How ritual can make you holier and more productive
This is my first week back in the office after a six month sabbatical. During that time I was working on a number of projects–including a book–but not involved in the active management of my “department” in InterVarsity. One of my goals while away from hands-on leadership was to develop a healthy rhythm of life and ministry. One of the ways I intended to do that was/is through developing intentional rituals to both ensure that I work and live in a way that is aligned with my deepest values and that also allows me to manage my energy.
When I took my current position with InterVarsity, I attended a leadership development program for new area directors. One of the concepts we discussed was the importance of managing your energy level with as much intention–perhaps more–than you manage your task list.
We all want to think that some people are just more productive than others. Some people are high energy–others low energy. I used to think that too. We also like to think that holiness of life is the result of some sort of innate natural desire to always be with God in prayer.
It sometimes appears that way looking from the outside in. It’s also a convenient fiction that allows us an excuse or explanation that gets us off the hook for being neither particularly productive or particularly holy. After all, that’s just not me.
In reality, becoming productive and becoming holy both require a degree of effort. The two are, of course, different in that all the effort in the world cannot guarantee holiness-that is a work of the Holy Spirit in the life of the believer. At the same time, absent effort it is very likely that a Christian will not grow more like Jesus because he will develop the habit of not being available to God in the disciplines of the Christian life.
It takes effort to be productive. It requires, a Stephen Covey put it, “integrity in the moment of decision.” Will I put the phone down after that conference call and make sure that my next actions are recorded in my task management system or will I automatically take a break and check ESPN.com?
Rituals help to create habits and habits are the foundation for growth, especially in these two areas of life. A ritual is something that you do regularly and that, eventually, becomes automatic. In that moment–the moment that a ritual becomes automatic–you’ve moved into a wonderful new vista of freedom: the freedom to choose the right thing without having to consciously choose it. Freedom is the ability to choose the good.
Here are some rituals that I have incorporated into my daily work life during and since my sabbatical:
- Morning ritual at the office – I turn on the computer in my office. Pick up my Bible and prayer book and walk down the hall to the chapel to spend 30 minutes in silence and prayer. I pray through my day–the appointments I have, the projects I’ll be working on, etc. I also review my ministry plan and life plan to keep me on track.
- Before leaving at the end of the day – I review the next day’s appointments. I close every application on my computer and turn it off. I ensure that my desk is clear of unnecessary things–filing them before I leave or throwing them away/recycling them. I also leave out the critical things I will need to address in the morning.
These two are examples of rituals that make me available to God and also that help me to be more productive and energetic.
That’s a little about me. What rituals help you?