It happens every time we slow down.
During this whirlwind, around-the-world trip of ours, usually staying in one place for anywhere from one to four weeks is when I feel it most keenly. But every so often, even three days in an apartment with a kitchenette can bring it out in me.
Sometimes it finds me scrubbing laundry by hand in hotel room sinks as the hands on the clock reach up towards midnight. Other times it results in an over-stocked fridge with more fresh produce, cheeses, sausages, nuts and olives than we can possibly go through in a week, because I couldn’t help myself at the market. Occasionally it results in re-organizing and furiously purging the contents of our meager belongings when backpacks become too full for my liking.
This curious phenomenon has gripped me over and over again, whether we’re in a cozy bungalow at the southern tip of Argentina or a business hotel room the size of a closet in Tokyo. It happened in a church guest house replete with outdoor clothes washing facilities and a wide assortment of insects in Rwanda, and in an historic hostel in quaint, rural China.
Would it surprise you to know that of all the things I’ve missed the most this year, routine is near the top of the list?
That’s right. We left our lovely suburban setup, our separate bedrooms, our well-equipped kitchen, our day planners, our normal and altogether average life in search of far flung dots on the globe, hard-earned vistas, curious cultural experiences, a nomadic and spontaneous lifestyle intended to change and surprise and teach and invigorate us. Life has been a never-ending journey of the unknown, the unexpected, and the unconventional. A true adventure if ever there was one.
And the thing I longed for and kept attempting to recreate? My simple, daily routines.
Although our travels have brought more excitement and wonder and thrill than I ever expected to have in this lifetime, it surprised me to no end that after we returned from a long day of adventuring, what I desperately wanted was to perform the everyday tasks that usually fill my days.
I missed the peaceful rhythm of removing myself from the central hubbub of a noisy, four-child-filled household to add soap and clothes to the washing machine, watch it begin to swirl and swish and fill with iridescent bubbles.
I missed the act of perusing the market and grocery store aisles for wholesome food ingredients that would then be chopped, blended, stirred, mixed, baked, fried, and then savored in my familiar kitchen.
I missed the quiet hours of the morning, before my children awoke loud and hungry, when I could spend time soaking in encouraging written words, exercising in my garage, or simply sitting on the couch in prayer and thought, a warm mug in my hands.
I realized that what I missed the most was participating in the daily rituals and habits and rhythms that make up a busy but beautiful life.
There is a sacredness in the everyday.
We can too easily trivialize our day-to-day activities. Act like we’re doing things of insignificance and inconsequence. Get so lost in the busyness or what we view as the mundane, that we fail to see these simple tasks and actions as important, holy, life giving, sustaining.
Here’s what I don’t think I knew before embarking on our year-long journey…
Routine is a gift
No, really, it is.
You may be thinking your routine is far from a gift, because it’s terribly boring. It usually goes unnoticed, or at the very least, under appreciated.
It is habitual and repetitious. It includes activities in your home or at work that by their very nature must be done repeatedly and often feel like exercises in futility.
I know those thoughts because I’ve had them all before. I have bemoaned the everydayness of my usual, mundane activities. I have been bored with my same-old routine. I have longed for new and distant horizons. I have felt fed up with the cooking or the laundry or the never-ending mess or the struggle of fitting my writing in amidst it all.
So it never occurred to me in a million years that while embarking on the adventure of a lifetime, what I would crave and eagerly anticipate returning to was the rhythm of everyday life, in all of its humility and unsexyness and normalcy.
I wasn’t alone. Although each and every family member thrived and grew during this year abroad and relished our various exploits, they also longed for a return to predictable and familiar routines. Every last one of them.
(Seriously… as I sit here writing and editing this post, my 9 year old just asked my husband, “Daddy, can we have a real routine here in Australia??”)
You see, while being risk takers and swash-buckling explorers and outside-of the-box people is pretty awesome, we also grasped the truth that the average, simple, same-old, common lifestyle is a genuinely beautiful and good thing.
Very good indeed.
I think we all hope that our lives will include magnificent stories, grand and important and larger-than-life stories that we were a part of and that we helped to tell. I know that I want the same for my life and for my family’s life.
But perhaps, do we overlook the fact that the best and biggest of stories are made possible by the familiar, repetitious, faithful routines that comprise our everyday lives?
And that the character qualities necessary for these grand stories are developed in the quiet of day-to-day living?
As we traveled this year, our lives were so unruly that at times, we didn’t know whether we were up or down, coming or going. The lack of routine frequently wore us down, worse than almost anything else. It was extremely challenging to function well when it came to running our businesses, homeschooling, parenting, or pursuing certain aspects of personal growth, because we lacked the discipline and structure to do the things that would inch us closer to achieving our goals.
Our habitual and necessary rhythms are the tools that slowly chisel away and sculpt into us consistency, work ethic, patience, excellence, discipline, responsibility, contentment, steadiness, and even joy.
Isn’t it the continual and repeated pounding of the waves along the shore that carves the rocks into breathtaking sculptures like this one?
We also learned that sometimes, routines need to be broken.
One aspect of our travels for which my husband and I remain particularly grateful is how this year shook us up and broke us out of old routines that honestly weren’t worth keeping.
Ever had your car get stuck on a snowy day? You spin your wheels, back up, move forward a little more, slip backwards, and spin your wheels some more. Forward momentum feels beyond your reach.
But then, you turn the wheel and head in a different direction. Many times, that’s all it takes to escape that slushy, icy pothole and begin moving once again.
For our family, this year was a crucial jerk of the steering wheel, to lift us out of a snow-filled groove that we were stuck in.
Some previous bad habits have loosened their grip on us. For example, overworking ourselves week after week, month after month to the point of utter exhaustion, and struggling to know at what time in the day do you finally call it quitting time when you are your own boss. Other priorities have become more clear, such as both of us being actively involved in our children’s education, making more room in our schedule for my writing, and moving from a larger suburb to a smaller community further out in the country.
Our heads feel cleared, our vision redirected, our relationships with each other strengthened, our goals more defined.
Embracing a fresh start
In less than two weeks, our family will be home again, ready to start over with a new house and new routines. There’s something beautiful and hopeful about a fresh start, but what’s most exciting to us is the opportunity to thoughtfully and intentionally establish routines that reflect our families beliefs, values, goals, priorities and vision.
Some practices from our pre-trip days will take place again. Others will be replaced by ones that suit our family better in this brand new season of life. But whatever the actual routines look like, we’re eager to embrace them.
Mundane, trivial, inconsequential? I don’t think so anymore.