My mornings always start out the same way: get ready for work, eat breakfast and walk the dog. Each morning I pass by the same children at the bus stop, say hi to the same neighbours also walking their dogs and watch the same cars pull out of their driveways on their way to work. Day after day, month after month and even year after year, I seem to be stuck in the same routine along with my neighbours. Sure, some mornings someone may be running late or working from home or out of town, but most of the time ‘life’ seems to run itself nicely.
As I walk my dog on the same path each day, from time to time I think about this man. I know – that’s quite general. The man I’m referring to happens to live about a 7-hour flight away from me in Paris. I’ve had the opportunity to visit Paris twice now and loved every minute of it. Since I’m creature of habit, for my second visit I stayed at the same hotel as the first time. It was a quaint hotel within walking distance to Sacre-Coeur (a beautiful Cathedral with a view of the city and a lovely spot to sit in the evening with red wine and a baguette). Every morning while on my way out for a full day of sight-seeing, I would walk past ‘the man,’ right outside my hotel sitting on his belongings with a can to collect money. He was a larger gentleman with dark hair and a beard. If I could guess, I would say he was in his late 40’s or early 50’s. From time to time people stopped and chatted with him. One day a young mother with her daughter stopped to talk to him. Although I couldn’t understand the conversation, it appeared to be a casual check in that I found fascinating. The young mother wasn’t afraid and didn’t even come across as judgmental. She simply chatted with him as she would a store clerk or postal worker. Once she received answers to her questions she was quite happy to give ‘the man’ money. I, on the other hand, passed by him each and everyday and never made conversation (partly because my French is grade school quality) or gave him any money. I did give him some extra food one day and he seemed grateful.
Despite having visited a city with so much beauty and history, this man seems to pop in my mind more than the Louvre or the taste of French red wine and baguettes (yes, wine tastes better in France!). I’m intrigued by the thought that while we are worlds apart, we both repeat our personalized routine day in and day out. While I wake up, get ready for work and walk the dog, he wakes up, walks over to the hotel and sets himself up for a day of collecting. I’m sure that if I were to travel to Paris again I’d see ‘the man’ in the same spot he was in five years ago.
I can’t begin to make the connection between my life and his. I may not be begging for money but my soul begs for healing. Like ‘the man’ I also feel stuck in life. I think about ‘the man’ often because I wonder what it would take for him to do something different and if he’ll ever get off the streets. It reminds me that just as much as routine can be safe and calming, it can be equally terrifying. There seems to be ‘something’ that ropes us in and traps us into a vortex where years can go by and we’ve got nothing to show for it. I know life is more than just a bunch of thrills. Christmas can’t be everyday. Date Night isn’t seven days a week – hence the name ‘Date Night.’ Epic vacations or parties surely aren’t a weekly occurrence for most people.
Rarely do we take the risks needed to make changes in our lives. I’m a complete sucker for routine, and when I find something I like or that works for me I stick with it…but my life needs a shake up from time to time. I’m talking about the shake up that pushes you to take healthy risks – risks that shake up the soul, stripping the routine called ‘life’ and generating a new way to approach our existence. I’m not talking about a complete disregard for routine but rather within the routine gain a new approach to our existence. To risk is to think differently, do differently and be a more passionate and fulfilled person.
So what will it take for my Parisian friend and I to make a change? Truly, we need to experience a severe discontentment with unhealthy routine. Then we can embrace the ‘new’ by regaining trust in the social systems, people and God. We do this by altering our thoughts and seeing ourselves in a new light (not as a beggar or someone with an inability to commit). Finally, we need to commit to a new routine.
Day in and day out a disabled man was carried out to beg in front of the temple gates. On their way to afternoon prayer at the temple, John and Peter spot this man begging. Although money may have seemed like the solution, Peter addresses the root of the man’s poverty and tells him, “I give you Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk.” With the charge “walk” Peter extends his hand, pulls the man up and the man’s feet and ankles become strong. Walking, jumping and praising God, the once crippled man goes into the temple courts and every eyewitness is filled with wonder and amazement (Acts 3:1-10).
What changed this man’s routine of begging? Healing! God healed him! Routine may be triggered by self-perception, poor health or circumstances, but every so often routine needs to be analyzed, shaken up and God needs to revive us to new health.
I have this weird thought-connection to ‘the man’ in Paris. It’s almost like I have this intel: “I know where you are and what you’re doing. I wish we’d both change our path from time to time. You’d get off the streets and have a job, a home, and loved ones around you, and I’d regain trust in areas of my life where I’ve lost it.”
‘The man’ serves as a reminder to me to ask myself what is healthy routine that serves me well, and what routine in my life is a result of hurt, self-worth or over-comfort. I too want to hear the charge “Walk!” and change my course. And with the helping hands of others be pushed into a place of praise where those around me notice a life drenched in love and purpose.