Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Desiring the Kingdom :: Sow a Habit, Reap a Character

(For the next several months I will be participating in this book club on Desiring the Kingdom, hosted by Mystie at Simply Convivial. If you missed my earlier posts you can find them here)

This chapter expanded more on the idea that the things we do affect who we are. All of us have certain habits. We live our lives out through the things that we do. Some habits we have formed unconsciously, other habits we have acquired deliberately. Some habits we would classify as good, others as bad. There are physical habits and there are habits of the mind. All of them are important because in their entirety they make up who we are. The way that we act and the way that we think will either point us toward God, or point us away. There are no neutral habits.

All habits and practices are ultimately trying to make us into a certain kind of person. So one of the most important questions we need to ask is: Just what kind of person is this habit or practice trying to produce, and to what end is such a practice aimed? 

It is our responsibility, as parents and educators, to think carefully about this. We have to know what kind of persons we want our children to become, and we also have to identify the virtues that those people have. Once we have identified those virtues the question becomes: what kinds of habits do people with these virtues have? How does a godly person behave?

We do not have to look far for models to emulate. One has only to open any book about the lives of the saints to find examples of godly men and women, who desired The Kingdom so much that they gladly gave their very lives for the sake of gaining it. These men and women were able to make such great sacrifices precisely because of the way they lived their lives. The things that they did every day shaped and formed them into true Christians. Most of the time we hear of their great feats of asceticism and/or martyrdom, but I think sometimes we forget about the day to day lives that they lived before those stunning accomplishments. Every day they lived in such a way as to point their hearts toward Christ; they acquired the habits of godly people.

Examining the specific habits of godly people is beyond the scope of this post (although I will say that first to come to mind are prayer, fasting and almsgiving), but my point is that we need to be aware of these things and deliberately choose to help our children establish these kinds of habits in their own lives. In the book, Smith has this to say:

...the repetition and practice [of rituals] has the effect of making them more and more automatic such that they become part of the very fiber of our character, wired into our second nature. 

This is what I was trying to say here and also here. When our practices become so ingrained that they are instinctual and performed without any effort on our part then they have become a part of our very self. They are not just things that we do, but they become integral to who we are. Charlotte Mason puts it this way,

...it is the words and actions which come from us without conscious thought which afford the true measure of what we are. 
'Sow a habit, reap a character'; that is, the formation of habits is one of the chief means whereby we modify the hereditary disposition of the child until it becomes the character of the man. 
The book goes on to differentiate between rituals, practices and liturgies. According to Smith practices are rituals which are performed over and over again until they become part of our very makeup. He then describes liturgies as

...rituals that are of ultimate concern: rituals that are formative for identity, that inculcate particular visions of the good life, and do so in a way that means to trump other ritual formations. 
If we take the above quote along with what Charlotte Mason says above we can see how very important habits and the ideas behind those habits are. In other words the character building that Miss Mason speaks of is able to function as such precisely because of the fact that the habits of a virtuous person are habits which point directly to the Kingdom. Purposeful cultivation of practices that conform to the standard that Christ has set for us, through His own example, will place one on the path to salvation. Intentional (or even unintentional) cultivation of practices contrary to that standard point one in the other direction. There is not a third option; we either move toward Christ, or away from Him.

(The images in this post are scenes from the life of Saint Juliana of Lazarevo; a wonderful example of a godly woman who lived out her life for Christ).

 book club


  1. Your pictures to this post tell the whole story.

  2. "You either move toward Christ, or away from Him." That is such an important point. That is why the little things do matter.


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