Thursday, August 9, 2012

Habit-Swapping

In my last blog post, I claimed that I'd try to be more concise, and I failed miserably! Thanks for continuing to read in spite of my verbosity.  I realize this is a much-needed area for improvement in my writing. I want to say thanks to the 120 readers who have come to my site this past week.  It means a lot, and I hope you will feel free to comment or inquire of me whatever comes to mind.  I will do my best to reply in an accurate and timely fashion, and am hopeful this blog will become a vehicle for Christian dialogue--not just another middle-aged woman pouring out her deepest thoughts.

I had a conversation with a dear friend recently about bad habits ("favorite sins," as I call them). She vulnerably shared with me how any victories over her particular personal addictions were very much determined by her spiritual and mental well-being. In other words, when she fills the voids in her life and her mind with positive, Godly things, she is able to combat her bad habits with great success. Conversely, if life begins to run her, instead of her running it (with God's help), things seem to fall apart rather quickly.  I told her I can totally relate!  My worst habit is worry. I worry about so many things: my husband's safety; my daughter's safety and provision; family and friends with health issues; pleasing pretty much everybody in my life on pretty much every level; not reaching personal goals or most importantly, God's purposes and plans for me; America's financial situation; radical Islam; how will I survive the death of my parents; growing old alone; and much more.  The tangled web of things I find myself fretting over can get pretty intricate and sticky if I spend too much time spinning it. 

God showed me years ago that this bad habit disguises itself well. It masquerades as a common personality trait of meek and overly caring people (people like me who have been given the spiritual gift of "mercy"). It seems like a normal, good thing to worry about the people we love and issues of great importance and consequence.  But in reality, worry is an ugly, fearful, self-absorbed, lack of faith and trust in God, topped-off with a controlling and anxious spirit. Yuck.  The truth sure isn't as pretty as the facade. The verse I think of most often (and quote it to myself repeatedly) when I am filled with worry is, 2 Timothy 1:7, which says, "For God has not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind."  If God doesn't give us the spirit of fear than we either do that to ourselves or our arch enemy below does.  At times, we're our own worst enemy!  But we all worry at times, which makes it a "natural" thing.  The key here is the word, "natural."  The Bible tells us clearly that in our natural state, we are a sinful lot. Sin is our nature (anyone who's raised a toddler understands this fully)!  As Romans 3:23 says, ..."for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God."  So it is actually right on point to say that worrying is, "natural."  Yes, it is--naturally sinful.  It is only upon coming to Christ by recognizing our sins, and confessing our need and acceptance for His payment for our sins (past, present, and future), that we get made "new."  As Romans 6:23 states, "For the wages of sin is death. But the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord."  It is at that moment of our acknowledgement of Christ's sacrifice in our place, that God fills us with His Holy Spirit and makes us a new person.  He washes us clean and renews our heart and soul.  We now can operate through the supernatural power and help of the Holy Spirit, instead of winging it on our own in our "natural" state.  God has made a way to reconcile us to Himself and has given us access to His Spirit in this way.  So when I spin my web of worry and resort back to my "old" self, I  have to remind myself of who I am in Christ, that I am the daughter of The King, that His Spirit lives in me, and that He will give me the strength I need if I just ask and truly seek it (and in the right place).  Paul says much about this idea of the "old self, new self" and of being set free from our slavery to sin in our natural state in Romans 6 & 7.  It is a good read, even if you've read it a hundred times.  Everybody likes a story where good triumphs over evil, and this story happens to be true. 

But back to worry and addictions, in general.  I love the way Audrey Hepburn ("Holly Golightly") describes the worry she faces in the night in the old classic flick, "Breakfast @ Tiffany's." She calls it, "the mean reds." Perfect name for it. Worry is a cruel thing to do to yourself and by the time you feed that fire a while, your brain feels inflamed. My honest friend shared with me that to conquer her addictions (bad habits), she has found that she has to make a conscious effort to swap or trade those bad habits for good ones. This idea was like gold to me. When I start falling into the trap of worry, I immediately get busy doing something else to take my mind off my negative thoughts. The best habit I have is to instantly start praying or reading my Bible. In Psalms 55:22, it says, "Cast your cares on the Lord and He will sustain you; He will never let the righteous fall." So clearly, prayer is a great weapon against worry (and any other sins, for that matter), and therefore, a great option for habit-swapping.  In Hebrews 4:12, it is written, "For the Word of God is living and active.  Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart."  So pouring myself into God's Word is also a wise choice for swapping out my habit of worry.  The mind is a powerful thing, and what we put in it is what starts the chain-reaction of whether we have victory over our addictions, bad habits, and sins.  It is amazing how impressionable and fragile we really are.  We must choose to fill our voids wisely and in so doing, our mind will spur us on to good, fruitful habits.

In conclusion on this topic of habit-swapping, I am reminded of the famous quote by Gandhi: 

“Carefully watch your thoughts, for they become your words. Manage and watch your words, for they will become your actions. Consider and judge your actions, for they have become your habits. Acknowledge and watch your habits, for they shall become your values. Understand and embrace your values, for they become your destiny.”