Creature of (New) Habit

I am a creature of habit. Almost to a fault.

For example, every day I automatically wake up at the exact same time; my body is so well-trained that I don’t even need to set an alarm. I get up, read my Bible, and take my vitamins. For breakfast, I eat two bowls of off-brand cornflakes with a sprinkling of sugar on top, and I drink one cup two cups of creamered coffee while reading the news. After that, I brush my teeth and wash my face and get ready for the day.

In high school, I was similar (though luckily I hadn’t become addicted to coffee yet. That happened during my last semester of college when I had a Latin American history class at 3 p.m. #esfuerzo). In fact, I was so predictable that, when I opened my “Freshman Time Capsule” at the senior class picnic, I found that nothing about me had changed. I still ate the same lunch, I still watched the same TV shows, listened to the same music, and followed pretty much the same overachieving schedule. Sure, I’d gotten rid of the braces and finally started wearing non-high-waisted jeans (spring semester of junior year *cough cough*), but as far as my basic habits and everyday decisions were concerned, I was essentially the same.

Maybe you’re not as habitual as I am. Maybe you’re the epitome of spontaneity like my dear friend Ben Savory (yes, that’s actually his name) who successfully took a road trip around the country with his best friend and no money, hitchhiked his way from St. Louis to Lampe, Missouri, and lived in a van for an entire winter in Pennsylvania, partially because of scholarship issues and partially just because he could.

Sometimes I wonder how Ben and I are friends.

Anyway, if I had to wager, I would bet that your life is a lot like mine: very habitual and very ordinary. Because that’s kind of how life works.  We get up (or oversleep), shower (or don’t), get dressed (a must!), go to work, get stuck in traffic, clock in, take a lunch break, work some more, write emails, get stuck in traffic again, eat leftovers, watch TV and go to bed…  only to wake up the next morning and do it all over again. Life is a rhythm, a cadence, a flow. A semi-ceaseless tempo in the same well-worn groove. That’s not necessarily a bad thing; structure makes our lives function smoothly. Even the natural world follows its own patterns; the sun rises every morning and sets every night, and that’s a very good thing. But if these patterns and habits aren’t bad, then why do we get so frustrated with them?

So often, I find myself getting discouraged by the monotony of life. Sometimes it’s easy to feel like a cog in a wheel or just another car stuck in traffic on I-85.  Every day feels basically the same. If the majority of life is habitual and ordinary, and if these habits aren’t necessarily bad things, then what are we supposed to do? And how do we overcome the frustration or dissatisfaction we so often feel? Unless you win the lottery or suddenly find yourself on a reality TV show, odds are that the circumstances of your life will stay fairly constant. Even temporary escapes like vacations don’t last forever; eventually, we have to come back home to the monotonous, ordinary reality. So how do we respond to this fact without feeling discouraged or disillusioned?

Your attitude determines your altitude.

This simple phrase from aviation contains a profound lesson about how we should approach life. In mechanical terms, it means that the angle of your airplane’s nose (its attitude) will directly affect how high it will fly (altitude). In the same way, the attitude with which we approach our lives determine how “high we fly.” That is, if we point our metaphorical noses upward in gratitude, then we will fly upward in joy. Conversely, if we face downward through negativity and complaining, we’ll take an emotional nosedive. Conventional wisdom agrees with this sentiment, as trite clichés like “Don’t worry; be happy” communicate. But in God’s kingdom, this statement takes on a deeper spiritual meaning: the more we orient ourselves toward Christ by “fixing our eyes” on Him and giving thanks to Him, the more we experience His presence and joy. With His help, our soul’s “airplane” climbs to new heights, and we begin to see the world from His heavenly perspective and experience His lasting, transcending peace.

And just as the daily drudgery is eclipsed by the sunset’s splendor, we habitual humans discover the morsels beauty God has hidden for us in the everyday.  So will we make a new habit of looking for them?

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