4 Types of Choices: Non-Choices

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.

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Making God’s Will Personal: Step Four-Examine Motives

One can find “cosa nostra” with God by looking to the gifts God gave singularly to her and by putting them to use boldly for the sake of God’s glory and the welfare of her fellow man.  It is possible, however, to take right actions without the right frame of mind.

Jesus’ parable of the prodigal illustrates going through the right motions with the wrong motive.  Both sons love earthly stuff more than serving the father.  One broke the rules and one followed the rules.  The one who followed the rules generally had an easier go if it.  Confronted with the father’s rejoicing upon the prodigal’s return, however, the obedient son’s resentment reveals he was not serving his father out of love and thankfulness for all the father gave.  He wanted earthly rewards for his obedience.

The rule followers among us are especially at risk of failing to recognize a misplaced motive.  We want credit for going through the right motions and for exercising self-control.  Self-control, after all, isn’t easy.  It’s a lot harder than following every whim.  Why does self-control seem to get less reward in the bible than a major failure mea culpa?

Self-control has its own rewards, of course.  Or rather, lack of self-control begets its
own punishment, a la the prodigal.  The real invitation, here, is to examine the true motives in our hearts.  Are we racking up credits, paying our dues banking on a future reward?  Or are we driven by love and desire to share joy with God?

Medieval rabbinic authority Maimonides recognized the dichotomy between actions and motives. He defined degrees of teshuvah.  Often translated “repentance,” teshuvah is the process of turning back to God and it requires sinning to stop.  To stop sinning due to fear of earthly consequences is a lower degree of teshuvah than to stop sinning due to fear of divine consequences after death, which is yet a lower degree of teshuvah than to stop sinning due to a change of heart.  To stop sinning because of love is the highest degree of teshuvah, but it is not required for forgiveness.  Maimonides establishes that lesser modes of rapprochement are fully adequate.  God yearns for love but right actions lead us towards him.

Biographer, novelist, and translator of seventeenth century religious classics H. L. Sindey Lear (1824-1896) suggests the small things are our best training ground for spiritual growth.

“When persons have learnt to look upon the daily course of their ordinary life, with its duties and troubles, however common-place, as their offering to God, and as the safest school for themselves of perfection, they will have made a very important step in the spiritual life.  Another step, so simple that it is often despised, is to do everything, however ordinary, as well as it can possibly be done, for God’s sake.  A third is to be always pressing forward; when a mistake is made, or a fault committed, to face and admit it freely; but having asked God to supply the deficiency caused by our own infirmity, to go on steadfastly and hopefully.”

Join the conversation. What is your daily offering to God?

Copyright 2011 Stephanie Walker All rights reserved. Visit www.AcrossTraditions.com.