Hooked on Habits
The breeze whisked my pale blonde hair over my shoulder as I looked down at the square-ridged button on my fishing pole. For what seemed like the hundredth time, the miniature dinosaur shaped casting plug stared back at me with eager anticipation waiting to be casted again out into our freshly mowed backyard. “How would casting this tiny dinosaur prepare me to catch a real fish?” I thought to myself as I threw my arms back and casted as I hard as I could flinging the casting plug towards the fence. At the time, I didn’t understand why I needed to spend hours practicing, but looking back, I realize I was learning a valuable lesson about habits.
The Origin of Habits
Whether or not we realize it, our lives are full of habits, and those habits reveal what we love. One of our most priceless yet costly resources is time; we can spend time but we can’t save time or get it back. We devote our most precious resource, time, to things that we love. As a little girl, I devoted my time to learning to fish not merely because I loved the idea of catching a fish, but also because I loved spending precious time with my grandparents. Through the hours I spent fishing, I developed a habit that would allow us to spend more time with them and to share in what they love.
The Purpose of Habits
Merriam-Webster defines a habit as, “an acquired mode of behavior that has become nearly or completely involuntary.” (1) There was a simple purpose for practicing with a casting plug: making casting an involuntary behavior when it became time to fish. We devote time to what we love. The things we do in that time slowly become habitual. We could each probably make a list a couple pages long of the involuntary behaviors we partake in each day. Some we love and some we do simply to achieve an end result.
In her book, “Liturgy of the Ordinary: Sacred Practices for Everyday Life,” Tish Harrison Warren writes this about how habits relate to the objects of our love, “A sign hangs on the wall in a New Monastic Christian community house: ‘Everyone wants a revolution. No one wants to do the dishes.’ I was, and remain, a Christian who longs for revolution, for things to be made new and whole in beautiful and big ways. But what I am slowly seeing is that you can’t get to the revolution without learning to do the dishes. The kind of spiritual life and disciplines needed to sustain the Christian life are quiet, repetitive, and ordinary.” (2)
As I read this I couldn’t help but agree with Warren. I long for a generation of college students to walk with God but often fail to pray as I should. I long to believe God’s promises but often fail to spend time in His Word as I should. I spend my days longing to grow closer to Jesus but fail to do the ordinary and repetitive actions that draw me nearer to Him.
The Reward of Habits
Nathanael Emmons, a theologian, once said, “Habits are either the best of servants or worst of masters.” (3) Our habits not only reveal what we love and push us to action but they produce a desired result. Anyone who has spent time out on the lake knows that there is a difference between fishing and catching. Fishing is the pursuit of trying to catch a fish while catching is the glorious moment spent capturing the actual fish. Likewise, fishing can be the best of servants or worst of masters. The time you spend fishing can be the best of servants by enabling you to achieve the end result, the “perfect catch”. It can also be the worst of masters when you fail and become consumed with spending your time trying to make that catch. Similarly, our habits can be the best of servants or the worst of masters when walking with God. They can bring us closer or draw us away from Him. The key is remembering what we love, namely Jesus, the actions we take to grow in our love for Him, and our desired reward, eternity with Him in heaven.
Henry David Thoreau wrote, “Many men go fishing all of their lives without knowing that it is not fish they are after.” (4) The reality is we spend most of our days behind the fishing pole of habits casting miniature dinosaurs not seeing what we are after. My prayer is that we would take a good look at what we are fishing after and find that we have fixed our eyes on the “perfect catch,” Jesus.
2: Tish Harrison Warren, Liturgy of the Ordinary: Sacred Practices for Everyday Life