“Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit” (Galatians 5:25)
If there’s a time of year when discipline rears up in a heart, January is usually it. We are peppered with talk of habits, resolutions, try-hard mentality, and you-can-do-it. If only creating a new habit was as easy as writing it down on fancy paper and saying with determination, “I resolve…”
The problem with habits is that the ones you want to form elude your best disciplined efforts, but those you desire to depart from have a way of edging in deeper. I have had disciplined periods of my life where “I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength” (Philippians 4:13) was my theme verse. Prayer, Scripture memorization, exercise, diet – all happily situated under command of my fierce will. Those periods didn’t last long. Usually, my habit-forming attempts champion the verse, “what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do” (Romans 7:15).
A disconnect separates my desires from my practices. The Lord’s Spirit calls within me to deeper fellowship. The River of Life within me points to glory and freedom and joyful living, but I can’t always muster the will to put aside the frustrations of the day, the defeat I so constantly feel as a parent and a wife. When my attitude is positive, the will has power. When it’s been a “No! To your room!” day with children, the attitude plummets and accusations weigh down the will.
If I am to build habits, it’s only by grace and Spirit, not determination. Grace and His Spirit close the gap between desire and flesh. So here are my habit tips, my own little pep talk for accomplishing my hopefuls of 2012:
1. Graceful Expectations: “Don’t bite off more than you can chew,” goes the cliché. Habits form like snowballs. They start small and get bigger. I will only except something of myself that is realistic given my other commitments and my family situation. In other words, I will not resolve to write a novel this year, while potty training my two-year-old, growing a garden, and sending my five-year-old off to kindergarten (and did I mention teaching piano lessons and accompanying at church?). But maybe I can resolve to write more on my blog, to have several weekly times of study and devotion, to drink more water, to review my Greek flashcards.
2. Graceful Structures: I need help. Last year that help was a Bible reading plan. This year, a different Bible reading plan, and a six-week women’s Bible study that is giving me new tools for personal devotions. I’ll also be joining with a few other women writers for encouragement and fellowship. What structures do you need? Sometimes we need formal structures, like small groups or classes. Other times, less formal structures will suffice like a new planner for organization, or a hiking book for new trails. Prayer books are a must! Reading prayers is a great tool for a tired brain and heart. You’ve read, “Just add water,” on pre-packaged food. Prayer books are a “Just add your heart” pre-packaged deal. By the way, if you don’t want to buy a new book, use the Psalms, the prayer book of the Bible. (Ann Voskamp has a great post on prayer and prayer resources.)
3. Graceful Recoveries: I am expecting set back. The old “two steps forward, one step back.” I will not judge success or failure on the belief that I will immediately fall into a habit without work or struggle. Forgiving ourselves is perhaps more difficult than forgiving others. Extending grace when we fail to live up to our expectations moves against the condemning cultural voices we hear. So I resolve to be graceful with myself. If I need to reevaluate and change things up, I will do it.