Gradient Week 3
Out With the Old
I have some habits that aren't the best things in the world. In fact, they're pretty bad. I can't think of all of them at this moment, but I know they exist. Like the habit, I have of picking my cuticles and the skin around my thumbs off. I pick them until they bleed or my thumbs look like a small rodent was gnawing on them. I've been able to stop long enough for them to heal only to go right back to it. I have to copiously tell myself to stop, but never have to tell myself to start picking away. I seem to just do it. I have noticed there are times when my picking is worse. When I’m stressed out it gets so bad that my fingers are raw and bleeding. Anxiety, worry, even boredom prompt the picking. Even now as I type this I'm fighting the urge to pick! l don't know a time in my life when I’ve not picked at my fingers. This is one habit that is entrenched!
My finger-picking habit really isn't something that's caused me any trouble other than messed up manicures. It's gross but only affects me. There are other habits I have that are actually far worse and affect the people around me. These are things like my habit of feeling irritated at the first sign of resistance to something I want to do. My first reaction isn't to stop and think about the other person's side or to fully examine the situation. My first thought is straight up annoyance at not getting my way when I want it and how I want it. (Does anyone else hear the bratty girl from Willy Wonka singing?) This results in my being not so nice to someone or holding in resentment at the situation. Neither response is a good habit. Other habits may include, but are not limited to: self-reliance, blame, shame, self-doubt, anger, insecurity... the list goes on and on. I have them all. Of course, they never look that obvious. It's usually seen through a seemingly mindless action, like taking matters into my own hands, that highlights my tendencies to lapse into my old habits.
I've found the most common reason for reverting to my old ways to be that I am trying to either work out a plan on my own or I am trying to get God to jump on board with my plan.
My bent toward self-reliance and being able to elicit a positive result through my efforts really comes into play when I'm faced with a change I'd like to see happen in me or in my life.
Thinking I can guarantee a result that will bypass all of my other emotionally charged bad habits has been a learned habit and is the root of my self-reliance.
Years ago during my marriage, after I had dedicated my life to Christ, I had spent what I felt was a sufficient amount of time as a believer praying for a change in my marriage. When I failed to see the results I was hoping for when I was hoping they'd happen, I tried to go at it alone and in my own ways. Did I mention that patience wasn't one of my strengths? I revisited the tactics I had previously employed trying to make my marriage work and when they failed, I blamed myself for not doing it right. In the aftermath, I continued trying to do the things I thought would make my life work out. Looking back on those years, the parable of the wineskins from Luke 5:37-38 came to mind and I understood that, in essence, I had been trying to pour my new wine into my old wineskins. Nothing I tried in my own efforts was ever going to work and I was just going to keep spilling my wine all over the place!
“For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
So are My ways higher than your ways
And My thoughts than your thoughts."
It's only when I remember the truth of Isaiah 55:9 and realize His ways and His thoughts are higher than mine that I can clearly see what I've been doing. It's the spiritual equivalent of picking my fingers. I so easily lapse into my old ways of thinking and reasoning but have to consciously tell myself to stop. I have to remind myself that in relying on my ways I'm not only thinking that I know better than my Father, but I'm also robbing myself of the peace that comes from resting in His faithfulness.
If you're like me, you do it too.
However, emotional responses and their subsequent reactions that don't express the spiritual fruit we have been given, are habits already conquered on the cross. They are finished with the spiritual reality we are in.
However, they are not always realized through our flesh ridden lives. Much like my lifelong desire to not pick, thought habits are oftentimes deeply entrenched within our minds.
In fact, studies of the brain have shown the paths habits create are seen as deep grooves in the lobes which have been worn in over time. In the same way. when unlearning habits our brain has to create new lobal pathways in their place. The Apostle Paul may not have to know anything about brain lobes and pathways, but he urges the believers in Romans 12:2 to be transformed by the renewing of their minds. In Ephesians 1:18 he prays for the enlightening of the perceptions of their minds and in 4:23-24 he speaks of the renewal of their minds in the ability to put on their newly created selves. This new creation is embedded with every spiritual blessing under heaven and every attribute listed for the believers.
As such, we have all of the spiritual fruit as described in Galatians 5 fully developed. We have all of the attributes of love as explained in 1 Corinthians 13. The reactions and responses we have come to rely on are no longer part of who we have become through Christ. I no longer have to respond in annoyance because the love I have been given is not easily irritated. I have a full measure of patience which gives me the ability to wait on God's timing with joy and expectation. If I'm struggling, I can ask Holy Spirit to help me draw from what I already have. I do not have to give in to my feelings and emotions. If I do, I don't have to stay there! As soon as I see which habit I'm reinforcing, I have the freedom to choose to let Christ's ways and thoughts become mine as well by simply asking for Him to grow it in my everyday living.
The habits we have relied on to help us navigate life in a way that has seemed palatable do not have to be the responses we cling to as we move forward in our relationship with our Father. Through Christ, we have been gifted a lavishly full measure of grace that enables us to walk in the freedom of resting in God's way of life.