Smith starts the chapter by reminding us that human beings “can’t not be lovers, we can’t not be desiring some kingdom. The question is not whether we love but what we love.” He uses an example of our consumer-culture to illustrate: in a sense, marketing companies have gotten something right because they have tapped into our loves, our desires. The response of the church (of Christian education and discipleship) should be to redirect those desires rather than to redirect thoughts.
Smith proposes that the way to redirect our loves/desires is through practices: “routines and rituals that inscribe particular ongoing habits into our character, such that they become second nature to us.” He cites research that has found that these habits, these practices, become ‘automatic’ over time. This is equally true of habits we seek to form intentionally (such as practicing the piano) and those that are formed unintentionally by the practices that we are naturally immersed in. (This reminded me of how Charlotte Mason says that habits of one sort or another will be formed – it’s better to take care that they are the habits we want to be formed!)
Smith differentiates between “thin” and “thick” habits – “thin” ones being things like brushing our teeth or watching the news after dinner – they don’t necessarily inform our identity and core values. “Thick” habits “say something about us (our identity) and continue to shape us into that kind of person” – anything that is “meaningful and identity significant”. It isn’t always cut-and-dried, sometimes the line can be fuzzy. I still really appreciated the fact that he drew a distinction here, however. Sometimes I feel like some of the “CM style habit training resources” out there try to lump “thin” habits like cleanliness into the same category as “thick”, moral habits such as obedience, one reason that sometimes discussions about habit training make me get all squirmy. I happen to view them as two different things and feel that they need to be approached in different ways, so I appreciated Smith acknowledging a difference here too.
(I’ve written before on my take on CM-style habit training here and here – as I went back to re-read those posts, I realized that a lot of that applies to what Smith is trying to say in this chapter as well.)
In this chapter, there is a section in which Smith encourages us to do a “practices audit”. He provides us with a number of questions to help us evaluate our practices – what they are, and what we feel that they should be, if they are having the effect that we want them to have or not. This is a fantastic idea which I unfortunately have not had the time or mental energy to tackle yet, but I hope to soon. ;)
That said, I have been thinking a lot over the past several weeks about my vision, the vision I want to present to my children, and if our practices align with this vision. I have some thoughts percolating on this that I had intended to share here, but find myself not quite able to articulate them yet. So, stay tuned. J
Click through to read more thoughts on this section!