Dear Sisters and Brothers,
At one time or another we have said, or at least have heard it said, "I am a creature of habit."
When we take the habitual route to work instead of heading for the grocery store as we intended, we may be admitting that we are distracted or absorbed in our own thoughts.
If we have trouble acquiring a new way of accomplishing old tasks or find ourselves resisting an innovation, we say it to admit that we have trouble adjusting to change.
We frequently speak of our eating habits, our exercise habits, or our television habits as something we want to change, since the habits we have accumulated are diminishing our sense of vitality.
Given our usage of the word "habit" you might think that habits are bad. While some habits do in fact decrease our enjoyment of life, habits themselves are not bad. Habits are an essential element of happiness. We are indeed creatures of habit, precisely because God created us this way. God created us to accumulate the habits that draw us close to him and close to one another.
What makes great batters or golfers great? They have practiced their swing so much that, in the midst of play, they never have to think about it. It's second nature. Their swing has become habitual.
God created us to accumulate the habits of love. That's right. The habits of love. God does not want us to live a life enslaved to the whims of the moments. Today I may feel a bit grumpy or on edge. I might be a little distracted or overwhelmed. If my love for God and for neighbor depended upon how I happen to feel at any moment, my love would be episodic and unreliable.
By contrast, our loving behavior arises from long-accumulated habit, we share our love no matter how we happen to feel about God, our neighbor, or even ourselves that day. Love, after all, is not merely a particular set of affections or passions. For love of God we give our lives to him even on the most ordinary days. We love our neighbors by seeking their good even when they wish we would eat rat poison.
How do we accumulate the habits of love? Like batters and golfers, we have to practice. Each day we have to exercise our hearts and minds and bodies to prepare for the big game, in other words, for ordinary life at home, work, and school. That exercise consists of having a Rule of Life.
A Rule of Life is a pattern for living. It includes devotional practices and acts mercy. Our personal devotions and community worship shape our love for God. Giving our time to serve the poor, visit the sick, defend the weak, and welcome the stranger shapes our love of neighbor. A rule of life shapes our spiritual habits.
The essence of happiness is love. Yes, we need to be loved to be happy. But we also need to give love freely to be happy. Giving our love regardless of our external circumstances is a matter of habit. That is why God has made us creatures of habit: that we might know his joy and that our joy might be complete. (John 15:11)
In Christ's Love,