Wednesday, March 5, 2014

habit-forming, or habit falling?

I was just outside closing the gate to our yard, and I noticed how I automatically swiveled the latch upwards instead of downwards, without even thinking about it.  

There's a hole under the welding job on our gate latch, so the latch is only secure when it’s swiveled up.  If it’s swiveled down, little neighbor kids’ fingers can poke through the hole, push the knob out level, and then slide the latch open.  One time I had just settled down for a nap, thinking my yard was secure, when a little brown urchin appeared in my bedroom door, wondering if my boys could play.  It was quite a shock, let me tell you!  So now, I swivel up. :)  

We’ve only been living in this house for just over two years, but already my brain has programmed certain actions to become completely automatic, no conscious thought required.  

This got me thinking.  We’re forming habits all the time, aren't we?  The process happens mostly unconsciously (like my gate swivel).  The problem is, I have the habit of falling into habits, instead of forming them intentionally.

Hmmm.  What habits - physical, mental, spiritual, other - will have I have fallen into, say, ten years from now?  Could I be more involved and thoughtful about which habits I actually want to form?  And not just my own habits - how about my kids’?  (That topic deserves a whole post by itself!)

A phrase I read this morning changed my whole day.  I was browsing Koodai Girl’s blog, and I found a post called “Lord, order my day.  

I started praying that simple prayer this morning, and and have been continuing to pray it steadily all day long.  And in fact, that prayer saved this very unexpected guest-filled day from becoming an emotional, stress-filled disaster.  Instead, I was surprisingly gracious and flexible!  Imagine that!  

Do I want that response, instead of reaction, to become a habit?  YES, YES, YES!    

Koodai Girl wrote: “I am learning it’s not "pray while I do this task" - wash the dishes, fold the laundry, etc - but "do this task while I pray".”  

YES.  This.  

Viewing whatever else I’m doing as a backdrop to communing with Christ.  

Keeping Christ at the front of my thoughts.  

Thinking this way helps me resist putting Christ on hold while I talk to a friend, or discipline my child, or make dinner.  I want communing with Christ to be the constant, whatever else I’m doing.  YES, let that become a habit, too!

So, how do habits form?  Practice, practice, practice.  

I remember teaching my son to hit a tennis ball with a racket when he was about 2.  He got so frustrated when he missed the ball, and I remember teaching him, using an exaggerated sing-song: 

"Will.  Listen.  If at first you don't succeed, TRY, TRY AGAIN!"  

He caught on quickly, and started joining in with an enthusiastic "TY, TY a-GAIN!" This saved many tears, because every time he missed the ball, we would chant together, and he would chuckle instead of wail.

Brother Lawrence shares sweet encouragement about developing the habit of practicing the presence of God:

"I worshiped Him the oftenest that I could, keeping my mind in His holy presence, and recalling it as often as I found I wandered from Him.  I found no small pain in this exercise, and yet I continued it, notwithstanding all the difficulties that occurred, without troubling or disquieting myself when my mind had wandered involuntarily."

"We should not wonder if, in the beginning, we often fail in our endeavors, but at last we will gain a habit, which will naturally produce its acts in us, without our care, and to our exceeding great delight."

-Brother Lawrence, Practicing the Presence of God

This time next year, what things do I want to be completely automatic - no conscious thought required, like "swiveling up" on our gate latch?  

What things do I not want to be automatic?

- Keeping Scripture rolling around in my mind all day, any time my mind is at rest, so the Word of God becomes the screensaver in my brain.

- Taking a deep breath and breathing out a prayer BEFORE speaking to my angry son (not afterwards!)

- Not reacting defensively to criticism.   (Ooooh... this is a biggie for me.)

What habits do you want to form?  What habits do you not want to fall into?

Let’s start now!  


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