Why is it that good habits require constant work to maintain, but bad habits are always ready to go no matter how long they have been controlled? I know several important theological truths guide this discussion, (like the “competition” between depravity and regeneration for my habits) but it still ticks me off that I have such a hard time keeping the bad habits at bay while keeping the helpful ones going.
Too often I feel like Paul in Romans 7:14-25. I know what I should be doing, and how helpful the discipline is for every area of my life. I know that I need to exercise so I don’t end up looking like Jabba the Hutt.* I mean, my wife loves me and all but there are limits to how much she is willing to put up with!
For me to stay in shape, I need to exercise. I have found out that when I run three days a week or more I keep my weight down, which then helps with my residual back issues from the car wreck I had in 2000. I sleep better, eat better, look better, and have less stress when I run consistently. Sounds like a piece of cake, right? I know what you’re thinking: “JUST GO RUN THEN!”
The problem is how easy it is for me to get out of the habit of running. It seems that something is always standing in the way of me getting out for my jog. For awhile my shins ached after runs, which made me want to quit. It has been, shall we say, a tad on the warm side this summer in Phoenix. I needed new shoes for awhile. My schedule is really tight and I have no time.
I really started thinking about my habits on Thursday, though. I ran Monday, but left the orthotics for my shoes at our kenpo studio Tuesday night. The orthotics have made my shin splints go away, and I do NOT want them to come back. I needed them, so I didn’t run Wednesday. (for the record, I did not leave them there on purpose)
On Thursday morning I got up to go, but really didn’t want to. I had missed Wednesday and was off my stride, so it would have been really, really easy to skip Thursday too. We beat the heat by running at about 6:30AM, and I was really tired Thursday morning and also knew that I would have about 3 hours of kenpo that night.
Thankfully, Laura was up and getting ready for her run. (I think she was going to run 14 miles while quoting Chaucer and correcting school work for the kids…something productive like that anyway) That meant I had to get out. She wouldn’t have said anything, but still we both knew that I needed to get out. I also have something that I am training for, as I am going to run the P.F. Chang’s half-marathon in January. I know that I need to get the miles in before January 17th, or I will fail with a whole bunch of people watching on.
So despite my laziness telling me to go back to bed, I hit the road.
4.2 miles later I felt great. I was right back on my game, to the point that I am planning a 7-miler for tomorrow. All it took was the resolve to get out for my run—even though I wasn’t going to run all the miles this week I wanted—for me to overcome the laziness and get back on track.
I realized then that I had been doing something similar spiritually too. My schedule got whacked out when we went on our cruise in May, which knocked me off of my routine of daily devotions. I had just been using my sermon preparation time as my time for Bible reading this summer.
The habits of personal devotion and sermon prep overlap, but coming to God’s Word to prepare to feed others is not quite the same as feeding myself. Think of it as the difference between cooking yourself dinner and catering a meal for a group and you get my point. When I cook for a huge group I get tastes and samples, but I don’t get to eat like I do when I cook for myself.
So I dug back in and regained my passion for devotions. I read Obadiah, and now I am 4 chapters through Micah.** All it took was a couple of days, and I am back on my stride! It’s in my schedule, on my radar, and once again filling my soul. I can really feel the difference in my attitude and in my outlook.
Laura and I have noticed the same pattern in our prayer lives. When we pray together as a couple we do much better. When we don’t is is SO easy to keep putting it off, but our marriage is so much better when we make the time for the good habits we need. Just a few minutes talking in the morning and then praying for one another makes a humongous difference in the way we relate.
Small decisions matter; when we make small decision to cut corners, it never ends well. It is the cumulative effect of the small decisions and little habits of our lives that make or break so much.
6 Go to the ant, O sluggard, Observe her ways and be wise,
7 Which, having no chief, Officer or ruler,
8 Prepares her food in the summer And gathers her provision in the harvest.
9 How long will you lie down, O sluggard? When will you arise from your sleep?
10 “A little sleep, a little slumber, A little folding of the hands to rest”—
11 Your poverty will come in like a vagabond And your need like an armed man. (Proverbs 6:6-11)
Make some good habits this week. Begin something new or reestablish something you used to make a priority that is important to your life. Rekindle the closeness in your marriage by praying over your spouse and listening to their heart; pick up the Bible that only gets brought to church on Sundays and read it a little. Put the Twinkie down! 🙂
It takes effort to make good habits, but the alternative is not pretty. Sure it is easy to see when we are not taking care of ourselves physically, but how many of us look like Jabba spiritually or relationally? Have you ever met someone who “let themselves go” in their spiritual life, complacent and apathetic because they got out of the habits that built them up? If you take an honest look, is that you?
Maybe you can’t run a marathon today (I sure can’t), but you can make a healthy decision to take a stroll. You can’t reverse years of talking badly to your kids instantly, but you can restrain your tongue tonight. You might not be able to rekindle the passion for God that you once had in a single reading, but come to your senses like the lost son in Luke 15:17 and “head for home” with some prayer, Bible reading, and heading to church this week with a new attitude.
Sure you have excuses and reasons why you can’t. As my old tennis coach used to say, “An excuse is the skin of reason stuffed with a lie.” See it for what it is and overcome it. Don’t let the laziness and the excuses win.
*Yes, kids, there are Star Wars nerds so gigantic that they have made their own wiki, and that wiki is ridiculously detailed with back-story and character analysis of the most obscure Star Wars related stuff you can imagine. You can’t make this stuff up!
**The New Testament is my specialty. I haven’t been in the Hebrew Scriptures for awhile, so I thought it was the place to go.