Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Caffeinated Comfort

"Take comfort in rituals."

That simple message on the door to the local Starbucks coffee outlet stopped me for a minute before I smiled to myself and pushed it open to do just that. Picking up a coffee treat and maybe even a baked snack to take with me on my monthly visit to the nearby state park is a ritual I’ve found comfort in for more years than I care to count. And far from getting bored with the routine, I find myself enjoying it more and more as the months and years I indulge in it continue to mount.

Many in my circle of family and friends believe that my life is dominated by “rules” I’ve made for myself that dictate my activities and supposedly limit my freedom to live life as I please. But I consider them merely guidelines I follow for healthy and happy living, and include among them some time-tested experiences that have brought me enough joy in days gone by to be repeated on a regular basis. And it seems to me that I accumulate more of them all the time. 

I’ve come to realize that an unfortunate number of them center around food (high on the list are coffee treats on my days off and breakfast-with-a-friend at any and every opportunity) and are a big part of the reason I find it difficult to diet. But just as many are simply activities I engage in regularly to break the monotony of daily living and ensure that I‘m adding some zest and joy of life to my existence on a regular basis. They are as necessary to my mental and physical health as any of my various doctor appointments, and I find that I keep them with greater regularity and determination. In fact, I have to purposely schedule the less-pleasant duties of life into the hours of my day or I’d simply spend all my free time having fun.

I sometimes wonder if the items on my list are nothing more than selfish indulgences I allow myself, or if there is really something more to them than that. The word comfort in the message on the door is what caught my attention earlier in the day. Take comfort in rituals, it read. Perhaps the reason I’m increasingly devoted to my “rituals” is that my heart needs more comforting now than in days gone by.

It was as I was settling back in my car that morning, my coffee steaming in the cup holder beside me and a slice of lemon pound cake carefully wrapped in a white bag by my side, that I spotted a frail and sickly-looking woman heading for the coffee bar I’d just exited. Her head wrapped in a turban that seemed to indicate the absence of hair, I imagined her to be in the midst of cancer treatments of some sort. My eyes followed her painfully slow progress across the street and I could feel in my own arms the effort it cost her to push open the door, but with purpose and determination she made her way inside. I was struck by her commitment to a caffeine-related ritual she was clearly taking comfort in…an act of defiance perhaps against this disease that was threatening her, or an attempt to bring some sense of normalcy to a life spinning rapidly out of control. I hoped she’d find pleasure in her action despite possibly drug-disordered taste buds and uncertain stomach stability. Perhaps of all the treatments she was enduring, this devotion to her routine was the most beneficial of all. Inspired by her courage I continued with the morning I’d planned and appreciated it all the more.

We live in desperate times of economic uncertainty, worldwide unrest and the threat of terror on every level of our lives. We deal with everything from day to day details that are disrupted by minor disturbances, to adjusting to more momentous life changes, to coping with life-threatening health scares or natural disasters of one type or another. Is it any wonder our hearts reach for comfort whenever and wherever they can find it?

Perhaps that’s why Jesus advised us to take comfort in some simple practices that were to be repeated on a regular basis…rituals if you will… that He knew we’d not only take pleasure in when our lives were going well, but that would be especially helpful to our hurting hearts when times were tough. They range from the simple but overwhelmingly powerful practice of prayer, talking to God about everything from joys to sorrows, worries to wonders, questions to complaints…to reading His Word and finding peace in the sound of His voice… to gathering together for encouragement and inspiration on at least a weekly basis. 

Perhaps it’s my attraction to food that draws me to one other ritual in particular, that of sharing communion with one another in remembrance of Him. What greater comfort can there be than to partake of the bread and fruit of the grape together, remembering what Jesus has done for us in the past and His promise of an eternity of fellowship with Him in the future? In a way it’s a reminder to include Him in every activity, to be aware of His presence in our hearts now and to remember that we are never alone in any of the circumstances we find ourselves, whatever their nature. There is no greater peace than that found in the presence of our Shepherd and King.

So devote yourself wholeheartedly to whatever life celebrations you’ve established…just remember to invite your Savior to savor them with you. And if you haven’t yet developed any special rituals of your own, perhaps it’s time to begin.

Starbucks is simply a great place to start. 
“And he took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, ‘This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me.’”
(Luke 22:19)

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