Cleaning out my office this week, I found letters I wrote to my wife before we were married, more than 40 years ago.
One said I was up at 5:30 a.m., reading and writing. That hasn’t changed much.
Most of us like our routines, but with the coronavirus pandemic dislodging them, a lot of people say they are just worn out.
My wife and I once had a missionary couple stay with us for several weeks. They were back in the States on furlough from their cross-cultural assignment in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Though they traveled the world, within minutes of arriving, they set up house, working to establish their routines — setting up places for their computers, deciding where to put their personal effects in the bathroom and asking what shelf in the refrigerator they could use for their special foods.
They were respectful, but said, “Home is where you are.”
While I’ve been working at home recently, “The Rule of St. Benedict” has become my guide. Compiled in the sixth century, it comprises 73 principles intended to assist the faithful in accomplishing interior changes.
Knowing that humans like to feather their nests, Benedict said each day should be divided so that there is time for meditation and prayer; meals and relationships; learning; work; and rest.
In the 1990s, I devoured Stephen Covey’s best-selling “7 Habits of Highly Effective People.” I wanted to maximize the seven or eight hours I wasn’t working or sleeping.
St. Benedict figured it out long before Covey, describing how each day we can enjoy meals, study, share encouragement with family and friends and pray.
Even disruptions like COVID-19 can be counted on, Benedict said. He anticipated the changing seasons in life that often descend suddenly and unpredictably.
Therefore, he said, adaptability must be a friend, not an enemy.
In 2001, a team of Gallup researchers introduced its first version of an online assessment called “Strengthsfinder.” Through studying human strengths for 40 years, they discovered that adaptability is a formidable strength.
Gallup found that some people can stay calm and productive even when the demands of work and family pull them in several different directions at once.
Adaptable people can adjust to see the future as one they create out of choices that can be made now. That doesn’t mean they don’t have plans. Some highly adaptable people are careful planners. But their adaptability enables them to respond willingly to the demands of the moment even if they get pulled away from their plans.
Who of us thought a year ago we could become adept at using Zoom? Benedict discovered that adaptable people often give thanks more easily, knowing life includes trouble as well as joy. His wisdom reminds me a lot of the first line of the famous Serenity prayer: “Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change.”
Benedict says every day comes from the great mystery that calls us each into being and awakens us each morning. And even though Jesus himself said each day has enough trouble of its own, Benedict felt each day is a marvelous gift from the creator.
Benedict said that one day a week should be for rest, taking time to reflect and renew. Many pastors have told me they have had an especially hard time finding a Sabbath rest day over the last seven months. One said he hasn’t preached from inside his church sanctuary since late March.
“It’s weird, but I feel like I’m never on duty and always on duty,” he said. “We video all our worship services on Thursdays and play them on Sunday.”
He watches them home, dressed in sweats, while flipping pancakes and emptying the dishwasher.
“Honestly, I am not near the preacher I sometimes fancy myself to be,” he said. “Church life feels all jumbled together. It’s unsettling and fills me with anxiety and uncertainty. And yet, to tell you the truth, not being in church on Sunday is easier to get used to than I ever imagined. Does that sound crazy coming from the pastor? On the other hand, I long for my old Sunday routine.”
While taking Monday off has been part of his routine for years, he said, “My Monday Sabbath has flown out the window.”
I reminded him of what St. Ben-
edict said. At the beginning of each day, after you open your eyes, resolve to treat each hour as the rarest of gifts. Be gentle, kind and adaptable. And then reach out and treat someone the way you want to be treated.
“All you can do is all you can do,” I assured the pastor. “And all you can do is enough.”