And guess what I realized last year I do when my own kids are sick. . . Without even thinking, I examine, prognosticate, touch and pray.
That is the power of practices - the power of habits, particularly those that involve the whole being - they shape your life, your heart, your ideas.
About a year or so ago, my husband's boss gave me James K. A. Smith's book Desiring the Kingdom to read and discuss with her. She wanted to put the ideas in the book into practice at the school, and she wanted to know if I had any ideas, related to my own homeschooling, that could help her. Wading through the book, written by a philospher for those who can read "philosopherese," was difficult. But the message and ideas in the book are the things of change - a whole new perspective on the Christian life - the idea that it is the practices, not the beliefs, of the Christian life that are the most formative in shaping in us a desire for God.
We all love something; and while our habits will often show what we love most (our home, our career, our family. . .), those activities that we make a point to habitually engage in are also responsible for forming those most intense loves in us. And we are unwise to discount the seemingly mundane habits in our lives. Something as small as getting in the car and immediately praying with the family for protection on the road vs. getting in the car and immediately turning on the radio can, without our even realizing it, affect our love for and trust in God vs. our love for and trust in our family vehicle or soothing music.
As I sit down, going back through this book, re-evaluating my habits, I realize just how much of what I do is creating in me a love for something or someone other than God. Because, when my practices are not Christ-centered, my heart cannot be Christ-centered either. When I rush into my meal without stopping to thank God. . . love of food. When I spend more time cooking and cleaning than worshipping and praying. . . love of home or material objects. When I spend more time teaching my kids than learning about God from His Word. . . love of education or love of children. Some of these are not bad habits, and some of these are not bad loves, but the love that should be the center of my life - of all I do - is the love of Christ and His Kingdom.
My pastor often asks the question, "What do you find yourself spending the most time thinking about?" It takes just a few minutes of reflecting on that question to realize where my heart lies - what my ultimate desire is for. And it takes just a few more minutes of reflection to pinpoint which habits have built up that love of the wrong thing. Smith says in his book, ". . .such rituals grab hold of our desire and our love through our bodies - through material, visceral rhythms, images, and experiences that subtly inscribe in us a desire for other kingdoms. . ." kingdoms other than Christ's (104).
So, what do we do? We all have to cook and clean and make sure our children get an education and that the finances are in order. We all have to drive to the store for things and engage in a secular culture. But, I think the first thing we need to remember is that almost all of these things can be wrapped in Christ-centering habits like prayer before meals and car rides and the placing of a check in the offering plate at each pay day. These things seem small, but they keep us centered on Christ.
The second thing, the thing Smith suggests, is engaging our whole selves in Christian worship practices that will both form our desire for God and act as a counter-formation to those secular habits that we have to engage in every day.
We all love something - our hearts yearn for something to love. And, as Augustine said, "Our hearts are restless until they rest in God." Are our habits leading our hearts to this place of rest?