What is the role of habits in your life?
In her book Better Than Before: What I Learned About Making and Breaking Habits, Gretchen Rubin calls habits “the invisible architecture of daily life. We repeat about 40 percent of our behavior almost daily, so our habits shape our existence, and our future.”
It seems like the word “habit” is usually used to describe something we do, but know we probably shouldn’t: I bite my fingernails, I crack my knuckles, I spend too much time on my phone, I don’t put my dirty clothes in the hamper, I get on my kids for not putting their dirty clothes in the hamper…
But a habit can be something edifying too. Praying before meals or before bedtime, for example. Reading the Bible. Stretching. Eating a healthy breakfast.
We at Westminster are focusing during Lent on the “Jesus Creed,” Jesus’ answer to the question about the most important commandments (read, "What’s the most important thing in life?"):
“The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.” (Mark 12:29-31)
The first quotation, from Deuteronomy 6, is known as the Shema, which means “hear.” The recitation of commandment was meant to be a habit, to be repeated by God’s people several times a day in order to keep it front and center. Jesus adds the commandment to love our neighbor. These two are the most important thing in life.
It’s a salutary habit, as author Scot McKnight suggests, to repeat the Jesus Creed first thing in the morning, last thing in the evening, and several times in between. And I highly recommend it. But of course, saying it isn’t the same as living it. (But we should still say it.) To live something, it has to become habit in us.
How long does it take for something to becomes a habit? On average, experts say, it takes more than two months before a new behavior becomes automatic — 66 days to be exact. And how long it takes a new habit to form can vary widely depending on the behavior, the person, and the circumstances. One study suggests that it takes anywhere from 18 days to 254 days for people to form a new habit.
I mention all this because it appears we have some significant time on our hands in which habits can be formed our reinforced…or undone – and that can go one way or another. In his wonderful book, A Long Obedience in the Same Direction, Eugene Peterson explains the provenance of the title by quoting Friedrich Nietzsche:
“The essential thing in heaven and earth is…that there should be a long obedience in the same direction; there thereby results, and has always resulted in the long run, something which has made life worth living.” (Peterson, 17).
Friends, let’s be mindful of the habits that are formed in us. By God’s grace, let’s engage in a long obedience in the same direction.
It is fine to be zealous, provided the purpose is good, and to be so always, not just when I am with you. My dear children, for whom I am again in the pains of childbirth until Christ is formed in you… (Galatians 4:18-19)
Bob Jacobs, Pastor at Westminster Church
Bob Jacobs has served for 13 years as the Senior Pastor of Westminster Church, Rapid City. He shares a deep commitment to see our community thrive in love for one another, especially in trying times like these. If you're interested in more of Bob's writings, check out his personal blog at www.brittlecrazyglass.wordpress.com.