A Season for Habits

For years I've had this habit that one of the first things I do when I wake up in the morning is turn on classical music. I guess it is my soundtrack to starting every new day.

It's become so routine that it never even occurs to me to turn on the television for the morning news. I don't get any news until I'm in the car listening to NPR. On the occasion that I do not turn on classical music it is because I might especially need silence on those hard to focus mornings. Sometimes it takes me a while to enter a new day and I need to stumble about in silence for a spell. Those days seem hard for Bella, my dog.

She's a creature of habit too I guess. When her mornings are quiet for too long she starts to pace around the house, following me into every room, wanting to be petted or just for me to know that something is not right in her world. And it never fails: As soon as I turn on the classical music she finds her favorite spot in front of the floor to ceiling high windows and settles down, calmly ready to observe the world breaking forth into a new day. Habits, whether good or bad, are comforting for all of us.

We have stepped into Lent. In this new season we are encouraged to take time to reexamine our habits, perhaps seeking to drop some or to add others. I love that Lent starts in winter and seeps into spring when dormant life is gearing up for reentry into the world. It seems so fitting.

Usually for Lent we focus on habits like eating less chocolate or watching less TV. But if we seek to cultivate habits (disciplines, if you will) that help us journey more faithfully with God and with one another then simply giving up chocolate or TV (if that's your poison) is inconsequential, unless we replace our "sacrifice" with a more life-giving habit, like perhaps eating more healthily and choosing to respect our bodies and the bodies of others as places where God resides, or using our usual TV time to foster deeper relationships with the important people in our lives.

A Work in Progress

On more internal levels, the habit worth dropping for a season might be negative self-talk or obsessive thinking. Maybe every time you catch yourself doing it you replace it with thanking God that you're made in a holy image and that thankfully you are a work still in progress. The possibilities of course are endless.

Life-giving habits often seem more difficult to foster than the habits that nibble away at our bodies, minds and spirits. Perhaps this is why Lent is such an appropriate season in which to dwell on these things. During Lent we are invited to walk with God in a unique and vulnerable way. We are asked to be fellow sojourners with the God-Man, the Christ in the wilderness.

We find ourselves offered time and space to reflect, to cultivate new ways of seeing ourselves and engaging the world. We are invited even to turn and face some lurking shadows in our lives, the ones that tempt us to believe that grief, hunger, loneliness and such trials have the final say in things. We are invited to scour the wilderness and to put those shadows to rest for now or for even good. In Lent, we begin a holy scavenger hunt for the glimpses and glimmers of life and light that heal in the midst of temptation and trial.

There are new questions waiting to be asked in the wilderness spaces of our lives. There are holy truths to be affirmed and asserted. There is a deeper more authentic God-given identity for us to live into these 40 days. There are habits worth breaking and many worth forming. There are angels waiting to attend to those courageous enough to walk with God.

Enuma Okoro writes from Raleigh, N.C. Her latest book is "Reluctant Pilgrim: A Moody Somewhat Self-Indulgent Introvert's Search for Spiritual Community." Visit her website.