Habits of the Heart

Habits take 21 days, more or less, to form in our lives, some experts say. Bad ones come more easily, because they do not require much effort and they follow our natural inclinations. Over-eating and drinking, lack of exercise, profanity, they come from our "fleshly desires" and do not take a lot of thought.

Good habits, however, take discipline and intentionality to establish. Maybe a few false starts and "do-overs" before they are ingrained, and we are better people.

I am a creature of habit. And most of the prominent ones in my life started at a young age and have had decades by now to ensconce themselves. The good ones continue to save me a lot of time every day. Which side of my face to shave first, for example. I tend to order the very same dish at the restaurants that I frequent-- the servers sometimes don't even ask what I would like. It's a Caesar salad with chicken at Palette 22, and a chicken bowl at Chipotle. The only thing I have ever ordered at LaPorta's on Duke St. is their wiener schnitzel-- and I've eaten there dozens of times over the years.

I have to be careful when I go to a new place, because I realize now that my first order, if I like it, is going to stay with me for a long, long time.

Scribbling in this journal every day is a habit I have followed for 45 years. I didn't plan on it happening that way, but now I have a complete record of my adult life and ministry. And "Take Five" has been posted on Facebook every Friday for the past 7 and 1/2 years. Maybe it's a compulsive obsession-- but I choose to look upon it as normal and healthy.

Oh, yes, I have developed some bad habits over the years, too. I could recite them but, for the sake of time (and reputation), I will mention only two. I eat my meals too fast, and this is embarrassing when we are eating with friends. They feel they have to rush to compete. And, as Audrey reminds me now almost daily, I leave my chair pulled out when I leave the table instead of pulling it in.

I'm working on these and other things, though. But breaking old habits is much harder than starting new, good ones. It takes setting a goal, being specific about it, enlisting an accountability partner or two, and having some external and internal reminders in place. Post-It notes on the mirror, or mantras to quote under my breath, and mask.

We have been in this Covid situation for about 150 days now. That's allowed plenty of time to see some changes in our patterns of doing things.

Aristotle said something like: "We are what we repeatedly do"-- so I am wondering how it's been working out for you.

Every pastor I know is worried about what is happening to the spiritual lives of their church members. And what will be the patterns of devotion and discipleship, and church engagement once there's a vaccine and people are finally able to move about freely.

When folks ask me, "What size is your congregation?" I have to say, "Well, I don't really know any more. We'll have to wait and see.”

I know that we will be worshiping, studying, and fellowshipping in new ways-- that's already happening. Different days of the week, and different locations. This is all to the good, in my opinion. But there is still something special about Sunday, the LORD's Day, and gathering together for large, corporate worship.

Perhaps you used to have a consistent schedule for Sunday mornings that included Bible Fellowship and worship. Maybe even a favorite place you would go for lunch afterwards. Then, youth choir and worship on Sunday afternoons. And you did this consistently, except when sick or on vacation. Your children were developing spiritual habits that would stick--even if they got a little tenuous during the college years.

My plea to you, now that we are beginning to regather in our building, is that you give special attention to the habits you are forming around spiritual things. Get back into the habit of regular attendance before you have completely shifted to other activities on Sunday. And, if you are still staying at home right now, as soon as you feel comfortable and safe doing so, return to the building and rejoin your fellow church members.

Until then, establish a consistent approach to online worship and study at home. Set aside the same time to watch each week and gather in a focused time of engagement. Sit together as a family, sing aloud the songs, pray when we are praying, and listen attentively to the sermon. Encourage reverence. Invite any "quarantine friends" that you have to come over to your house and participate with you. When the service is over, talk about what you saw and share your thoughts and any special blessing that you received. Maybe enjoy a meal together.

Your children will think it's important if you demonstrate that it is.

I know that it will be a long time before we see worship gatherings on King Street of the size we have seen in years gone by. I am prepared for that. But I want our people, and especially the children and youth of our church, to keep to the habits of the heart that will make them strong and healthy Christians throughout their lives.

1 Comment

Frances - August 25th, 2020 at 1:57pm

I began a habit in 1999 of listing 50 things each day I'm grateful for. Boy-o-boy do I recommend this practice! My outlook on life has become one of noticing and being grateful. I've since learned that gratitude - or its lack - makes actual changes in our brains.

Before anyone thinks this is hard, I just tick them off on my fingers, and some items make it to my list every day.





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