(This is one in a continuing series of posts where I use St. Augustine’s Confessions as a jumping off point)
One of the tricks of changing a habit is to do the new habit whether you really “feel like it” or not because you have decided that it is a practice worth doing. Like the adage short term pain for long term gain. Save a dollar now, enjoy it later, don’t save a dollar now and suffer poverty later…easier in the moment to spend the money, important for the future to save some. Easier to sleep in than run in the morning, but our doctor visits in the future will be easier if we get up and run. So sometimes we decide to do something and then we do that something even if we don’t always do so with smiles on our faces.
Sounds easy, but it isn’t. We have all set our minds to something, committed to practice (or avoiding a practice) and failed.
For instance, you might decide to start running. Here’s how it goes:
In your mind you float over the the train like a gazelle.
You buy a bunch of stuff at the store (you are so lucky it’s all on sale so you can even buy some of the fancier stuff, maybe even a special water bottle thing you see “real runners” wearing).
You get the fastest, lightest, just-right-for-your-foot shoes, their colours suggest speed.
You prep your bottles.
You set your alarm.
You go to bed early.
But you do not bound out of bed (maybe you do the first day, but not the third or fourth).
It is rainy/windy/snowy/too cold/too hot/too muggy.
The terrain in your neighbourhood turns out to be way way hillier than you ever noticed before.
Your shoes don’t make you fast.
Your GPS watch can’t run for you.
The vision in your mind is encountering reality, and it is humbling.
Christians sometimes get in their minds to pursue something holy, an action like prayer or regular bible reading. They buy cushions to sit on or kneelers to kneel at, they get candles, moleskin notebooks, fancy coffee, a set of highlighters. Sometimes we are more interested in not doing something, stopping to overeating, swearing, lusting, whatever.
But, of course, when push comes to shove we must face the reality that we are who we are and we cannot buy our way out of ourselves.
Augie had these sorts of struggles. He asks “why do you perversely follow your flesh? Turn back, and let your flesh follow you.” He was clearly a man familiar with the struggle.
If you want to be a runner, have a healthy heart and the like, then you just go for the run even when you don’t “want” to because eventually your trimmed and trained body will want to run and will actually (I know this is hard to believe) crave a run if you go too long without one.
If you want to pray more, just pray more, even when you don’t “feel like it” and one day you will find yourself craving time with the Father.
If you want to read the bible more of journal more do it every single day, even if just a little bit and suddenly you will notice if you miss a day, and yes, you will wish you hadn’t missed.
It is a tried and true pattern. Very little that is good, that is worthwhile, that is a change we desire, will come easy. Our minds and spirits can identify needs, places in our life that our wellbeing is not what it can be. The body, generally, struggles to keep up with these. The fact is, if we listen to our bodies they will mostly lead us wrong, they will have us eating salt, fat, and sugar, they will have us sitting for hours and hours, rarely will our hearts race (except, I suppose, when we walk stairs, which of course we will learn to avoid too:). This does not lead us where we want to go, but in the moment it feels good, it feels comfortable and easy. It doesn’t have to be physical health, it can be the websites we visit, the games we play on our phones, the hard conversations we avoid…we all now our personal weaknesses. Whatever the weakness you wish to get under control, remember that the mind’s path must trump the the easy path, at least for a while, until the better path becomes the habit. Imagine the long term troubles we can avoid if we tolerate and eventually learn to appreciate better practices!
Why wait? What is one change you can make, not the biggest hardest highest impact change, but a do-able change? Like eating one carrot a day or calling a friend or whatever. Pick one and even if in the moment you don’t want to do it, remember why you are committed to it and then plunge boldly.