Periodically we read about some other product marked as dangerous for human consumption because it has been proven to cause cancer in laboratory rats. Those warnings are probably good for us to heed but I often find myself wondering just how much of the product a human might have to ingest in order to become ill. The dosages that the rats receive, after all, are inordinately high. It’s not like one taste or injection of the product has ruined the rat.
While there are notable exceptions, most things that are harmful to us have to be ingested frequently and over a long period of time. One ibuprofen won’t give you stomach problems but ten a day for five years just might. Two glasses of wine won’t hurt us but two bottles a day for ten years will take its toll. Overeating one night won’t cause irreparable harm but doing it every day for years will certainly present health issues. Our bodily system can correct the occasional intake of bad things but over time it wears down.
The same could be said of the helpful things in life. Doing something good and healthy every once in a while has some limited value but a deeper good comes from repeating those things over a long period of time. Strenuous exercise is good only if we maintain the practice over the years. Eating vegetables once in a while doesn’t do much good but a healthy diet over a longer period of time makes a huge difference. Conversing with one’s spouse a few times might be interesting but successful relationships result from consistent communication. Reading the bible through one time certainly won’t hurt you but sitting with the scriptures on a daily basis offers so much more. Our bodily and spiritual systems are truly affected by regular habits.
During certain times of the year – at New Year’s or maybe during Lent – and at certain times in life, we experiment with things we know will be good for us. How many of us have exercise equipment in some room of the house that now has laundry hanging from it? How many of us start September thinking that this is the year we’ll get the whole family to Sunday School every week and then, a few weeks later, cave into pressure from the kids to just stay home? We get excited about making improvements in our lives but we easily slide back into our old ways.
Good practices are always good. But the real goodness comes from consistency. Children need that from their parents so they’ll know what is coming next. Growth and learning doesn’t take place in haphazard occurrences. We learn and grow bit by bit over time. Good acts individually don’t accomplish much. Good habits, however, bring big differences.
Perhaps that’s the thing about God’s ways that invites us so powerfully. God’s ways are eternal. He acts consistently in life – creating, redeeming, sustaining – and we come to count on his changelessness. It’s the thing that separates God from us and that which inspires us to come to God. Eternal life is that which we yearn for, that which is offered to us. God’s kingdom always has been and always will be good. We don’t get there by ourselves but one way we participate is through taking on holier habits. Older churches are particularly inviting because it’s apparent that many people over many years have gathered there for prayer. The marble is worn. The impressions in the kneeler cushions are visible. That’s what we yearn for in our lives: consistent and regular habits of holiness.
What have you experimented with lately that God may be calling you to continue? Adopt a practice and keep going back to it. There you will meet the risen Christ in deep and powerful ways.
Robert C. Wisnewski, Jr.