A new year gives us an opportunity to establish new habits. Statistically, the odds of success are against us. Studies show that only 8% of people who make resolutions are successful in achieving them. Why do we fail so frequently?
When it comes to habits, we hoard them. The definition of habit says it all. A habit is a “settled or regular tendency or practice, especially one that is hard to give up.”
A&E frequently airs a reality show called Hoarders that spotlights people living homes piled with years of mounting clutter. Like the rest of us hoarders do life, eat food, buy clothes, and acquire new and needful things. No issue there. What is abnormal about them is not in the new they bring in, but it is the old they fail to give up.
Buying a toaster, perfectly normal. Having to add a new toaster to an old pile of broken down toasters and a diesel truck transmission rusting in the corner of the kitchen, completely odd. And this is why we watch the show!
The tension of the episode comes when a dumpster is dropped off in the front yard and it comes time for “the hoarder” to start throwing things away. It is at this point that the dysfunction of the situation becomes most apparent. As piles of garbage are pulled from cluttered places the hoarder goes into a psychological meltdown as they express an emotional attachment to almost everything. They have lived with it so long they find it hard to give up.
That’s the problem with habits. We want to start new ones, but we don’t want to give anything up. We have done life so long the old way that we have made no room for the new. As such the tension of adding a new habit on top of an old one creates life clutter. You soon find that simply adding to life leaves you with no time and no willpower left to accomplish the new goal. By February you are left only with one more rusting resolution to add to the pile of past failures.
Resolutions fail when we seek only to start new habits. Resolutions succeed when we replace old habits with new ones.
So you want to read more, great idea, less Netflix. You want to lose weight? Eat this, not that. You want to quit? What are you going to start?
In Ephesians 4 the Bible articulates this powerful idea with four simple words, PUT ON, PUT OFF. New life is not adding to life, new life is replacing life. Look at how Paul goes on to explain the concept:
Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another. Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity to the devil. Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with anyone in need. Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you. (Ephesians 4:25-32 ESV)
New habits must replace old habits, but because we have been so long with the old we had rather hoard habits than replace them. The new habits we so earnestly desire become victims of an already cluttered soul. We must stop hoarding our habits. It is time to throw some things away!
Ultimately new habits come down to motives. A slimmer waistline is desirable. A healthy bottomline in the bank account can make life seem more secure, but as ends in themselves these things are empty pursuits. There are a lot of reasons we do what we do, but for those who follow Christ there is a singular motive, holiness. Ephesians 4:24 says that our ultimate motive should be to become the person God created us to be. For that to happen we need redemption in Christ Jesus and a holy pursuit of Him by replacing the old life with new life.
The beauty of the gospel is that it gives us the power to encounter the cluttered places and throw some things away. It is easy to become bitter, but in Christ we find new joy. It is easier to take, but it is most fulfilling to work and give. It is easy to fall into the habit of slanderously tearing people down. Yet there is an amazing newness of life when we learn to speak kindness and foster a heart that forgives.
May God bless you in this new year. Out with the old! In with the new!