Have you heard about those personality tests which supposedly reveal what your strengths and weaknesses are at the end? You might have completed one online. While always taking these test results with a grain of salt, most of them appear to be quite accurate. I am one of those people who enjoy asking why and how. I like to analyse and dissect. That is how I learn. I want to know about the details, structure, planning, and especially what concrete practical steps I need to undertake towards a meaningful goal. Once I have the assurance of this process in my mind, taking action becomes the interesting part.
At work I find this natural. I have a left-brain dominant job, and I am good at it. But what about my spiritual life? Is this something I should apply to my faith to improve my connection with God? How can I grow, develop, and get better at my faith practice in the everydayness of my life? What are the practical steps to get to Heaven? What do I need to do to become more holy? Is this something that can be analysed and dissected? Broad statements are not enough for me. I want to know the concrete facts and ‘how tos’! Are you also curious? Do you also want to know how?
Well, I just gave you a big clue to the answer. More on that later.
I am fascinated by people who say that they have a “personal relationship with Christ”. How do they get that? What are the details? I always wonder. Most of the time the majority of us are just trying to live through each day as best as we can. Some days feel like an endless commute through the journey of survival. How do we get that something more in our relationship with Jesus without going on a retreat? If we are laypeople, we may not be able to go away due to family, work, or other commitments. What are we supposed to do?
The answer is to practice holy habits. But more specifically, to practice these habits in the everydayness of our lives. That is the big clue – to do it every day in the ordinariness of our lives, just as we are. But how do we practice? What can we do? The little moments and minutes of our lives all add up. Adopting little habits of holiness can help our formation and communion with God.
I am not a huge fan of practice, but I do it anyway because it will lead to something greater and worthwhile. As a singer I sometimes find scales and warm ups tedious. But I keep my eyes on the fact that I love singing songs and communicating God’s word through hymns, so I always want to keep improving. That is the prize – to use my voice to bring others closer to God. It is up to me to keep putting the work and joy into it. Like a sports athlete a ‘vocal athlete’ needs to keep the voice and body in good shape. The only way to do this is to maintain a set of healthy habits – like building blocks – that will ultimately aid my goal of a positive and prayerful ministry of music, to serve God through the Church, Mass, and liturgy.
It is the same with our faith. Small holy habits, undertaken daily, will shape us over the weeks, months, and years of our lives. So make the time. What habits can you abandon in order to make space for the better ones? What habits can you start to take up?
A holy habit must be practical, easy to fulfil, and time-specific. When repeated regularly over time, habits aim to:
- please God which solidifies our commit to Him;
- increase our faith and trust in Him;
- improve our souls to make them holier and more beautiful, like His;
- mirror His heart, behaviour, word (lived commandments), and love;
- develop the fruits of the Holy Spirit within us;
- lead us on the path to heaven.
I believe that holy habits are a crucial part of our vocation as children of God. Everything in life is based on habits and routines. It is a matter of focusing and questioning what we are doing and why, to realign our behaviours in accordance with what God wants of us, rather than to live numbly through our days. Mindless living is where we can get into trouble and grow weak in our morals and values. To live bravely in this world with a deeper purpose, in unity with His truth, takes courage and intentional practice.
Before diving into new habits though, we need to discard the ones which do not help us and rob us of peace and joy. We may even have habits which have become unhealthy addictions. We need to make time for the good habits to replace them. Identify those habits which are wasting your precious life on earth and firmly decide to stop them. Stopping a habit is not easy, but the decision to do so is a start. To be completely successful you need to immediately begin a new holy habit to uproot each unholy one. Think about adopting the following suggestions or devise your own:
Holy habit (and time commitment)
- Pray the Rosary (30 minutes in full, or start with one decade every hour or every day).
- Go to an extra Mass or two during the week if you can (in addition to Sundays). Daily Mass would be even better!
- Read about Jesus’s holy habits in the Bible (eg. feeding the hungry, helping the sick, etc.). How can you mirror his actions? (5 minutes).
- Smile or silently bless a passerby in the street (any time!).
- Say a ‘Hail Mary’ when you see an ambulance rush by (any time).
- Read a section of the Bible and commit a phrase to memory (10 minutes).
- Obtain a Catholic book reading list and buy or borrow more sacred books (daily reading).
- Create a mini retreat spot in your home or garden and go there for quiet time (5 minutes daily).
- Turn off technology (1+ hours).
- Learn about the life of a saint (daily / weekly).
- Study the habits of a saint and note what they did (daily / weekly).
- Fast, i.e. give up your favourite food or activity (every Wednesday or Friday).
- Meditate on who God is in short words – love, peace, joy, faithful, merciful, gentleness, etc. (repeat these words for 10 minutes).
- Play sacred music – this is truly medicine for the soul. Allow the lyrics and sounds to wash over you (daily).
- Sing to God (any time).
- Write poetry or paint about God and other holy subjects – get creative (any time).
- Get involved with gardening and touch creation (daily).
Above all, the top habit to adopt right now is prayer. Ask God to give you the strength to start forming habits which will bring you closer to Him.
In essence, what we are trying to do here is transform our lives by resetting our minds on Christ via new actions. You might have heard of the phrase “practice random kindness and senseless acts of beauty“? Well, for Catholics, why not turn this into “practice daily habits of holiness, and constant acts of love”? The point is: it all boils down to His love. We need to change because many of us have lost our way. The mind will be your worst enemy throughout this whole habit-changing process, but God wants us to choose better:
“Do not be conformed to this world, but continuously be transformed by the renewing of your minds so that you may be able to determine what God’s will is—what is proper, pleasing, and perfect” (Romans 12:2)
This new year is a perfect time to begin at least one holy habit and make a move towards God – even the tiniest – and you will see how your life is renewed in Him.