In Parallel: The Heart behind Habits

Last week we considered the limitations of habits. When we talk about habits, I think it’s always good to begin with a few qualifications. Habits are not a form of lifehacking. They are not a quick fix to our problems. They can be hard work, and as we saw in the Parents’ Review article last week, they can sometimes lead to a focus on superficial actions and blind us to real heart issues underlying what we do.

None of that, however, is to say that we should ignore habits, both in ourselves and in our children. And the reason why goes back to issues of the heart: all habits have a fundamental orientation that shape our vision of what is good and worthwhile. As we repeat our actions, we direct our hearts towards that vision. We come to desire, to long for, to love that vision. In loving that vision, we move toward it.

Do we long for what is virtuous, holy, lovely? Is it wordly and self-centered? The answer for me and, I imagine, most of us, is a mix of both. And because we want our affection to grow towards the former, we arrive at habits – habits that propel us toward a godly vision of the good life so that we move toward it less and less out of compunction and more and more out of genuine affection. 

I encourage you to read the following to articles. The first outlines the ideas I’ve mentioned above while the second address the theological issues many find with habits and virtue ethics.

To Read in Parallel:

The Formation of Affections through Education: from C.S. Lewis and James K.A. Smith. If you want a very brief introduction to Smith’s ideas particularly, this is a good place to start:

“Christian education (including parenting!) is chest training, habituation, that forms our affections to love the right things so that goodness becomes second nature–It is an inculcation into Christlikeness!”

Reforming Virtue Ethics: Brian Mesimer and John Brewer Eberly, Jr. take time to details the issues Christians may find in Aristotelian virtue ethics, then offer a case for reforming habits. 

“The problem, then, becomes one of equivocation regarding categories of the good; namely, can something be good without being sanctified?”

How do you reconcile habits and habit training with the doctrine of sanctification? How do you practically approach education and parenting as ‘chest training’, while understanding God’s role in salvation and sanctification?

A letter from me to you, every week.

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