Why Going Through the Motions is Good For You

Good Ritual Benefits Communion With God

You sit in church listening to another guilt-producing sermon about how you should have your own private “devotions.” You’ve tried this before and failed. Yet, no one has explained a good way to do it. So, you “wing it” day to day – read the Bible one day, pray another, include a devotional guide, find a better one, decide to read through the Bible, or try to snatch a few minutes for prayer during the day. Anything to rid yourself of the guilt. This was my way of doing things for years until I discovered the value of good ritual.

Not “ritualism”

Ritualism is an excessive devotion to ritual. Ritualism makes ritual an end in itself. It denotes practices that have lost their meaning to the practitioner. In contrast, good ritual involves practices that are life-giving and filled with meaning. I’m advocating ritual that effectively helps you commune with God.

The Value of Going Through the Motions

A few weeks ago, I met with a young man in his early 30’s who grew up in a solid Presbyterian home. Today, he struggles with establishing set methods of meeting with God because, as he put it, “I don’t want to just go through the motions.” He had adopted a belief that ritual is negative and spontaneity is good. So, meeting with God must include a freedom to do whatever feels right or “works” at the moment.

It’s interesting that people don’t believe this for many other aspects of life. Exercising, celebrating anniversaries or birthdays, driving a car, preparing for sleep, getting ready for work, putting your children to bed, taking out the trash, and even eating meals involve some kind of routine. This is certainly true for family traditions at Thanksgiving or Christmas. Good ritual can actually be life-giving and fulfilling.

Engaging in good ritual sets you free to:

  • Think deeply about what you are doing. You don’t have to “re-invent the wheel.” It’s already in place. You then get to execute the ritual with meaning and thoughtfulness.
  • Fulfill your purpose. When the ritual is good, it will serve to carry out your desires. It will support your purpose until it is accomplished.
  • Do what’s good when you don’t feel like it. You are able to manage your feelings instead of your feelings managing you. Ritual places the good in control.
  • Alleviate the anxiety of making decisions. The detailed decisions are already made. What you get to do is join in or participate in the good pattern already established. No more fumbling around trying to figure out what to do.
  • Bring healing to your soul and body. Your fractured being needs a way to find wholeness. Physical action filled with profound meaning brings order to your inner life and to your relationships.

Now, connect this to your times of meeting with God. Established set patterns free you to connect with God more deeply.

I recommend establishing a “sacred space” for solitude in your home with a chair, table, picture of Jesus, and candle. You who have been reading my posts have an idea of my “morning ritual.” But, I will share that with you in my next post. It has taken me many years to establish an effective and meaningful morning pattern of meeting with God. I can save you years of frustration and failure.

Below, share your struggles of developing an effective ritual of meeting with God. (Success stories can come later.) 

Dr. K

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

4 thoughts on “Why Going Through the Motions is Good For You

    • Hi Don. Thanks for reading and engaging. These kinds of thoughts are not always well received. I appreciate you. Great to hear from you! Dr. K (Keith)

  1. I appreciate the contrast of ritual and ritualism. For years I have tried to use advent devotionals and candles at Christmas because I work in retail and find it really hard to enjoy the season spiritually. However, I have not found advent rituals to work very well for me. They are not part of my family tradition so there is no basis for it.

    • Hello Lois. Thank you for your insights. Meaningful rituals are new to me as well and not part of my upbringing. We did, however, have certain family Christmas traditions and currently engage in them. One tradition we love is watching the “Charlie Brown Christmas” on Christmas Eve. Good ritual takes time to “gel” because it runs against our propensity for ease, casualness, and, well to put it honestly, laziness. Ritual takes time, effort, and engagement. But within it, when practiced over time, we can find depth of meaning that is lost otherwise. I hope you won’t give up trying. Thank you for reading and engaging. Thanks be to God for all things! Dr. K

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