LENT, AND THE POWER OF HABIT
Lent is here early this year, ready or not! As always, on this first Sunday in Lent, we read the story of Jesus’ temptation by the devil in the wilderness, right after his triumphant baptism. If we let this story sink in, we can see how much it reflects our own lived experience. We are constantly tempted to take the easy way out, use our privilege to get around problems, and worship things other than our One True God.
This Lent, our parish focus is on “Growing a Rule of Life” - that is, a pattern of practices and habits that reinforce our faith in God.
We have always known that practices and habits help us live faithfully. We think of daily prayer, scripture reading, works of mercy and compassion, exercise, worship, and generosity. And yet most of us struggle to maintain even the simplest spiritual practices over time – I know I do.
Jesus in the wilderness demonstrates the strength and power of habits: when the devil presents each temptation, Jesus draws on scripture and his relationship with God to refuse the temptation. These practices serve him well in the pinch!
Charles Duhigg in 2014 wrote a book about The Power of Habit. He explores habits in business, personal life, and religion. One of his findings he calls “The Habit Loop.” He explains that habitual behaviors occur when there is a “cue” to prompt the behavior, and some sort of “reward” following the behavior. For instance, I set an alarm on my phone to get on the treadmill in the evening. After I do my routine, I know I get to relax, read a fun book, or watch a murder mystery on TV. Cue –> Routine –> Reward: the Habit Loop.
I believe we can use this thinking to help us establish and maintain spiritual practices – a “rule of life.” It should be enticing and rewarding! Jesus seemed to be prepared when the devil came to visit; he had some spiritual practices ready. And I imagine that he felt a considerable reward afterwards, knowing he had stayed true to his Father-God.
In our own small ways, we can do likewise. JBM