Aristotle had it right, we are what we repeatedly do. We’d like it to be different. We’d like to show up for a weekend meditation workshop and magically become someone who meditates. Or maybe you’d prefer an intensive gardening workshop at the Arboretum, and viola, instant master gardener. My personal favorite — eat a healthy diet for the weekend and expect to be at a healthy weight Monday morning. Ah…if only.
For good or for bad, what we repeatedly do defines us. We are prone to think it is the cataclysmic event that shape us, but all too often, the mundane day-to-day choices have a much bigger impact on our life and wellbeing. Habits do more than merely inform our life; they carve out and define the shape of our life the way water has shaped the Grand Canyon. The majestic and colorful tableau emerges not from one monumental event, but from the habitual flow of water through it.
Habits define every aspect of our life; body, mind and spirit. I’d like to explore spiritual habits and if you’ll indulge me, I’ll stay within the lane of my own faith tradition and consider some of Jesus’ habits.
Jesus spent a lot of time in prayer. It was sort of his thing. He taught his followers the “Our Father,” spent a fair bit of time alone in the mountains or desert communing with God. He taught his followers that to be in a relationship with God, we couldn’t be merely weekend prayer warriors. Pray unceasingly. Jesus prayed in good times and bad; he prayed for others and he prayed for himself.
Jesus forgave. Where you and I might see a scum bucket, Jesus saw a person in need of the healing grace and forgiveness of God. Tax collectors, adulterers, even people who meant him harm. Every person Jesus encountered was a child of God, no more than the dust of the earth and no less than the stars in the sky.
Jesus took time in retreat. The Gospels suggest Jesus spent a fair bit of time alone with God. Instead of embracing the crowds, he occasionally drew his boat to the other side of the lake for refuge. Burnout wasn’t part of the plan. Jesus seemed quite adept at recognizing his own need to recharge spiritually and emotionally. And he never made excuses for dodging the crowd or taking time for himself; he never succumbed to peer pressure for face time. When he was present, he was fully present.
Jesus embraced diversity. Jesus’ crew was probably not considered the A-team in his time. He gathered an assortment of followers and never shied away from foreigners like Samaritans, state-sanctioned crooks like tax collectors and societies outcasts — the lepers. Jesus recognized that all of us are created in the image and likeness of God, even those on the fringes, those we ignore, or worse yet, treat as somehow less than human and less worthy than ourselves.
Deepening our spiritual life is simple, it’s just not easy. We know what we need to do. It’s just that we need to do it all the time. For good or for bad, habits define us and shape our lives. The million tiny choices we make each day have the power to transform. We can, if we choose, harness the power of habit to create life-changing potential and create a vibrant, life-giving spiritual life. As the writer of the Gospel of Matthew says: “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.” May it be so.