Wednesday, 8 July 2020

On Good Habits

The below is an excerpt from an email written for the congregation where I am one of the pastors.

Have you been to the hairdressers yet? Or gone out for a meal? Or confirmed that holiday booking? What have you done this week that you couldn’t do last week?

Even as some restrictions are beginning to lift – and we start the long journey back to ‘normality’ – it might be worth clocking what aspects of lockdown life could be worth preserving.

Everyone’s experience differs, but surveys suggest that many people have enjoyed spending less, eating more home-cooked meals, slowing down and putting less pressure on themselves, discovering a sense of living in a highly interconnected world. Some have found that working from home offers genuine benefits – no commute, less stress, more time with the family, longer sleep. Going forwards beyond lockdown, people say they feel more inclined to shop locally, put family and friends first, exercise daily, grow vegetables and herbs, bake more.

Let’s be honest: for some of us, just surviving is an accomplishment in itself! But for the vast majority of us it’s worth asking: what new habits will stick beyond lockdown?

Perhaps it’ll be a daily walk, cooking with the kids, keeping in touch with grandparents and neighbours, renewing contact with old friends, evenings in, writing cards, leaving gifts on doorsteps... Perhaps you’ve been praying more regularly, reading the Bible more often, reaching out to people in need more instinctively.

Once we’ve experienced the benefits of healthy habits, it’s important to think about how we can continue these once the lockdown lifts.

It’s now widely recognised that our behaviour is best changed not primarily by sheer willpower and good intentions (though they have a place), but by habitual repetition. Good habits are crucial – whether it’s washing our hands or brushing our teeth, walking the dog or reading the Bible. Still, as anyone who has ever made New Year’s resolutions knows, maintaining new habits isn’t easy.

In his thought-provoking book, You Are What You Love: The Spiritual Power of Habit, the Christian philosopher James K.A. Smith reminds us that good habits come down to what – or who – we love.

I don’t need to be told I should brush my teeth (or lose weight or pray more). I know I need to brush my teeth (or lose weight or pray more). Mere knowledge alone won’t help me. Nor will good intentions alone help me brush my teeth (or lose weight or pray more). I need to want to brush my teeth (or lose weight or pray more) more than I want the alternatives.

The wonder and beauty of the gospel is that God meets us where we are by giving us Spirt-empowered, heart-calibrating, habit-forming practices to retrain what we love. But there are no quick fixes here. Like growing vegetables or becoming healthier, what counts are the consistent, everyday habits and actions bound up with our lifelong process of transformation into the likeness of Christ through the ongoing work of the Spirit.

No comments: