We are one month into 2019. One month after we made New Year resolutions to move us toward the life change we want to see in the year ahead you may have already given up. You may feel like you have failed. You may have convinced yourself that you will never change.
First of all, God doesn’t give up on you. And he loves you even when you fail. He loves you too much to leave you as you are. If you are convinced that he is calling you to reorder some part of your life, there is hope and help beyond your own personal abilities!
I am fascinated by the research around willpower, specifically the limitations of our ability to resist temptation for the sake of a larger goal. It seems that each of us has a finite amount of willpower. We can use it on not eating the cookies in the break room or clicking the Buzzfeed link to see gifs of “17 Dogs Who are Winning at Life.” But then later in the day we will be tapped out on willpower and won’t make it the gym like we promised. Our inner lives are like a leaky canoe—if you patch it in one spot it will soon start leaking somewhere else. Our willpower is limited. No matter what he or she looks like, no one has completely mastered their life with extraordinary willpower.
This is where a ritual can help. Despite its religious origin, the word ritual has entered our common vocabulary to describe a pattern of behavior that someone follows regularly. What are the non-negotiable parts of your daily schedule that you never skip? I would guess that brushing your teeth and showering top the list. You may have to convince a child to do both of these things but you probably don’t have to use your willpower for basic hygiene each day. It’s routine!
Routines and rituals help us keep order in our lives. As the mother of young children, I rely on routines for peace in my life. My children know exactly what comes next in their daily routines and they will not allow me to deviate from them. Put on your shoes, load up your backpack, and put on your coat. If it were not for the routine I would be stuck directing and negotiating with them through each step and we would never be able to leave our house on time.
What if you took your resolutions and good intentions and prayerfully made them rituals that are fixed in your day? If you want to read the Bible more ask yourself: Is there a time when I could read the Bible everyday? Is there a place where I could read the Bible without distraction? Or if you want to develop a habit of prayer ask yourself: When am I clear-headed and able to pray best? What will prompt me to pray?
We usually have a preferred time of day: are you an early bird or a night owl? Give your best time of day to your new ritual in order to establish it. And look for a prompt in your schedule to which you can link your ritual too. Like, when I get in line for the carpool I will read my Bible. Or, after I eat breakfast I will spend 10 minutes in prayer. Rely on the most stable parts of your current routines to ground your new ritual.
This still sounds like an act of willpower and at first it will be. It’s not easy to open your Bible app when your itchy trigger finger is reflexively heading for the Instagram icon. But there is strength from God available to us when we are adopting a ritual in order to more faithfully respond to the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives. The word ritual comes from the rites of the Church, meaning the words and actions that accompany a sacrament. And a sacrament is the outward sign of an inward grace. Though we only have a few official sacraments, I love the idea that God uses things and actions (outward signs) in order to meet and minister to us (inward grace).
Don’t be defeated if 2019 is not going according to plan. If God is calling you to a ritual for your spiritual growth he will meet you in your weakness and lead you in your transformation to the image of his son Jesus.