Psalms 34; 146, Jeremiah 17:19-27, Romans 7:13-25, John 6:16-27
We’re prone to judging people, including ourselves, as morally weak or strong depending on whether we believe they have a little or a lot of it. We blame poor willpower for addictions, eating disorders, bad habits, cowardice, and any number of human failings. Recent studies, however, indicate that reliance on willpower alone to change behavior may actually set us up for further failure. To understand a behavior is more than understanding what we do, but why we do it.
The Apostle Paul was ahead of the research on this one. He freely admitted: “I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate […] I can will what is right, but I cannot do it. I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do.” He described his mind as a slave to God, but his flesh as a slave to sin.
Repenting of a behavior is more complicated than declaring, “I am done.” It’s unfair to expect that of ourselves. We owe it to ourselves and to God to take the time to understand why we gossip (or cheat or lie or whatever it is we wish to change). Repentance starts with a decision, but we may need to find ways to reinforce that decision every day – perhaps every hour – for a long time. Prayer is the best start, but we shouldn’t be ashamed to employ all the tools necessary to be successful. Those tools may include everything from daily affirmations to professional counseling.
We may need to physically alter our environment; if so, let’s think of that as a sign not of our weakness, but of our dedication. We may need to leave behind friends who undermine or mock our efforts. Backsliding may be part of the process. Willpower tells us backsliding is failure; repentance tells us backsliding signals time for another change of direction away from the darkness and toward the light.
Viewed through eyes of grace, our imperfections are not barriers between us and the divine, but invitations to more fully understand ourselves and our God.
Comfort: God’s love is unconditional. Yes, that was yesterday’s comfort as well. Repeat as necessary.
Challenge: Read this short article on changing bad habits, and maybe seek out others.
Prayer: Holy and forgiving God, thank you for being by my side both when I fail and when I succeed. Amen.
Discussion: What’s the most difficult habit or behavior you’ve broken?
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