Do you remember some of the things you used to do over and over as a kid? Little, personal and sometimes quirky activities that you’d do when things got boring or you started getting nervous?
My sister Maureen would suck her thumb . . . till she was about 12 actually. My buddy Terry used to bite his finger nails. My father and I battled cigarettes for years (I still struggle!). We call repeated actions habits; we do them without thinking. They relieve tension or anxiety.
They bring a mild pleasure or placebo effect.
Some habits are healthy and benefit people whenever they do them.
“That’s a good habit to get into,” we say. (Brush your teeth/eat your vegetables.) Other repeated actions can hurt us or others. These are bad habits. Some are bad (e.g. Lying) because the act itself is bad. We call these “sinful habits”. Others are bad because they go too far (“Too much” of anything is a bad habit) or not far enough (sloth, or carelessness) in doing the right thing.
So . . . what’s the point? It’s simple. Get in the habit of doing good things. How? Repetition. Doing something again and again will bring a certain ease of performance. A good thing, once rather hard to perform (choosing not to gossip) can, with repetition, become easier.
Our friends in the Fellowship tell us to “work the program” (doing the things that lead to sobriety/honest living). Don’t feel like it? That’s okay – – – “fake it till you make it.” Feelings will follow.
Our bodies themselves bear witness to this. Sit-ups/push-ups (yuk!) become easier with repetition. Fitness experts call this the “training effect” – – – ease in physical performance.
It’s really no different for our spiritual lives. Repetition makes for habit. Habit makes for virtue (an abiding strength). Virtue leads to happiness. Want to be happy? Keep on doing good. Simple, eh?
Let’s take matters of sexuality. I don’t think anyone of us is immune to the “sinful habit” that can develop in our thoughts or actions as we confront lustful images or impulses that exist within us and around us.
Our eyes (windows to the soul) by nature “want to see” . . . everything. And here’s the problem – some things ought not to be seen. “Impure” thoughts or glances really are “stealing” what doesn’t belong to you. It’s an invasion of privacy.
There is an old habit encouraged by spiritual directors and confessors as “custody of the eyes”. It refers to a mental readiness to turn away from seeing things that go beyond the intimacy we are permitted to have with that person. Repeated ways of acting we call “modest”, (the way we dress, speak, and look at one another), become habits leading to the virtue of “chastity” or “purity”.
The point here is to make clear these virtuous states don’t “just happen”. In fact, when left to nature, the opposite happens. Lust grows, not purity. Lies, not truth. Selfishness, not generosity. It’s part of our fallen human nature that this tendency exists.
It can only be remedied by “habits of love”, actions of reverence for others and ourselves motivated by the knowledge of who we are . . . God’s beloved children. By ourselves we can’t do this. But God’s grace is there to guide and strengthen us.
Every one of us; God’s Children – no exceptions. Bless your heart.
PS. A great habit? Morning prayer.