One of the joys of returning home from a trip is the renewed sense of gratitude I feel for the things that had become overlooked in their everyday familiarity. Before the plane even hits the ground I’m anticipating all the goodness that awaits me. I’m standing on the curb scanning for Patty’s minivan, so anxious to see her. To catch up on all that has happened in the last couple days. The goods and bads. The highs and lows.
And to get to see my kids. Even if I was frustrated about something when I left, the issues have been put in their proper perspective. I’m not so worried about the messy rooms or the smelly socks on the couch. I’m just so glad to see those smiling faces and to tell them how much I missed them.
Often it is the simplest things that I miss when I’m away, like making coffee in the morning, reading in my big leather chair, bedtime rituals or quick breakfast conversations getting the kids ready for school. The things that tend to become mundane over time are often what my heart longs for most.
Life is unavoidably ritualistic. And habituation is how we get anything done. Without it we become scattered, and therefore a disciplined order and structure is crucial. Without it we will never get in shape. We will never complete that creative project or assignment that is on our heart. We will never accomplish our greater goals for our vocational work.
And yet, in this crucial redundancy comes an unavoidable dullness. The rituals, so necessary for growth, begin to lose their power. They becomes lifeless. They start to lose their taste. And if we aren’t careful, we will start pursuing the things that grab or steal our attention instead. Phones are great at this. Or Netflix. Or the news. They have made a science out of distracting us from the dullness of life.
Or maybe we pursue the things in life that will give us a shot of adrenaline. Conflict, or worry, or working too much. We go from one adrenaline hit to the next until our glands are fried. Our health suffers. Our emotions wear thin. But we still keep running on that treadmill.
Which is why we desperately need to shake the whole thing up from time to time. We need to get away. We need to detach for a bit. We need to leave and then return.
Because when we return, we see the same things differently. We notice how we have been mistaking the secondary and tertiary things of life as the chief end. But the good things in life are usually the simple things, the ordinary things.
Lent offers us a beautiful opportunity to disengage. For forty days we get to go into the metaphorical desert. We get to leave something behind. Maybe it is social media, or dessert or wine. Maybe you add a discipline. And about this point, it is growing wearisome.
But during this time, just realize that whatever space you’ve created is doing a work in your heart. And it is more than just a longing for something missed that is being created. Its vacancy is changing you. It is helping you see with, your eyes, the ordinary happiness of life. And when you return home, on Easter, you can trust that the colors will be brighter. The smells stronger. And the gratitude much deeper. Hang in there!