In last week’s column, I was suggesting that we humans under appreciate the impact and power of habits – good and bad. The previous column, paralleling Stephen’ Covey’s “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People,” began to explore the habits of the heart for committed Christians. The premise was that we humans are not fundamentally thinking creatures, or believing creatures, but desiring creatures. Thinking and believing are key and essential parts of who we are, but what pushes and pulls us has more to do with what captures our desires, our affections — our hearts. Our identity as persons is shaped by what we ultimately love or what we love as ultimate. It is the heart that needs formation in the Christian life. I then began to list some habits for forming a loving heart.
The first three habits were:
Read the Word of God – It is where you meet Jesus and where you can fall in love. In those grey moments when you are wondering what to do, the answer to WWJD (what would Jesus do) is written in the Sacred Scriptures. Cultivate an active prayer life – God cannot effectively change, shape and mold our lives unless we share it with Him in prayer. Set spiritual goals – The well-formed heart asks that we set personal spiritual goals and actively work towards them, making the necessary sacrifices to eventually reach them.
And now for the rest of the column!
Know what God calls you to do – We are all members of the Body of Christ, hopefully doing what we do best. We all seem to have natural dispositions, talents, and skills. St. Paul recognizes this in his letter to the Ephesians when he tells us that, as a community, God’s purpose is to “equip the holy ones for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ.” (Eph 4:12). We need to have the habit of recognizing, cultivating, and encouraging our talents and the talents of others.
Take Responsibility – Because we are all members of the Body of Christ, we are called to take responsibility for our own souls – with the help of the community and priests – but in the end each one of us is responsible. The well-formed heart has the habit of putting what is good for souls first so that we are prepared to spend our energies on what is most precious to our heart’s desire.
Serve Others – “…The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve…” (Mt 20:28). The habit of selfless service to others for their good is the means to develop the understanding that service is a way of life born out of love for Jesus. When asked why we serve, we naturally respond, “I am compelled by the love of Christ.” (cf. 2 Cor 5:14)
Take time to know where your feet are – One of my favorite parables is “The Parable of the Sower”: “A sower went out to sow…Some (seed) fell on rocky ground, where it had little soil. It sprang up at once because the soil was not deep, and when the sun rose it was scorched, and it withered for lack of roots. Some seed fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked it.” (Mt 13:3-7). A good habit for Christians is to be attentive and to always check your feet. Do you find yourself in shallow soil or among the thorns of life? The everyday includes worry about deadlines, debts, health, family, busyness in work and activities, emergencies, and a whole host of other things that take our attention, our energy, and maybe our heart. A well-formed heart has the habit of ever looking for the “rich soil, [to produce] fruit, a hundred or sixty or thirtyfold.” (Mt 13:8)
Develop faith-filled habits for a lifetime; habits that become a natural part of our lives. As I wrote last week, nature hates a vacuum. So, we either form Christian habits of the heart or other habits will surely find their own place in our hearts