A friend made this observation to me today… ”Do you always use the same locker at the Y?” Oh my gosh! Every time I go to the Y, I go to the same spot, use the same locker, and am irritated if someone else is using it. As we talked, I asked myself why. Why do I keep using that locker? It gets stuck. I have to pry it open. There are 100 other lockers that open easier. I could use the one next to it and sit on the same bench. What is going on?
I am a creature of habit. I sit in the same place at church. I have the same sequence of duties that I perform getting ready for work. I always do my stretching exercises while the coffee is dripping. I have the same plan for my quiet time. I drive to work the same way.
What is going on with me? Why do I do things this way? Why do I do them the same way? Is this good or bad?
Many of my habits are helpful. My morning routine provides structure and direction. It accomplishes things that need to be accomplished. Before I inserted my stretching exercises, my back would “go out” every several months. One physical therapist convinced me that I was a “back-a-holic.” My back problem could be managed but not solved. I had just come off of a week in bed following a back incident. The pain was enough for me to begin this new habit, and it has been a very good thing.
I also want to have some kind of meaningful relationship with God. After years of purposing to insert time into my day and failing, I started a morning quiet time. And while at times it can become rote or legalistic, for the most part it has provided a structure and a consistency that has proven itself helpful over time. Every so often I skip (well probably more than that ☺), and that reminds me that I have freedom and often that I miss it and want it.
My exercise is like that. I hate it but need it and have to make it habitual. If I get flexible, I don’t do it.
And yet there are parts of my life that I can’t seem to make habitual. Some relational connections would be well served if there were more of a sense of habit. Some household tasks would be more faithfully handled with good results, if I were just more locked in.
What is it that keeps me from making these good things that I want, more habitual? All of us have habits. We eat and sleep and watch TV. There are things that we choose to do so regularly that we hardly have to choose. What keeps me from doing that in other areas of my life? I don’t think it is an ability question. I think it somehow is connected to my will, which somehow chooses to habituate some areas and finds itself failing in others.
What is the deal there? I remember Paul’s confusion and disappointment in himself in Romans 7. Something about doing the things he doesn’t want to do and not doing the things he wants to do. He ends that with a statement and a question. “Wretched man that I am, who will rescue me from this body of death?”
The word for “rescue” there has its origin in the idea of being snatched from a raging river. There is a helplessness involved. Paul owns a sense of dependence. He can’t muscle up and obey. He needs God’s intervention to rescue him. I know for me that there are some habits that I just need to try harder. But many years of trying has shown me that there are parts of my life and heart that I can’t muscle through, grit my teeth and try harder. I need to be rescued.
As Paul says in the next verse, “Thanks be to God – through Jesus Christ our Lord… Therefore, there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus…” I need to be rescued. I have been rescued. And I know that I will be rescued.
Palmer Trice is an ordained Presbyterian minister. He is married to Lynne, has three children and has been in Charlotte since 1979. In his spare time, Palmer enjoys golf, tennis, walking and reading.