As a counselor of over 30 years now, I have a key message that I give to all the families I get to work with, especially those just starting off. Everyone thrives in an environment of consistent order BUT avoid order becoming a dictator rather than an influencer.
I love the first part of this advice (live a life of orderliness), because I had it taught to me by my precious Mom while growing-up. Also, I’ll confess, I like predictable schedules, organized drawers and the calendar of celebrations I can look forward to. When I was a young wife many years ago, I loved making a weekly routine; I knew when I cleaned, did the laundry and ran errands. I am not one who enjoys surprises as I would prefer to anticipate events versus have them sprung on me. AND YET – the great thing about marriage in my life is I got to challenge this love of routines some 30 years ago and while it is still true that we humans need order to thrive, I have learned when habits are healthy and when they are best put aside.
When Habits Are Healthy
Habits are routines of behavior whether in action or thought that are repeated at regular intervals; you know you have a habit when it is something you think or do that is difficult for you to give-up. They are predictable and give us a sense of security and order that is key to human wellness. Our God is a God of order and that is reflected in His creation (1 Tim. 2:13), how Paul discipled the church in Corinth (1 Cor. 14:33, 40) and how Titus was encouraged to structure the church on the island of Crete (Titus 1:5).
Habits are better reflections of a person’s character than independent events. Look at someone’s pattern over time and you’ll get to know the true person they are – what they value, what their goals are and what they truly love. Habits are present whether someone is watching or not and will rear their heads especially when we are under stress.
Habits that enable us to honor God’s word in our worship of Him, care for our body and the resources He has given to us, and love others well are wonderful and need to be preserved. The “habit” of saying “I love you” to any of my family at the end of a phone conversation reflects my value of family and my heart for them. It affirms our relationship and the priority they have in my life, even if the conversation was difficult.
Determine if your habits are healthy by asking yourself these questions:
- Do others who see this habit affirm and encourage it as one they would want to emulate?
- Does this habit draw others toward Christ?
- Does this habit encourage me to love Jesus more?
- If this habit of thinking or doing was put-up on the huge screen in Times Square, would I be ashamed? (ex – if you have a habit of impatience when your children interrupt you, would you want that filmed for all the world to see?)
- Do you believe God will say, “well done, good and faithful servant”, when all your habits are revealed to Him at the end?
When Habits Are Unhealthy
Anything can be taken to an extreme – even habits. Either showing a disregard for habits or embracing a compulsive drive toward habits reveal an inflexibility that does not serve anyone well. Let’s consider the Pharisees. The Pharisees were opponents of Jesus whom Josephus, a first-century scholar of Roman and Jewish origins, described as simple in lifestyle, believing in both the sovereignty of God and the free will of man, and while the most accurate interpreters of the law, they held rigid the “chief importance to the observation of those commandments”.
Observance of the law and the law itself became more important than the law-giver, and as such, they missed the appearance of the law-giver (Jesus) when He arrived. Why? Because Jesus knew the heart of the law and thus, did not always obey it the way the Pharisees thought it “should” be obeyed. Jesus healed on the Sabbath, engaged in conversations across cultural boundaries, and feasted on wine and food with tax collectors and sinners and of course, the Pharisees were appalled by such behavior. Their religion had become a set of habits, a pattern of life that observed the rules, but had lost the heart of them.
Have your habits become unhealthy? Consider your response to the following to decide.
- Do you become anxious or even angry when your habits are interrupted?
- Is the following statement true for you? “If others do not practice their faith with the exact same behavior or belief I do, I automatically see them as wrong, worldly or immature in their faith.”
- Does your joy in living for Christ and enjoying His presence depend on what you do?
- Do you evaluate your godliness on what you do or the fruit of the Spirit?
- Do people talk more about who you are or what you do?
Dear Reader, life is more both/and living than either/or. Let us desire to live both an orderly life and one that reflects a character of grace and spiritual fruit. May what we do never be more important than who we are. May the habits of our life encourage our godly character that values faith over religious works. May we embrace habits we desire to pass on to our children and are worthy of their imitation and may we break those habits that lead to legalism.
Blessings on you and the habits you embrace – may they lead you to both loving and living out your faith well.
Fondly yours, Elizabeth