Why do we make habits? Why should we even begin to change our lives? These are questions that everyone makes perhaps a month after trying to implement habits in their lives. Making life long habits aren't easy so we must know the deeper reason why we should even start.
If we were to make a list of all the things we want to change perhaps we would be overwhelmed. We may feel like we are a prisoner to a bunch of actions that are telling us what to do. We may not feel free at first, even if in the end these habits will make us free. It is a funny situation when we think about change in ourselves. No one wants to die to old habits. Change requires work and often we would rather sit back.
But as Christian Catholics we have a deeper understanding of habits than merely becoming ‘moral’ people. Our vision is to become like God and enter His life of Love.
If we are making habits without aiming at knowing and becoming Love then we are failing. Our habits should tie to our deepest identity.
Let me explain…
The Lord knows our capacity to take new things on. It took the Israelites 40 years to purify from the Egyptian habits they formed before they could enter the promise land and even then they still had work to do. Habits come and go and sometimes we fall back to our old ways wondering if we ever made any progress. Like a sail boat traveler that goes into the ocean deep only to be pushed back to the shore by the waves. How terrible the passage of the person that cleans their house only to see more demons occupy it in the end.
So many make new year’s resolutions only to find themselves back at square one after months of trying. Setting goals and systems to accomplish them can lead us to be demoralized and disappointed by defeat. (what is the percentage of people who accomplish their goals?) We desire change, but it can be hopeless with knowing how weak we are at doing it. Saint Bernard talks about the mind knows where to go but the will is so weak.
But change is necessary. If we are to become the full potential of best selves we must change. Jesus says the pure of heart will see God. If we don’t purify ourselves then we will never see God. Saint Bernard equates us being holy with encountering God. To see God we must be more like Him. Who can stand before the Lord, but the righteous?
Jesus says "Be perfect as your heavenly father is perfect" Mt. 5:48. We cannot be perfect based on our own conceptions or models of perfection. We need God. We need to know God to know what perfection is. But, we cannot begin without the Holy Spirit leading us to the Lord.
The disciples knew how hard this life was to become as they questioned who can be saved? But, Jesus reassures them that with man it is impossible but with God it is possible. God is the end goal and He is also the vehicle to that end. We cannot do it alone and if we try we will end up putting a lesser good above the greatest good. We will be all tangled up in a web of goods while the order is out of place.
Jesus tells others that we must hate father and mother above God. In the ancient Hebrew language there was no way to compare other than to make a hyperbole and so Jesus was letting us know that God is to be loved the ‘most’ above anything else. If we love other goods like a father or mother above God then we will come to end up not loving our father and mother in the right way. Our love will end up being false and incomplete and compared to how it could be if we loved God above all, loving our father and mother will become hate more than true love.
How can we set our habits so that they are Godly? We must pray. Jesus warned about building a house on sand and the rains came and destroyed the house. Before this He told us to pray and to seek and it shall be found, to ask and it shall be received. We cannot intend to build ourselves without God. We will fail. We may think that we have accomplished much. We may feel like we are more compassionate, our houses are cleaner than ever, our bodies are more fit than ever, but we will be wrong if it is done alone. We will perfect ourselves without the real perfection that God seeks.
It requires the discernment of the Holy Spirit to know what the Lord wishes us to work on.
Once I did an exercise and noted as many thoughts that came to my head and noticed about 200 false beliefs, bad habits, sins to work on, superstitions, false desires, insecurities and idols that I had that filled my vision all at once. The closer you get to God the more you see them but without the grace of God you will fold before them and wonder what the disciples said “who can be saved” Most people don’t see these because we are accustomed to our evil thoughts and ways. They have become part of us, almost equal to who we are. But, how do we clean these? It is not with the broom in our hands but with the broom in our heart that God holds in His hands.
Draw closer to God and your habits will change because the more to enter God you will realize that you must change. You will realize that God is goodness itself and in order to be with Him you need to be good. As Saint Bernard concluded our Ethics and Aesthetics are fused.
To see God we must become Good like God. Thus making habits should be united to our quest to become Saints. Without that central motivation we maybe trying to be perfect on our own.
In our Saint of the Month boxes, we receive goals that challenge us to think and act and become like the saints we study. These goals are intended to allow you to be inspired to follow the Saints example and the prodding of the Holy Spirit within us, through the guidance of the Church to live out the virtues that unite us to God.
The purpose of habit making is to complete what God has started in us, to become partakers of the Divine Life and become as God, made in His image and likeness.