Establishing or Breaking Habits

Therefore, brothers and sisters, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near to God with a sincere heart and with the full assurance that faith brings, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water.  Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful.  And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.

  • Hebrews 10:19-25

Love is patient, love is kind.  It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.  It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.  Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.  It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

  • 1 Corinthians 13:4-7

”Fly-fishing is really quite easy – if you have the right equipment, choose the correct flies, practice often, fish in the right places, and learn about the sport.  When you see the graceful flick of the fly line as it darts over the fisher’s head, pause briefly, changes direction, then gently lights on the water, a lot of skill and practice has proceeded that elegant motion.  It’s not automatic, requiring physical and mental abilities to combine flawlessly.
“Love doesn’t come to us automatically, either.  When we accept Jesus, He blesses us with His love.  But, like fly-fishing, sharing that love takes complexities.  We may feel we’ve nailed down one part of loving well, when we’re made aware of somewhere else we’ve failed.  Maybe we’ve learned to suffer long, but kindness is still difficult – we’re like the fisherman who knows how to cast but chooses the wrong fly for his stream.”

  • Pamela McQuade, Daily Wisdom to Satisfy the Soul

“Maxwell Maltz was a plastic surgeon in the 1950s when he began noticing a strange pattern among his patients.
“When Dr. Maltz would perform an operation — like a nose job, for example — he found that it would take the patient about 21 days to get used to seeing their new face. Similarly, when a patient had an arm or a leg amputated, Maxwell Maltz noticed that the patient would sense a phantom limb for about 21 days before adjusting to the new situation. …

“On average, it takes more than 2 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.  In Lally’s study, it took anywhere from 18 days to 254 days for people to form a new habit.
“In other words, if you want to set your expectations appropriately, the truth is that it will probably take you anywhere from two months to eight months to build a new behavior into your life — not 21 days.”

  • James Clear, JamesClear.com, How Long Does it Actually Take to Form a New Habit? (Backed by Science)

How long has it been since you attended church?  I know, Hebrews 10 does not take into account a pandemic and a government mandated lockdown, but when things get back to normal, will bad habits prevail?  Our church has been having attendance at a single worship service since the first Sunday in July, but there are many restrictions.  You must not have any COVID symptoms and pass the temperature checkpoint at the church entrance.  You are ushered to a pew of the usher’s choosing.  You are not allowed to sing, or at least limited.  You are not allowed to leave the pew until the usher escorts you out.  Those are the biggies.  My wife and I would not be comfortable too close or too far away, but the kicker is that we both take water pills.  We cannot be “shackled” to a pew when nature calls.

I have heard a variety of pastors speak about getting people to church for three weeks to establish the habit.  I have even heard of churches providing incentives with special speakers or singers for a three-week stretch just to establish that habit.  It never seems to work, but the habit of staying home for three weeks seems to work.

Okay, I am an introvert, and staying home means that I worship God in my own way and at my own pace.  It is so easy to fall into that “bad” habit.  Odd how worshipping God becomes a “bad” habit when you are avoiding communion with other Christians.  But if I were an extrovert, I would be climbing the walls, wanting Christian fellowship.

But looking at Pamela McQuade analogy of fly-fishing, I had to laugh.  My brother was the athlete in the family.  He was also the outdoorsman, mostly fishing and hunting.  I was the bookish nerd of the family.  I remember my brother training an Irish Setter in my grandmother’s big yard one week, and then practicing fly-fishing casts a week later with a small weight instead of a fly.  When he was a junior in college, he took golf as his physical education requirement.  He had a few friends over and he had paced off the distance for a reasonable 8-iron shot.  He was showing his friends how he could repeatedly hit the ball over 100 yards and get the ball to land within about ten feet of a small tree in the yard.  This was a farm, so it was a big yard.  I was around eleven years old at the time.  I road up on my bicycle and he handed me the club.  He adjusted my grip and pointed to the tree – the entirety of the lesson.  His intent was for me to either miss the ball entirely or shank it into the woods, showing how superior he was at sports.  With my first swing of a golf club, ever, I hit the ball perfectly and the ball landed a few feet from the targeted tree.  After the first bounce, it bounced off the tree and sat about a foot away.  All my brother’s friends laughed, since my brother was very consistent, but never got one that close.  The golf lesson was suddenly over.  My brother had a chore for me, with the chore a long distance from he and his friends.  Once I learned what I was doing with a golf club, about 10 years later, I learned that I had definitely experienced beginner’s luck.  I quit playing golf years later, as a serious sport, when I learned that I would have to practice too much and be away from my family too much in order to get better.  When my boys were older, golf became something fun for the three of us to share in doing.  We hardly ever kept score.

But I did go fly-fishing once, in a small stream in central Wyoming.  My only lesson was watching my brother practice 6-7 years before in our grandmother’s yard, but my brother had learned not to let me touch his gear after the golf incident.  On about my third or fourth cast, I had another lesson in beginner’s luck.  I had rainbow trout for breakfast and never picked up a fly-fishing rod and reel again.

James Clear, author of Atomic Habits, provides a synopsis of his book on his website, quoted above.  But even with 2-8 months as the framework for establishing a habit, we may be at the eight-month mark on church attendance before the restrictions in church attendance are lifted.

Yet, we can do something to establish good habits on a daily basis.  We can set aside time to pray.  We can read Scripture.  We can call a church friend and see how they are doing.  We can make all these things habits.  These habits are within our control, and God will be just as pleased in us doing those habits as He is in weekly church attendance.

Soli Deo Gloria.  Only to God be the Glory.

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