Tuesday, March 23, 2010

JEDfessions of a Pastor

I have been learning a few things during this process. As I mentioned last week in my exhortation, it is easy to make habits and hard to break them. I should have said, "It is easier to make new habits than it is to break old ones." That is because it is not really that easy to make habits.

In order to make a habit, one must repeat an action enough times to be able to do it automatically. Athletes and musicians know this, so they do the same actions over and over until they gain muscle memory. But athletes and musicians also know that to break a bad habit is difficult. So, when a teacher or coach points out the bad habit and the need to break it before it has long-lasting ill consequences, a battle ensues. What is that battle? While one knows that the new habit is better, trying to develop the new and better habit results in WORSE performance, not better. Change your swing and your batting average will go down before it goes up. Change your hand position and the notes will sound less clear and slower before they improve. Many musicians and athletes go back to the old way of doing things before the new habit is ever formed. They claim that the change was detrimental. But the problem was that they just did not stay with it long enough to see the improvement.

JEDfession- The new way of doing things is not habitual. The old habits were not bad but the new ones (at least the ones that I want to adopt and make permanent like praying three times a day, 30 minutes of Bible reading, resolutions of better behavior, especially speaking), are not yet formed as habits. Or, they were done at different times or in a different way. Here's the problem. Somewhere between the old habits and the new habits is total failure. Trying to form a new habit means that you are not doing the old one. Then, if you fail in the new one, you are neither doing the old nor the new one. Instead of doing one thing well or even excellent, you are failing completely. This is quite distressing and makes one think that the old way was so much better, matched my personality, or at least was not total failure.. But the main problem is simply that the new habit is not yet formed. You need a few weeks of consistent repetition to make it habitual.

Finally, I have learned that it is very difficult to deny oneself. Doing your regular habits is not self-denial. This is true, even if your regular habits appear to be very, very, disciplined. JEDish, so to speak. You may have developed good habits. Good for you. But now you are on autopilot and self-denial may even mean performing LESS admirably, as you see it (say, for a day).

While we are not ascetics, Jesus did say that if anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. Self-denial, in order to follow Jesus, is clearly part of the Christian calling. So, when we find ourselves in the no man's land of being in between habits, we must learn to deny ourselves and follow Christ. This will lead us not only to new habits but the RIGHT new habits.

Having failed JED at many places, perhaps you have got a glimpse into the areas that you do not really want to change and some of the areas where you really do want to change. Perhaps you can use these last 12 days to focus on one or two things, bible reading, prayer, benevolent speech, whatever important priorities you have zeroed in on, and work on making that one new good behavior habitual.

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