We don’t think about our habits. We just do them. Unconscious choices are the fourth type of choices that belong in our inner inventory. Most of us have some habits that are healthy and some that are destructive. I once heard destructive habits called nuisance sins. They may not be the most obvious obstacles in our relationship with God, but our habits inform our character. Ralph Waldo Emerson famously said, “Watch your thoughts. They become words. Watch your words. They become deeds. Watch your deeds. They become habits. Watch your habits. They become character. Character is everything.”
Our thoughts inform not only our character but also our feelings. Many of our poor choices are fuelled by feelings like hate, greed, envy and entitlement. Feelings aren’t a choice, but thoughts are. Exercising self-control in thinking is shown to have an impact on feelings. Therefore, developing habits of resisting negative influences in our thinking will inform our feelings as well as our words, deeds and habits.
Some habits are more than nuisance sins. They can interfere with or even destroy everything of value in our lives. Someone fighting addiction can testify to the fact that habits left unchecked will eventually rob us of choice.
The opposite of a mindless habits is a mindful habit—doing everything, even small things, conscientiously with thankful hearts in the service of God. 19th century priest and author, Edward Meyrick Gouldburn (1818 -1897), best known for his tenure as Dean of Norwich, urged the following:
As far as human frailty will permit, each little trifling piece of duty which presents itself to us in daily life, if it be only a compliance with some form of social courtesy, should receive a consecration, by setting God – His will, word and Providence – before us in it, and by lifting up our hearts to Him in ejaculatory prayer, while we are engaged in it. The idea must be thoroughly worked into the mind, and woven into the texture of our spiritual life, that the minutest duties which God prescribes to us in the order of His Providence – a casual visit, a letter of sympathy, an obligation of courtesy, are not by any means too humble to be made means of spiritual advancement, if only the thing be done “as to the Lord, and not to men.”
When I shine a flashlight into myself to take inventory of my choices, it helps me to make notes. Sometimes putting words to thoughts gives them better definition and stimulates deeper thinking. If you are reflecting over a long period of your lifetime, spend some time looking over how actions or attitudes in one stage of life connect to another. Consider whether something unconscious in one life stage prompted a deliberate effort or reaction in a later life stage. For example, perhaps a career or relationship setback prompted greater reliance on and intimacy with God. Perhaps a reactive feeling such as low self-worth gave way to an unthinking habit like arrogance towards those less fortunate. On the other hand, awareness of my earlier elitist attitudes may give rise to intentional efforts to discourage prejudiced jokes in my presence.
If you can isolate one or two unconscious attitudes or habits that have caused you angst, then you have exposed what needs to be held up for God’s mercy and healing power.
Join the conversation. Where has God been in the midst of your choices?
Copyright 2011 Stephanie Walker All rights reserved. Visit http://www.AcrossTraditions.com.