07/24/2013 06:38 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

The Power of Regularity

Three old men -- one 78, one 88, another 98 -- are sitting on a park bench. The 78-year-old says, "Geeze. I don't know what to do. Every morning I stand there and try to clear my bladder -- and nothing. A drop or two. I'm disgusted."

They sit for a while longer, then the 88-year-old says, "Yeah. I don't know what to do either. Every morning I sit there and try to eliminate -- and nothing. I grunt. I groan. I bear down. 2013-07-19-3oldmen2.jpgNothing. I'm disgusted, too."

They sit even longer, then the 98-year-old says, "I'm disgusted with the both of ya. Me? By 7 my bladder is dry. By 8, I've eliminated last night's dinner. I'm as regular as the sunrise every morning. My only problem is, I don't get up until 9."

The power of regularity

The other day I met for coffee with a 30-year-old SPU graduate who won gold and bronze medals recently for crew. You think she managed this with occasional workouts? Nope. She's out on the quiet waters of Lake Union three days a week at 5:00 a.m.

The power of regularity.

When Priscilla and I were teaching at Duke, we heard about a player from Anchorage, Alaska, who practiced basketball outside in the winter. Duke standout Trajan Langdon recalled later in Sports Illustrated: "The temperature outside would be 0° if I was lucky, and there would be at least six inches of snow on the ground. So I would throw on a hat, boots and gloves, grab a ball and start shooting at a driveway basket that had a frozen net." It worked. Duke fans called Trajan "the Alaskan Assassin."

The power of regularity.

At graduation this year, I talked with an alumna who wants to be a writer about showing up. Every day. To write. So I gave her practical goals: draw up a regular schedule, revise a longish paper in three paragraphs, send it to me within seven days. I'm still waiting. Eventually, if she wants to write, she'll learn that regularity trumps inspiration every time.

Why not regular spirituality?

I had dinner the other night with a group of Christian students from a Korean university, where Christianity is thriving. You think they meditate when they feel like it, open their Bible when the spirit moves them? Nope. One student told me about their two hour prayer meetings every weekday morning, from 6:00 until 8:00 a.m. Another told me they read through the Bible (that's not "read the Bible" but "read through the Bible") on a regular basis.

The power of regularity.

What prompted me to think so much about this topic was a HuffPost Live segment I participated in a few months back. I was the old guy, perched in people's screens alongside three thirty-somethings, who talked about finding time occasionally, even haphazardly, maybe on a Thursday afternoon, to meditate.

I just don't think that's the path to a robust spirituality. Regularity is essential. Even ten minutes of prayer on a regular basis. Or ten minutes of reading a psalm on a regular basis. Or -- yes, I'll say a dirty word to many recovering evangelical Christians -- memorizing a scripture verse on a regular basis.

I read once in a fascinating book, Three Big Bangs, about London taxi drivers who have a heightened sense of direction. Why? Because they use this sense all day, every day. Our brains are plastic, the author said, shaped by what we do. The brain changes, develops, gets stronger and weaker, based upon our habits. Taxi drivers in London aren't born with a better sense of direction. They use the sense of direction they have on a regular basis.

Introduce regularity to your spirituality, and your brain, given its plasticity, can become more serene and less harried, more focused and less scattered -- qualities that are essential for developing a robust spirituality.


By the way, a friend told me this joke 25 years ago, when being an old guy sitting on a park bench seemed a lot farther away than it does now.