Before there was a pandemic, there was the idea out there that it would be great to eliminate the dreaded commute. People felt that the time spent dropping the kids at school, waiting in traffic and occasionally dealing with road rage was not useful in today’s fast-paced world.
In 2019, an article by researchers from RMIT and the University of Melbourne argued that those with long commutes by car were less productive and took more sick days than people with short commutes or those who commuted by bike or by walking.
When I started to write this article, things were starting to open up in NSW, but now we are a bit more cautious, and many of us still have the option of working from home even if working in the office is allowed.
As a consequence, the dreaded commute seems to have become a distant memory for many.
But here’s another view about the commute. In Dr Adam Fraser’s book The Third Space, Fraser talks about the spaces we attend, and the importance of the space between them, or ‘the third space’. The spaces we attend might be our homes, our schools and workplaces, a friend’s place, church, or a park. The third space between each of those spaces is our commute to and from them.
What we do in the third space helps us to be more at home in our other spaces. The commute, for example, helps us to recognise that we’re going somewhere for work, or meeting a friend, and helps us to be ready and prepared for what happens there. We can also do things during that time to help us change our mental gears. Many in our church have used the daily commute in a productive way, perhaps using it as their Bible study time, or even learning a new language.
But now, with that commute gone for many of us, it seems that we need to find different ways to build a third space – a space where we can be ready for the next space we will be in, whether at school, at work or in some other form of social contact.
Finding new routines
Often our new ‘commute’ can be found in the routines that we have before and after school or work. Two routines that many people have found to be important have been making time for exercise and finding a way to engage in ‘mindfulness’. Recently, I heard of some radio stations that, during the lockdown, played a short mindfulness program a couple of times throughout the day.
Earlier on Thrive, the Moyes family shared some of the new routines that they put together during the height of the lockdown. In that article, they mentioned their walks and bike rides during their breaks during the day. They also mentioned that they used this time to continue their walk with God by reading his word. They were reminded that God is in control, and that “God is our refuge and strength” (Psalm 46:1-2).
As this example shows, Christians practise a form of mindfulness every day. We just don’t call it mindfulness. We can do this through our prayer and our personal Bible reading, or by remembering parts of the Bible such as memory verses. All of these practices help us to rely on his power and work and not on our own plans and strengths. Many Christians at this time have turned to the psalms, a series of songs and poems that have been used by God’s people to pray and praise God at many different times, in varied circumstances and with a variety of emotions.
Using the psalms as a form of prayer
Back in March, I received an email from a Christian newsletter about a new free book. Trevin Wax had compiled a personal prayer book, Psalms in 30 Days: A prayer guide through the Psalter. The idea was to intently pray to God three times a day (morning, midday and evening), using the psalms as a guide. He also included other prayers from Christian authors throughout history, reformed prayers, and other songs from the Bible. As we’re going through the psalms throughout this year at church, this seemed to me to be a helpful way to keep my prayer life going in a difficult time.
Tim Adams, our family minister, and I have been using this prayer book during the first few months of the lockdown to encourage our Bible reading and prayer. After a few false starts, we’ve gone through this prayer book, and we’ve found it immensely helpful in starting and ending our days well. It has helped me to make sure that my walk with God is overflowing to my colleagues, friends and family.
A couple of psalms stick out. Psalms 13 and 42 remind me that I can cry out to God even when he feels distant. Psalms 67 and 100 ask God to fulfil His promises about the day when the whole world will be full of praise to him. Psalm 80 reminds me of how that will happen through a ‘Son of Man’ – Jesus Christ.
Together with the psalm readings, the book also has prayers of lament and praise from other parts of the Bible which point to the work that God has done for his people and point to the work of Jesus Christ who saves us from our sins. There’s a canticle (little song) section which uses three songs of praise from the book of Luke, also reminding us of the fulfilment of God’s promises in Jesus.
When working through this book, I also liked the way in which the personal requests section each day prompted me to pray for those working on the front line during the pandemic. These sections also helped to remind me of the family of believers both locally and abroad in this time.
This book has helped me to create my new ‘third space’.
I wonder what you commute to and from during this time. We may have an ‘alternative commute’ right now, but where does that lead us?
I reckon that your commute, whatever it looks like, should lead you to God’s Word, and the rest that can be found only in Jesus. Then it won’t be a dreaded commute, but a joyful one instead.