We’re kicking off a mini blog series from Kaitlyn Schiess this week! All for the Sake of Our Neighbor is a series of posts all about healthy spiritual rhythms and practices that help us better love those around us.
What does loving others have to do with habit? And why do spiritual practices and rhythms even matter?
Part 1: Habits for Loving Our Neighbor
Have you ever forgotten to brush your teeth in the morning, only to realize it when you’re halfway through your commute or sitting at your desk? It’s frustrating not only because your breath probably stinks, but because you skipped some part of your normal routine. Maybe it was due to stress or distraction, but you didn’t complete a normal habit, and it feels weird!
We are people more shaped by our habits than we realize. Even those of who are more spontaneous or laid-back than the Type A morning people we typically associate with “10 habits of highly effective people” are still shaped by their habits.
We tend to do the same things every morning, have an order we like to accomplish tasks in, and have certain tendencies when it comes to the grocery stores we shop in, the restaurants we visit, the color of the clothes we buy, or our coffee orders. We might switch things up occasionally (or we might even pride ourselves on trying new things all the time), but some things in our life are consistent.
We are habitual people, and that is not an accident.
God made us as more than what philosopher James K. A. Smith calls “brains-on-a-stick.” He created us as a coherent whole of body and brain, emotion and intellect, spiritual and physical. The immaterial, spiritual part of ourselves is not the “real part” that directs our unnecessary bodies with our emotions, needs, and frailties. No, our bodies and emotions were made good, and while they have been corrupted by sin, they are also being redeemed by the gracious work of God.
What does that have to do with habit?
God, from the very beginning, has been gracious enough to give us the tools to direct our whole selves towards love of Him. In our brokenness and fallenness, we will desire the wrong things. Our love will be misdirected: turned inwards towards only our own needs, turned to earthly desires like wealth or power, or turned towards other people or objects who become idols.
We need habits, practices, and rhythms for our lives to help rightfully direct our loves. Left to our own devices, we will be pulled from one wrong love to the next.
God has always given His people habits to form them and rhythms to guide them.
Think of the people of Israel: they had weekly, yearly, and generational rhythms to guide them. The Sabbath reoriented them to their Creator as the giver of all good gifts and reminded them of their own smallness and need for rest. The festivals created a rhythm for praising God during the changing seasons and reenacting the ways He had been faithful throughout history. The Jubilee, in which land was returned to its original owners, would regularly remind the people that the land was not theirs, but God’s, and would prevent hoarding of resources and accumulation of excess wealth.
In the New Testament, there are habits and rhythms for the people of God as well: reading Scripture and breaking bread together, communion and baptism, and eventually, yearly celebrations like Christmas and Easter.
Over time, the church would expand upon those celebrations and create the church calendar—another form of seeking rhythm, of building regular reminders of the grand redemptive story of Scripture into their lives. They would also develop, from Scripture and their own experience, spiritual disciplines that focused their minds and trained their hearts to love God and their neighbors correctly.
We have, as inheritors of a tradition and a history larger and more diverse than our little corner of the world, the gift of drawing on the habits and practices of the global, historic church to shape and pattern our lives.
When living the Christian life feels overwhelming and impossible (and what Jesus calls us to is entirely beyond our own capacities), we have the gracious gift of relying upon rhythms, habits and practices, and spiritual disciplines that can make us into the kind of people who can seek the flourishing of our communities, the good of our neighbors, and the life of the world.
 You can read more about these ideas in James K. A. Smith’s book You Are What You Love: The Spiritual Power of Habit.