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?

A Pig of a Different Color

Spike's Bathtime

Sometimes you just have to stop and pet the guinea pigs.

Yes, I know the expression is usually different. And while I agree that savoring the aroma of coffee can be a pleasant experience, it pales in comparison to petting a baby guinea pig. Trust me on this one.

Tonight my family visited our local Petland and spent an hour holding baby guinea pigs. To call it “glorious” would be a tragic understatement. It was the best hour I’d had in a long time.

You see, guinea pigs have long held a very special place in my family’s heart. When I was in fifth grade, my Papa and I secretly went to PetSmart and picked out our first pig. (Don’t worry; we were smart enough to ask my mom’s permission first!). Bugsy was the most precious pig ever, despite all we put him through. For instance, during his first week with us, he constantly made a purring sound. We assumed this meant he was happy, and we congratulated ourselves for being such gifted guinea pig keepers. When he started sneezing a week later, we took him to the vet where we learned that this so-called purring actually indicated anger. Oops. Fortunately, we soon perfected the art of making Bugsy squeak, which is the real guinea-pig equivalent of purring.

Bugsy was certainly a good-natured little fella. From making him pull down a dishtowel to open his cage, to forcing him to stand up on his back legs to reach his lettuce, from seeing if he could jump off the couch, to using a ferret harness and taking him on a “walk” around the neighborhood, we made Bugsy do some ridiculous things. But he patiently endured it all, even the most emotionally-scarring experience. While some people sneak popcorn and candy into movies, we smuggled our guinea pig. We wrapped Bugsy up in a half dozen towels, stuck him in a canvas bag, and brought him to the premier of 102 Dalmatians. In retrospect, he probably didn’t appreciate all the barking dogs… and this might explain why most of the towels were soaking wet afterward. Having said all that, we loved Bugsy dearly, even if we didn’t always show it in the best ways.

After Bugsy came Spike. Dear, sweet Spike. If Bugsy was docile and well-behaved, Spike was his spunky, hyperactive opposite. Covered in cowlicks, he was a bunny-colored ball of energy. When his breakfast time rolled around each morning, he’d let you—and the whole house—know he was hungry. Shrieking as loud as his miniature lungs would allow, Spike would sprint in circles around his cage until his food arrived. And if you dared to withhold a piece of lettuce from him, he’d fight you until you relinquished it. Yet Spike was as lovable as he was tenacious, and we loved him back.

So as odd as it may sound (then again, when has my family ever been normal?), guinea pigs have played an integral role in my family. Thus, our “guinea pig withdrawal” makes complete sense. So tonight we went to Petland and held their guinea pigs. And as I petted one of the squeaking balls of fur, I couldn’t help but ask myself why we hadn’t done this before. If guinea pigs bring us so much joy, then why had we spent almost two years without them?

Time is a paradox. It simultaneously crawls and sprints. Before we know it, today becomes tomorrow… while we’re still saying goodbye to yesterday.  In the madness of the moment, we can forget. Forget why we’re here. Forget who we are. And forget Who gave us life in the first place.

When I was traveling through Ireland last March, I stumbled across an insightful quote. I took a liking to it (and took a picture of it) and have been pondering it ever since: “What is this life if, full of care, we have no time to stop and stare?” Although I love this quote, I’m terrible at applying it. Instead of stopping and staring, I’m constantly moving full speed ahead. And I’m not the only one who lives this way. In our overstimulated society, downtime is under-appreciated. But that’s not how God created us to be.

You see, God wants us to work hard. He wants us to be productive and manage our time well. But He also desires us to rest. In fact, He showed us rest on the seventh day and even included it as one of the Ten Commandments when He instructs us to “Honor the Sabbath Day and keep it holy.” As counter-intuitive as it sounds, resting becomes an act of worship. And so is enjoying the world God gave us. For me, guinea pigs are living—and squeaking—proof of that.

So what do you enjoy doing? What activity, hobby, or small furry creature brings you joy? And what’s keeping you from it? I’m not condoning procrastination (I may get around to that tomorrow. Haha). On the contrary! I’m challenging you to stop procrastinating. Quit putting off your life until tomorrow, and start enjoying it today. So brew yourself a cup of coffee, take a deep breath, and go for it! Your guinea pigs are waiting. 🙂