There is a great deal of value in developing the right sort of habits and conditioning ourselves to live with intention. As Paul notes, “Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified” (1 Corinthians 9:25-27). There has even been some great research to supplement ancient wisdom (check out the Farnam Street post on habit here).
As impactful as developing habits can be, there is also power in breaking habits…of disrupting routine to take a fresh look at life (and what may be missing). My wife and I recently broke our routine and have experienced firsthand the blessings of disruption.
Kim has always wanted a large family. While she was shooting for the Von Trapps, (a Sound of Music reference for all of you who aren’t Julie Andrews fans). I was thinking more in the realm of a nice, lazy dog. Though I had never envisioned being a father, I love my kids…but I don’t want more (three is my limit).
So, instead of expanding our permanent family, we decided to take in two kids through a ministry to families in crisis. When families hit a wall due to unemployment, illness, or homelessness, this ministry places the children in safe homes where they can be cared for on an short-term basis.
Having an extra couple of kiddos has not been easy because it forced us out of our established routine. At 13, 10, and 10, our kids are pretty independent. Everyone in our family gets in the groove of casual interactions and staying out of each other’s way. But, with our little system disrupted, we’ve all felt the need to make adjustments so we can spend time as a family. Our routines and habits before our short-term additions were fine…they made life work…but they also kept us from spending different time together.
I think I realized just how much I’d been missing because of my routine when we recently took time for a family picnic. As we ate dinner, talked, and the kids and I wrestled in the yard, I felt a sense of gratitude for my family that I hadn’t felt in some time. Don’t get me wrong…I am always thankful for my family. But, as with so many things in life that get easy and automatic, I had begun to take for granted what I really have…what God has given me.
Through the experience of caring for two young children (an experience that has been more challenging for me as “a creature of habit”), I realized that my life had become too systematic, too disciplined, and, in some respects, too easy. I didn’t want (and, were it not for Kim, never would have chosen) to care for children who are not my own, but I am glad we did. It woke me up to the things I’d been doing out of habit that deserved a bit more of my conscious attention.
In the end, habits are important. We need them. I believe that they help us to reshape the way we view the world. “Holy habits” provide a powerful means by which we demonstrate our commitment to growth in Christ. At the same time, habits can also blind us to the joys in life that may not fit neatly into a systematic lifestyle. Habits are beneficial, but life isn’t going to fit neatly into every system.
My encouragement is not to forego habit altogether. Instead, I would encourage all of us to break our habits once in a while. Don’t be a slave to routine…don’t get to that point where life is easy and automatic. Don’t take God’s good gifts for granted. So, make breaking your routines a new habit…you may just find that the disrupted life has its perks.