From the moment we are born, we begin learning. Some might say we began learning while still inside the womb as we became familiar with the voice of our mom, but learning began in earnest after we arrived. And the things we practiced the most that we learned became a habit for us. Some of those were good things and some not so good. Some were purposeful and some were random, but once they became a habit, they were imprinted in us unlike other things we learned but did not practice.
It was likely our parents were the first trainers of habits for us. We may have figured out some things on our own like crawling and crying to communicate, but they taught us words that went with things, people, and our emotions that we carry with us into adulthood. Later, they would teach us things to help keep us safe as well as what good manners were. Before long we developed a growing list of habits that were common to us all as well as some that were unique to us.
Our most well-developed habits were things that almost became automatic for us whether good or not so good. Those that were not so good, our parents tried very hard to change with varying degrees of success.
By the time we were heading off to school we had a longer list of trainers that were developing our list of habits. It wasn’t only our teachers, but also our friends in the neighborhood, at school, and wherever we went to worship (if we did). It was an amazing adventure, and our minds were supple and learned many of them quickly and with the behaviors came what we thought or believed as well. Those things were harder for others to know and yet they began to have a great influence on us because they would repeat in our self-talk and became very persuasive.
Some of us wanted to do things we already seemed to have a knack for and practicing those were not so hard and we became better and better at them. Some of us wanted to do things we were never very skilled at, and practice was something we did not enjoy, and our skills never changed a great deal and often we stopped trying to do those things.
What kinds of habits do you still have that you learned long ago either accidentally or because someone taught and trained you?
In 1989, Stephen Covey developed a list of habits that would help to make us more effective if we practiced them. Many people read the book and others attended workshops that trained us in these habits and allowed us to start practicing them right away. I was one of those and a small wallet sized list of them sits on my desk as a reminder. Many of you might know them. They include these: be proactive, begin with the end in mind, put first things first, think win-win, seek first to understand, then to be understood, synergize, and sharpen the saw.
Some of us developed habits regarding God, faith, the Bible and more as we grew up. They were first influenced by our families or those closest to us, but soon others impacted us as well. Some of us kept and expanded those habits as we grew well into adulthood despite challenges that came along. Others had influences that created questions that we didn’t ever seem to get settled, but when a crisis came, we might turn back to and then wished we knew more than we did. We might have had bits and pieces of a psalm we once memorized or a prayer we were taught, but we didn’t have a firm footing from which to draw.
Our relationship with God, Christ, or the Holy Spirit is first and foremost a relationship, but the more we learn and develop that relationship, the stronger our foundation and along the way we develop habits that make sense with Covey’s initial 1989 list. But responsibilities, crises, and distractions get in the way of the relationship and the habits, and we can become more vulnerable as a result. Habits (if they are healthy and good ones) are like rails that guide us and keep us aligned during tough times. They should never preclude relationship, but they strengthen the bond of that relationship.
The last few years have upended us in many ways.
“The mistake folks are making in this rough hour is trying to figure out how to fit a little more of God into their crowded lives.
We need to do the opposite. Start with God, center your life on him, and work outward from there. Our spirituality moves from something that is part of our life to the epicenter of our life – from which all other things flow, and to which other plans yield.”John Eldredge
And it doesn’t take a crisis to impact a well-developed habit. A change in season that alters our routine can do that as well even if it is not a negative season. I found that so true when I retired eight years ago. Previously, my days ran in a consistent rhythm of times I got up, left for work, returned home, etc. and my spiritual habits were set within those as well and grounded me for the day ahead. But retirement threw that routine out the window and developing a new routine that was consistent didn’t happen automatically. I had to practice the discipline in a new routine that still was more often subject to shifts than it had been when I was working full-time, but I knew without some rails that I would truly be adrift if I didn’t make this a priority.
“If we have made God our priority and we have a history of tapping into him, then we are in a much better position to draw upon his resilience when crises come. If we have tinkered with our spiritual life, it has not been a priority, troubled times wake us up and urge us to prioritize God now.”John Eldredge
There will always be another crisis in this life. If we have been depleted and need to replenish, now is the time to develop the practice of getting some good habits solidified.