation of my faith is built upon ritual. I go to Mass every Sunday night with my friend, Ramón, because I must; it’s just what I do. I was baptized as an infant, had my first Confession and Communion at age seven – and so did every other kid in my second grade class. At 12 years old, once again, in the company of all the other Catholic kids my age, I received the Sacrament of Confirmation, strengthening my militancy and resolve towards my faith.
I followed this structure because that’s just how it is in the Catholic Church. At certain ages you receive certain Sacraments, and while you technically do have a choice in the matter, hardly any kid postpones receiving Communion or getting Confirmed because they don’t feel ready yet. They do it because it’s what is done. It’s part of the ritual.
I can’t recall ever feeling like receiving any of the Sacraments when I was a kid, but it really doesn’t matter, either, because worship and our relationship with Our Saviour shouldn’t be based on feelings. Receiving the Sacraments is a lifelong ritual that calls us to participate in our faith and our relationship with Christ. The ritual gets us there when our feelings don’t. And the more intentional and purposeful we become in these rituals, the deeper we are drawn into our personal relationship with him. Ancient Christians understood this – as they toted the phrase highly: “Lex orandi lex credendi”, which is loosely, “as we pray, so we believe.” The earliest of Christians, some who may have actually witnessed the works of Jesus in person, worshiped him through ritual, long before the books of the Bible were even decided. Ritual was the foundation of faith in the early church, not this obsession with feeling close to Jesus.
This may rub some Christians the wrong way – those who base the status of their relationship with Christ on how “into it” they are at praise and worship nights. Many fall into the false notion that loving Christ is primarily about feeling like you’re in love with him. As if feeling the spirit stirs your emotions at Church, and singing loudly and feeling really great about it is what loving Christ is all about. It’s not.
But doesn’t Jesus call us to have an intimate, personal relationship with him? Yes.
So if I don’t feel that feeling when I worship, isn’t my relationship with Christ lacking in some sort of intimacy? Not at all.
Think for a minute about fresh relationships, or first dates. In the beginning, you’re relying on a fleeting endorphin rush to fuel the entire relationship. It’s juvenile and unsustainable. You know that at some point those fuzzy feelings will fade, and unless you have developed a more profound and healthy partnership, the relationship will grow cold, dead, and meaningless. It will disintegrate. Likewise, your relationship with Christ must be a lot deeper than just that feeling. That feeling is great and should be cherished, but it’s a bonus, a blessing; something that is undeniably good, but absolutely fleeting. Your love for Christ should be there whether that feeling is or not – and that can only come from a relationship that is covenential, and unconditional; a lot more like marriage.
In marriage you enter into a covenant relationship by swearing an oath. A husband, no matter how he feels on a certain day, must care for his wife, putting her before himself, every day of the week, in sickness and in health. Because love isn’t that fuzzy feeling you get when you first hold hands – those are hormones. Actual love is listening to her problems, even though you may think her problems are silly. Love is going on a double date with her friend Tina and her boyfriend Stan, even though you sort of can’t stand either of them and they’re not funny. In essence, love is the act of putting someone else before yourself, even if you don’t always feel like it. Why should loving Christ be any different?
Showing up to church even if you don’t feel like it, standing up straight and picking up a hymnal and singing – even though your tone-deafness makes the person in front of you uncomfortable, is loving God. Actually feeling good about yourself and the Lord is important too, but that feeling is not why you’re there. You are there because God is the Lord of all things and you must worship him. It is your duty. Just like a husband must be there for his wife, because that is what true love looks like.
Occasionally, before I go to Mass with Ramón, there is no part of me that feels super excited about doing so. Mass isn’t all that fun. But putting my occasional indifference aside in order to honour the Lord brings me peace beyond understanding, because I am living the way I ought to live, and honouring him because of who he is. There is a certain peace in knowing you’re doing the right thing, even when it doesn’t excite you.
So if you’re serious about your faith, create a routine around it, or better yet, have a ritual. Make the theme of this ritual spiritual growth, rather than enjoyability. Of course, you’re allowed to enjoy it, but always remember that enjoyability should never be the point. A good ritual will act as the foundation of your spiritual life whether enthusiasm is there or not. For me, it’s going to mass on Sundays, weekdays, and praying before each meal. For you, it could be daily morning devotional readings on your front porch or going to chapel every day.
Ritual will strengthen your relationship with Christ, even on days when you’re not feeling it. By putting in the time, doing your duty, and loving him – by placing him first, and your preferences second, it sets the framework for a deeper, more mature relationship with Christ.