Life is often a series of routines that keeps us going. We have our morning routines for getting ready to meet the day. We have our weekly and monthly routines to get work done and meet family obligations. Good habits are good for us. Routine is good.
But there comes a point where routine becomes drudgery. Routine becomes our shovel for digging ruts. The writer of Ecclesiastes, who complained that all is vanity, was not dismayed that work was hard or unrewarding. His main complaint was that nothing was new and fresh.
"All things are wearisome;
more than one can express;
the eye is not satisfied with seeing,
or the ear filled with hearing.
What has been is what will be,
and what has been done is what will be done;
there is nothing new under the sun (Ecc.1:8-9, NRSV).
Apparently, the author turned on the TV and saw that nothing was on but reruns. He must have written this during the summer.
That is why I like to break from my routines and try something different in the summer. Summer is vacation time, garden time, play time, and reading time. Take the habit of reading, for example. I read often, but usually my reading list includes the dry periodicals and "how to" books required of my profession.
The novels and histories I enjoy the most get crowded out by the latest offerings on preaching, church leadership or pastoral care. But in the summer, I make a point to digest books that are completely different from my usual diet. A good murder mystery or action novel is so much more rewarding than one more book about theology. Summer is a Sabbath season for replacing routine with refreshment.
When venturing from the routine, however, we must carefully choose our adventures. When we stray from a good habit, we just might pick up a bad habit. How should I choose the next book to read? To which author should I grant the privilege of shaping my consciousness? Whether your summer adventure is reading or some other break from your routine, consider these questions when making your choice:
Does it edify? Paul wrote in many of his letters about the need to "grow in Christ." "But speaking the truth in love, we must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by every ligament with which it is equipped, as each part is working properly, promotes the body's growth in building itself up in love" (Eph. 4:15-16, NRSV). Whatever our summer adventure is, it is not an escape from growing up.
Does it build up others? On this question, Paul was relentless to the Corinthians. Exercising the spiritual gifts is counterproductive to living in community with others, unless it is borne of love. "Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up" (1 Cor 8:1 NRSV). Many of our diversions from the routine actually come at the expense of others. Does my "guilty pleasure" debase or exploit someone else? Are others turned away from Christ by my example? The best diversions have a positive impact and may even turn into an enjoyable new routine.
Is it truly refreshing for me? Sometimes I come home from vacation more exhausted than when I left. Sabbath rest is one of the fundamental principles of our Judeo-Christian heritage, but arguably we have lost the art of rest in our hyper-kinetic, goal-oriented world.
Whatever your summer adventure, some routines are good to maintain. Reading the Bible. Or praying. Or keeping up your pledged giving. There is no drudgery in doing these things. Your church continues to pay its bills during the summer, and counts on your support. And God continues to urge us on in faithful living, even during these long hot days.
The Rev. Brian Dale is the pastor of Allen Memorial Methodist Church in Oxford.