How do you take your coffee?
In a monogrammed travel mug, from a single-serving coffee pod, by the trayful at the drive thru? Whether it’s three cups before noon or the return of a seasonal flavor, many of our routines revolve around where we get our morning caffeine.
Routines are comfortable, for better or for worse. Some personalities thrive off of set schedules, others feel stifled by them. The most spontaneous person still develops patterns in their behavior. As you move through life, you gravitate toward familiarity—your preferred seat in the classroom, your repeated route to work, your preset radio stations.
Our routines reveal our priorities. These habits might sound arbitrary, but by examining our consistent actions we gain insight to what we value. You might claim that particular seat in the classroom because it’s close to the heater, or because it’s angled in perfect view of the projector. You take that route to work because you’re sure it shaves a full two-and-a-half minutes off the commute, or because it’s got the best view of morning light on the river.
In Isaiah 58, the Israelites were warned that their routines revealed selfish priorities.
The prophet knew that on the surface, the nation appeared to be on track with God because they had been asking for wisdom and following the commands to fast on a certain day. The Israelites were sure they had it figured out, even believing that God needed to pay more attention to their stellar obedience.
“‘Why have we fasted,’ they said, ‘and you have not seen it? Why have we humbled ourselves, and you have not noticed?’” (v. 3).
It’s as if they were saying, “Listen, we did exactly what you said we had to do, so we expect more recognition for doing it! Otherwise, what’s the point?” The Israelites were looking at the situation as if God were a mighty vending machine with a money-back guarantee. If some sweet stuff didn’t drop down soon, they were going to demand an immediate refund.
Their daily lives were consumed by greed, cruelty, and injustice, routinely making choices that valued price over people. Fasting became just a brief interruption from their continual patterns of “quarreling and strife” (v. 4). It got condensed into a singular day of inauthentic humility.
The Israelites reduced an act of devotion to a temporary task, that’s “only a day for people to humble themselves? . . .only for bowing one’s head like a reed and for lying in sackcloth and ashes” (v. 5). They were fixated on the right things to say and do and wear, but neglected the conditions of their hearts. What could be a sincere embodiment of worship was being corrupted by feelings of entitlement and performative faith.
God wanted the Israelites to understand that the kind of fasting they had been called to was more than a ritual—it was a resolution to intertwine generosity, mercy, and justice within the consistent rhythms of their lives.
“Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke? Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter—when you see the naked, to clothe them?” (vv. 6, 7).
God’s rituals for the Israelites had incredible potential to transform the lives of the whole community. Fasting could actually be an investment for abundance! These instructions for the Israelites were rooted in radical grace. Leaning into routines of compassion gave the people of God an opportunity to be more aware of God’s goodness and to experience the glory of God’s presence. In the midst of the admonishment, there was an amazing hope for the Israelites to join God in building a kingdom where worship looks like this: “If you do away with the yoke of oppression, with the pointing finger and malicious talk, and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness, and your night will become like the noonday” (vv. 9, 10).
God invites us to open our eyes, our homes—and our routines—to people in need.
When I had my first training session as a rookie barista at the campus coffee shop, there were a few fundamentals to learn before I was allowed even to approach the espresso machine. According to our handbook, Chai is life and our homemade recipe must be protected at all costs. Always stock “first in, first out.” Never leave the bar unattended. And most importantly, our top priority is the people. Yes, you should study technique and appreciate the craft, but our true motivation is the desire to be a welcoming place for our community.
When I worked my first opening shift, it was difficult to keep that mission in mind. Less than half an hour after clocking in, I noticed a long line of students anxiously waiting outside the still-closed doors for their breakfast burritos. My supervisor handled the real drink work, while I stood at the register ringing up coffee after coffee to go, armed with a new name tag and an overeager smile. The morning rush kept speeding up until it was a blur of “vanilla hazelnut latte extra foam triple shot double sleeve no cup.”
Once we made it to a reprieve in the onslaught, my supervisor asked me how I felt about being scheduled for morning shifts at least three times a week. The only reason I actually had that availability was because I wanted to avoid any early classes. But after just one day, I was hooked. As a barista, you get to become part of a neighborhood’s routine. Every week I honed my skills—practicing shots, memorizing prices, being able to tell if the next person in line would appreciate a little chat or a checkout in record time. I loved fostering an environment of warmth and energy.
Now, back to that first question. How do you take your coffee?
I’d like to challenge you to reflect on your morning routine. It might seem too hectic to have any patterns, but I’m guessing there are some commonalities. Maybe you’re not a coffee person at all! You can still reflect on what it is you make time for every day, what matters enough to keep doing.
How could you take your “coffee” instead?
How could you intertwine generosity, mercy, and justice with your routine? How can you invest in your community’s abundance? Listen to the ones loosening chains.
Wake up early to share a cup of coffee with the bus driver. Spend your grande money on behalf of those in need of shelter. Drive a different route to pray for a neighboring neighborhood.
Pour grace out of the office coffee pot as if it never will run dry.
Ely Lozada has been a customer at Coffee Coffee, a barista at the Hilltop Coffee Shop, and a visitor at Superior Merchandise Company. She currently treats herself to a drink a week at The 86 Uptown in Cincinnati, Ohio.