Habits are one of the most influential governing factors of our existence. Our actions, our responses, the decisions we make, the way we live our life are all largely dictated by our habits.
In fact, any behavior that I repeat, I reinforce. If I repeat it often enough, it becomes habit. Soon I don’t even think about it. I just do it.
When the western U.S. was being settled, roads were often just wagon tracks. These rough trails posed serious problems for those who journeyed on them. On one of these winding paths was posted a sign which read: “Avoid this rut or you’ll be in it for the next 25 miles!”
Habits are hard to crack. There was a fire one night at a convent and several nuns who lived on the fourth floor were trapped. They could only think of one way to get out – take off their robes, tie them together and climb down to safety. Later as they were recounting the event to reporters, they were asked if they were afraid that the crude rope might not hold up. “Oh, no,” they said, “Old habits are hard to break.”
There are good habits. “Philip Haille wrote of the little village of Le Chambon in France, a town whose people, during the Second World War hid their Jews from the Nazis. This was very dangerous. If caught they would be killed. Haille went there, wondering what sort of courageous heroes could risk so much to do such extraordinary good. He interviewed people in the village and was surprised by their ordinariness. They weren’t heroes or smart, discerning people. The one factor that united them, he discovered, was their attendance, Sunday after Sunday, at their little church, where they heard the sermons of their priest. Over time, they became by habit a people who just knew what to do. When it came time for them to be courageous, the day the Nazis came to town, they quietly did what was right. One old woman, who faked a heart attack when the Nazis came to search her house, later said, ‘The pastor always taught us that there comes a time in every life when a person is asked to do something for Jesus. When our time came, we knew what to do.’
Then there are bad habits. A Spanish proverb says: “Habits are first cobwebs, then cables.” Bad habits first entice, and then ensnare like a cobweb. And if we continue in the behavior, the web grows stronger and can be as difficult to break as a steel
This author recounts, “On a road not far from my home are some trees that are slowly being destroyed by huge coils of ivy. The vines wind themselves like snakes around the trunk. At this point it is impossible to untwist these runners because they are so firmly embedded into the trees. They are literally strangling the life out of those helpless giants. But there was a day when the ivy was a small plant just seeking a little support in climbing. Had the trees resisted these tiny tendrils, they would not be in the state they are in now.”
You are what your habits are. So, form the habits you want and let them mold you into the person you want to be.
(c) Fr. Pius Sammut, OCD. Permission is hereby granted for any non-commercial use, provided that the content is unaltered from its original state, if this copyright notice is included.