We just started a new series for this new year about something that shapes a huge portion of our behavior and identity – though we don’t always know it. Our habits operate below the surface, quietly automating our lives, sometimes unbeknownst to us. It’s an especially timely series, given the multitude of resolutions we make for ourselves at the beginning of the year. And, by the time the series ends in February, studies tell us that many, if not most, of those resolutions will have failed. It’s clear that we could all use some extra motivation and focus towards our chosen new habits.
I have to admit, talking about habits does not come naturally to me. I have no background in behavioral psychology. Besides, the platform I occupy has been historically dedicated to the exposition of theological truths rather than starting with people’s felt needs. Shouldn’t the study of habits be the purvue of others?
There is a perception that any preaching which sounds like self-improvement is, at best, a lukewarm, feel-good brand of Christianity. Under this perception, the self is at the center while repentance and grace are left to the side. This criticism is especially leveled at growing churches, who are growing, the critics claim, because they are offering a “lite” version of Christ’s teaching.
It’s true that if we limit Church to a self-help group, we have missed the point of Christianity. Christianity is primarily about what God has done for us, but it doesn’t stop there. It is also about what he wants for us and what he wants us to become because of his work. Just because this series doesn’t explicitly start with theology doesn’t mean it skips over God entirely. In fact, God, and what he has done for us, is at the center of this series.
Here are a couple of ways this is true:
Habits are part of who we are: We are, simply, designed to be creatures of habit. It’s in our biology. Habits come naturally to us and make our lives easier.
Habits point us to deeper needs: Most of us know the disappointment and struggle of trying to start new habits. By becoming more aware of our own habits, we become more aware of our faults and ultimate needs.
Habits can help us grow in virtue: Many of our habits have a moral weight. The Catechism of the Catholic Church defines virtue as “a habitual and firm disposition to do the good.” The more we understand habits, the freer we are to pursue virtue and grow in goodness.
Habits are a gift from God that can help build the kingdom: Much of our Church’s culture comes down to habits. The “Next Steps” we challenge parishioners to take (Serve, Tithe, Engage in Ministry, Pray, Share the Faith) are habits that help us grow as disciples and grow the Church.