In the Habit

Therefore, as God’s chosen ones, holy and loved, put on compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. Be tolerant with each other and, if someone has a complaint against anyone, forgive each other. As the Lord forgave you, so also forgive each other. And over all these things put on love, which is the perfect bond of unity.

-Colossians 3:12-14

I have always been told that it takes twenty-one days to form a new habit. That is, that if a person wants to get in the habit of making her bed, flossing his teeth, or writing in their journal, it would require three weeks of reminders before the habit stuck. More recent research has indicated that twenty-one days is not enough– it actually takes, on average, sixty-six days to form a new habit– that’s more than two months!

This does explain why, on this first day of school, it often seems to take until November for classrooms to settle into their rhythm. Or why you never did manage to get in the habit of keeping a journal, since you gave it up after a month. Or why your partner had to remind you about fifty times before you remembered to put your laundry away without prompting.

Now, if it takes sixty-six days straight to set a new habit, you can imagine that it’s even harder to set a weekly habit. Why, sixty-six repetitions of a once-a-week habit would require more than a year!

You might have noticed that Sunday worship happens only once a week. If you wanted to get in a new habit of prayer or reading your Bible and decided to do that after worship, you’d need 15 months to make the habit stick– and that’s assuming you never missed a week!

Setting a daily habit comes much more quickly– only two months are required. A habit can be established as easily as putting on clean clothes in the morning. Paul wrote to the Christians in Colossae, urging them to put compassion, patience, and on like clothing. Kindness can be a habit. In fact, the uniform worn by nuns is called a habit, linking together the clothing they wear with their character. Their habit (clothing) reminds them of their habit (character) as they go throughout their day.

What about you? Could you get in the habit? When you get dressed in the morning, could you imagine your shirt to be made of compassion? Your socks to be patience? Your dress to be tolerance? Your pants to be tolerance? Your watch to be forgiveness? Your shoes to be humility? Over it all, could you put on the love that makes all those habits work together?

Here’s your challenge: pick just one of the habits Paul lists in his letter to the Colossian Christians. Pick the one you most need to add to your wardrobe. Then, starting tomorrow, for every day until October 29, remind yourself to put that habit on when you’re getting dressed. Watch for your new habit to show up throughout the day. See how changing your habit changes your day. You might be surprised at how much God does with one little habit.

God, give me your wisdom to see what new habit I need. Clothe me with your Holy Spirit so that I may be a faithful reflection of your love for me. I ask this in the name of Jesus. Amen.

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