This afternoon I decided to clean out our van, which resembled a ship after months at sea. After plugging the vacuum into the garage outlet, I tackled the front seat, and was dismayed at the anemic performance of said vacuum: it could barely pick up cracker crumbs. I rechecked the plug, the extension cord, and the outlet, and tried again. Still no luck. “Great.” I grumbled inwardly. “I’ll have to take this to Ebersole’s next week.” I took the vacuum back inside.

Then, a light bulb moment. When was the last time I emptied the vacuum bag? Unsnapping the housing, I checked – and there it was. Dust, cracker crumbs, and a random Nerf bullet. “Good grief,” I thought. “How many years have you been vacuuming? You always have to remember to check the basics. Now let’s get this job done!”

Basics may be boring, but they are essential. A clogged vacuum isn’t going to do its job. Clogged pipes, ditto. Dirty windows and unswept corners, cars with empty tanks, full dryer lint traps … all these things can weigh us down and make daily jobs much more cumbersome. Everything seems like extra effort, and soon I don’t even feel like trying. On the other hand, there can be a good reward from a relatively small effort and a little bit of maintenance. A few minutes cleaning the lint trap or making sure the pipes are in good working order saves time and trouble in the end.

The point of this little homily? Basics apply to my spiritual life, too. During those times when something feels “off,” it may be because I’ve neglected the basics. Am I extra stressed, irritable, lethargic? There could be outside circumstances that are causing this, but at the same time, am I getting a decent amount of sleep, somewhat regular exercise (walking is good), nutritious food? Or am I plopping in front of the screen for hours each night and then wondering why nothing gets done and I feel vaguely dissatisfied with life?

How is my prayer life? Do I practice gratitude? When was the last time I listened to uplifting praise music, or attended church? These things, small though some of them seem, matter. They are the nuts and bolts of our spiritual life, and though they may often feel dry and unglamorous, they are forming the habits and framework that keep us going through the long haul. After over thirty years as a Christian it can seem routine, until I realize that actually no, it’s been a little while since I’ve truly devoted time to prayer, and that I haven’t been feeding my mind with enough challenging and encouraging Christian books/ideas. The discipline of the basics call me once again.

And it is a discipline, even more so in a world that is full of distractions. Every day I need to be reminded to “Look to the Lord and his strength, seek his face always.” (I Chronicles 16:11), to “pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people.” (Ephesians 6:18) and to remember that “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” (II Timothy 3:16-17).