Why You Need Rituals

An open calendar on the desk
When I graduated from college and started working a few years back, I felt disoriented by how the days blurred from one to another. Gone was the exciting start of a new semester that came with new textbooks and reunions with friends. Gone was Christmas break. Gone was the finality that came with finals week.

Instead, my life started to feel like the young professional version of Groundhog Day. Though I enjoyed my work, I’d come to the end of a day, week, month wondering where the time had gone. I realized if I wanted to savor the days God had given me, I needed to find rhythms and rituals to help me order my life around my values and loves, passions and desires.

“If routines are about keeping our family from going off the rails rituals are about infusing those routine days with meaning … connect us with something larger,” writes Jenny Rosenstrach in her new book How to Celebrate Everything.  “Whether they’re big or small, simple or elaborate, daily or yearly, all our rituals serve the same purpose: They bring comfort, connection, and meaning to our days that might otherwise just wind up blurring together.”

In the years since I graduated from college, I’ve set out to establish my own rituals, looking for ways to order the story of my life. Here are two ways I’ve benefited.

1. Rituals Orient Me.

Yesterday, I was telling a friend that this past year has flown by. We traveled for holidays last year, adopted a dog and trudged through the gray skies of winter in the Midwest. We we were out of town almost every weekend for three months in a row from the late winter through early spring. Our summer was filled with little projects and house guests. At the end of August, our basement flooded, and we were consumed with clean-up. Now as I come to Thanksgiving, I wonder what happened to 2016.

Yet when I pause and recollect the past 12 months in detail, I remember the Christmas Eve dinner we hosted for some neighbors and church friends. I remember going to Chick-fil-a with my husband for our anniversary, eating chicken biscuits and talking about our second year of marriage. I remember enjoying drinks on the porch with friends in the summer. And in the throes of fall, I’m preparing “my nest” to partake in the hygge Lindsay talked about this week. Though the individual days and months are indecipherable, I can remember the past year through the rituals that have anchored it.

Rosenstrach says rituals help her prioritize the values central to her life, and I’ve discovered the same is true for me. A ritual I’m slowly adopting into my life is eating a special meal on Sunday evenings. Too often I’m prone to simply think of Sunday as a day to refuel for the week ahead instead of resting and celebrating the work of God. Through eating a special meal for dinner, I’m reminding myself of the goodness I can enjoy through Christ. As I incorporate rituals into my daily life, I’m seeing more and more they’re tools that help me number my days with wisdom, as Moses writes about in Psalm 90

Hygge is a beautiful example of one ritual we can embrace in the winter. Instead of simply marching through my routine, my rituals beckon me to embrace the fullness of my days. Instead of simply fighting through winter’s dreariness, we can choose to make our homes cozy in ways we can’t when summer’s long days light up our rooms and beckon us outside. Instead of being frustrated we can’t enjoy balmy weather, we can choose to show hospitality, inviting others over for dinners and games on those cold, dark nights.

Through establishing rituals, we are better able to see how God is at work in our daily lives.

2. Rituals Call Me to a Bigger Story.

While I don’t believe every ritual needs significance beyond simply savoring with thankfulness, rituals do have the power to draw us into the story God’s unfolding.

I’m prone to forget who God is, who I am and what He’s doing in this world. While my routines help me manage the life God is giving me, I can easily become complacent, and I need to have my vision shifted from looking in to looking out.

For the past two years, my husband and I hosted dinner of soup on Christmas Even, a meal inspired by traditions from our families. It’s a humble meal that reminds us of that Jesus came to our world humbly. For the past two years, we’ve enjoyed the meal with various guests, including international students, neighbors and folks in our community without family in town. Through this ritual I’m reminded of the beauty of the incarnation and Jesus becoming man, of Jesus’s humility in becoming like us and taking on flesh. The dinner reminds me to move toward the lonely and the hurting in humility, just as Jesus left His riches in heaven to become poor and “moved into the neighborhood” to dwell among men. 

Rituals aren’t magic bullets that make our lives purposeful. Instead, they draw us outside ourselves and call us to see our God and His faithful work of redeeming our broken world.

Getting Started

So what might it look like to incorporate rituals into your own life? Here are three questions to help guide you.

What are you already doing? Instead of trying to find the perfect ritual to adopt, consider what you’re already doing and how it might help you live well. Maybe your thing is brunch on Saturday mornings with friends or hosting a New Year’s Eve party. How can these activities play a role in helping you live joyfully and purposefully in the life God is calling you into?

How can you involve others? I loved reading this story about a woman who found herself lonely, and looking for ways to build community. She and her husband decided to host weekly “Friday night meatballs” at their home for anyone who wanted join, and those evenings together have become a highlight of their week. As I’m establishing rituals, I’m finding they’re perfect opportunities to invite my neighbors, friends and family into my life. A ritual solely for yourself is by no means a bad thing, but rituals also offer a space to build-up community. 

How might the calendar shape your life? In our neighborhood, everyone sits on their porches to hand out candy to children on Halloween. This year, we embraced that knowledge and hosted a small party on our porch, and I anticipate it’ll become a tradition for us. Does your town host a Christmas tree lighting? You could attend with your neighbors and friends, and have them over for games and coffee afterwards. Maybe your church hosts a Christmas Eve service? Why not have friends over for appetizers before or dessert after? Whether it’s the church calendar or local events, be inspired by the time and place God has you, and let your rituals adapt accordingly. 

As we approach Thanksgiving and Advent, we’re given the perfect opportunity to find ways to let our beliefs and hopes overflow into how we live. Our world is broken and hurting, and, especially after a challenging and disheartening election season, we need to remind ourselves through how we live on a daily basis of who we are in Jesus and what He’s calling us to do. Rituals give us an opportunity to do just that.

About the Author

Abigail Murrish
Abigail Murrish

Abigail Murrish is a professional writer and amateur cook with a love for agriculture and gathering people around the table. Though she dreamed of a busy life in a big city while in college, she’s thankful for her quiet life in the Midwest where she spends most of her days writing and reading, drinking tea, walking her dog, putzing in her kitchen and sharing daily life with her husband, neighbors and church. Also, she likes to watch TV and is an avid fan of Parks and Recreation, the Great British Bake Off and Broadchurch. Find more of Abigail’s writing at abigailmurrish.com.