During this past Covid year, our front porch has seen a lot of packages delivered. With four adults and two small children in the house, sometimes the deliveries accumulate as we cautiously quarantine items for a day or two on the porch. Sometimes we open the box and dump the contents on the porch for a little more sunshine exposure.
Recently one of the items on the porch was a book my son ordered which caught my attention. “Atomic Habits” was a No. 1 NY Times Best Seller for two months last year after being on many best-seller lists for the past 18 months. It leads with the tag line: Tiny changes, remarkable results. And a second tag line suggests that the book will provide “an easy and proven way to build good habits and break bad ones.” It’s hardly surprising that the book has been a best seller – isn’t everyone looking for little changes that will yield amazing results? And who doesn’t want an easy way to break bad habits?
“Atomic Habits” dives deep into setting the table for effective change – and suggests that change is the outcome of small step-by-step practices rather than radical commitments. And with the beginning of a new year, I imagine “Atomic Habits” will be a popular resource as people evaluate their “bad” and “good” habits and make their “resolutions.”
Such annual evaluations and resolutions usually focus on how we spend our time, energy, money. For us Catholics, we can take this opportunity to include our spiritual practices and relationship with God. “Atomic Habits” points to the outsized impact of small shifts in our daily routines. The question becomes: How do we identify those changes and embed them in our lives?
One takeaway that resonates with Christian life is the relationship between identity and habit. Habits are the behaviors that express our identity. Writers write. Artists create. Athletes play. Christians follow Jesus. So a writer who never writes – are they really a writer? Or are they a “used-to-be a writer?” So the question for the Christian is, what are the habits that embody following Jesus? What essential practices and activities will help me stay in relationship with Jesus?
If we imagine our spiritual life as a wheel, there are five spokes – with God at the center, Father Son and Holy Spirit – and the grace we need emanates into our life via these spokes: Prayer, Study, Community, Service, Sacraments. If any one of these is missing – well, we’ll be limping in some fashion.
As we examine where we’ve been, how we’re doing and where we’re going, we should consider how each of these “spokes” is functioning in our life. Daily prayer, regular study of the Bible or church teaching, gathering (even virtually) with other Catholics for worship, serving the needs of others, and regular sacramental life (under current restrictions) are the practices that feed our soul.
At the root of what helps us to live well, and love well, is the supernatural grace of our relationship with Jesus. It is God’s supernatural grace that helps us when we open ourselves and respond to it. Grace isn’t magic. But oddly enough, at the slightest invitation, God shows up and gives us exactly what we need.