Besides college football bowl games, New Year’s Day is most closely associated with New Year’s Resolutions. Starting a new year with a fresh calendar and maybe a new journal, too, we make plans—or rather, we make “wishes”—to do some things differently. This year we’ll lose the extra weight the crept up over the years. We’ll quit a bad habit. We’ll begin an exercise program, join a gym (Gyms, by the way, love this resolution because they know it is “easy money”. This resolution seldom makes it to Easter but the monthly fees continue for the whole year!)
We may decide to take a class, earn a foreign language, travel or spend more time with our families. And there is always the broken relationship that needs mending. We make these resolutions with the best of intentions, but in the words of Mary Poppins, they are often nothing more than “pie crusts promises; easily made and easily broken”. (It strikes me that only Mary Poppins found pie crusts “easily made but that’s another story”!) What we are really wanting to do is become better.
I’ve been doing a lot of research on habits lately and here are a couple of key things that I learned. Getting rid of an old habit or even creating a new good habit is not simply a matter of will. Because nature abhors a vacuum one habit has to be replaced with another one. Secondly, if the new habit is too large, hard or overwhelming, it will not stick. We have to start small. One recent podcast used the example of flossing your teeth. If you want to develop the habit of flossing your teeth, start with flossing just your front teeth for a few days. If you decide to do more, fine, but let the habit build slowly so that your “memory muscles” will kick in and flossing will become unconscious. If you are going to learn to play a musical instrument, don’t start by saying that you will practice an hour a day. Begin with fifteen minutes or ten or five as you build your mental/ emotional muscle memory. The same is true of going to the gym. Begin by just going to the gym! Once a week, twice a week, whatever you can do over a period of several weeks.Once you’re there, you might as well do an exercise or two. The key establishing new patterns. So take baby steps.
I believe that there is one habit that is key to becoming a better you. That key is developing spiritual depth. The gospel of Luke tells us that Jesus was in the habit of going to worship. It seems that He prayed before every major decision, and presumably before not so major ones that are not recorded in the bible.
Spiritual depth includes worship, prayer and generosity. As with all new habits, start small. Resolve, for example, to worship with a faith community at least once a month. Look for a faith community that is not just comfortable but one that stirs you from comfortable complacency. Don’t follow a preacher but the One to whom the preacher points. If necessary, take a sabbatical from one faith community and visit another but don’t neglect this aspect of your life.
Develop the habit of regular prayer. I end each day by silently saying a little prayer when I turn off my bedside lamp at night. Sometimes it is the Lord’s Prayer. More often, it is the same one that my parents taught me and that I taught my children and say with my grandchildren. “Now I lay me down to sleep…” I begin my day with a prayer of thanksgiving for whatever will come next.
Develop the habit of Generosity. “Praise God from Whom all blessings flow” the old doxology says. Generosity is key in developing a sense of thankfulness and the real stewardship of life. As with the others, start small. Leave a tip that is larger than you ordinarily would leave. When an offering is taken, don’t reach for the “least coin”, be generous. Step it up a notch. When visiting someone, always bring a gift. It doesn’t have to be large. Simply bring a card, a handwritten note, a flower, even just a warm greeting or blessing.
By developing these spiritual habits, all other habits will become easier. We will break the bad ones, replace them with good ones and become our truer self–the one God calls us to be.