It takes three weeks to start a new habit!
…he said to me last week, but I have heard it many times before. Truth be told, I have always felt a bit of a failure in this regard because no matter how I tried I could not say that I had truly been successful in changing a habit in the allotted time. What is wrong with me? Today I decided to look into it and find out!
As a plastic surgeon in the 1950s, Maxwell Maltz began noticing a strange pattern among his patients. Whether a nose job, amputation, or chin tuck, it took an average of 21 days for the patient to accept the change from his or her procedure. In 1960, Maltz published a book on behavioral change called Psycho-Cybernetics in which he shared his observations. This book would go on to become a bestseller, selling over 30 million copies.
Psycho-Cybernetics was adopted as a “staple of learning” in various fields of behavioral science for the next 30 years and, as it happens, certain assertions in the book made their way to the public arena. Today, over 70 years later, many counseling professionals have fallen prey, and repeat the same misinformed assumption that so many people tell each other: It takes three weeks (21 days) to start a new habit.
(As an aside, this is a great example of a larger problem in our culture today: If enough people say something enough times, then everyone else starts to believe it.)
In reality Maxwell Maltz never claimed that his observation of 21 days was a scientific truth, in fact he wrote, “These, and many other commonly observed phenomena tend to show that it requires a minimum of about 21 days for an old mental image to dissolve and a new one to gell.”
So, how long does it take to form a habit? How long does it take a break a bad habit? Is there any science to back this up? And what does all of this mean for you and me? In 2009 Phillippa Lally, a health psychology researcher at University College London, published a controlled study of 96 people over a 12-week period in the European Journal of Social Psychology. Their conclusion was that it takes an average of 66 days to form or break a habit. However, there were examples, based on environmental conditions, of some who took as long as 254 days!
In other words, if you want to set your expectations appropriately, it will probably take you anywhere from two months to eight months to build a new behavior into your life — not 21 days. So, I now know I am not such a failure after all!
I’d like to apply this finding to our best intentions as a congregation of deepening our relationship with God, namely in our “habit” of devotional study. Finding time to pray and read Scripture is vitally important for each of us. The Church provides opportunities for regular Bible Study on Thursday nights, but if we take that 254-day number, that could mean it would be over four years, with a few misses, to acquire the habit. In reality, these things are best done every day. Regular Bible Study and prayer are essential for our spiritual health. Start small: make a 10-minute event and work your way up. If you miss a day, that’s ok; statistically, there is no harm done if you get back to it.
If you have tried before and failed, don’t beat yourself up. You really didn’t fail—that was just the primer!
“Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will hear you. You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart.” – Jeremiah 29: 12-13
…again and again…
Peace in Christ,
“In this the WORD too bloomed and bore fruit, having become flesh, and those who tasted of its goodness, he made alive, since he too was not made known to us without the wood.” Clement of Alexandria, Stromateis 5.11.72
Our faith understood as the indwelling gift from God that has led us to God, is vibrant and alive. This may sound strange since we are used to things that are alive (aside from ourselves) as being separate from us. Yet we are told that our Faith is alive. Thus, a journey into Faith is actually a journey into God!
And what an exciting, joyous, and awesome journey it is! We are met at every turn by revelation and encouragement. God reveals God’s self to us as we engage in speculation and question—even as we hold fast and hunker down. When God finds us in our ‘holed-up’ position, tightly grasping the comforting traditions, truths, and icons of our past, God is pleased to join us there. In that place, we can feel the warmth of Christ’s embrace and the acceptance and love of our Savior. There, with calming love and pastoral presence, Jesus radiates stability even as the Holy Spirit leads us on.
Into the ‘little-known’ and ‘less traveled’ we are invited by the loving arms of our Savior through the compelling guidance of the Holy Spirit. As we journey, we are invited to sample—to consume the gifts from God that will feed us and help us grow. Today, we eat from the Tree of Life to be fed and to live forever.
“Then the Lord God said, ‘. . . Now, lest [the man] reach out his hand and take also of the Tree of Life and eat, and live forever—” therefore the Lord God sent him out from the garden of Eden to work the ground from which he was taken. He drove out the man, and at the east of the garden of Eden he placed the cherubim and a flaming sword that turned every way to guard the way to the Tree of Life.” Genesis 3:22b-24
In the Garden, Adam and Eve did what we do: they consumed, not as they should, but as they wanted. They took and ate from the Tree of Good and Evil, consuming that which was forbidden and leaving that which was freely given. In their broken state they were protected from themselves by being denied the freedom to eat of the Tree of Life lest they live forever in their broken state. The Tree of Life was a healer, a re-newer, a resurrector; it was the Revelation and person of God’s-self made present through which eternal life was given. In their pure state, Adam and Eve ate freely of this tree, but in their broken state with no better understanding than selfish desire, they could not.
Now separate from the Garden, we have been cut off from the Blessed Tree. Now alone, we continue to consume everything we can, trying to rid our pallet of the bitter taste of the tainted fruit, but to no avail. Only God can reveal that Tree to us and invite us to eat once again, and God has! The “Hard Wood of the Cross” rises from the earth, arms outstretched to shade the weary and embrace the traveler. “Take… Eat…” the Tree speaks the Word; the words of life feed and heal the broken into wholeness. Journey there and you will find the Tree of Life, the Cross of Christ, the first fruit, the Body and the Blood of Eternal Life freely offered to make you whole and fill you completely. The Tree of Life, the Cross of Life,
What an exciting, joyous, and awesome journey!
Peace on your Journey,
Friends in Christ,
In my sermon last Sunday, I shared with you that to be a joyful, devoted follower of Christ you don’t have to dance in the street, but you can! I shared with you that one meaning of the passage from St. Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians was exactly the constant expression of the inner life of the spirit expressed in everything we do, but there is also a very familial application to what Paul said.
St. Paul wrote: “Be filled with the holy spirit, as you sing Psalms and hymns and spiritual songs among yourselves, singing and making melody to the Lord in your hearts, giving thanks to God the Father at all times and for everything in the Name of your Lord Jesus Christ.” We take these spiritual psalms and songs with us everywhere, but we also express them with each other! Thanks to our gifted and dedicated minister of Music, Martha Purvis, we “sing and make melody” every week, frequently in varied and creative ways. I am thinking especially of the chimes choir and grateful for something new and wonderful in such a difficult time. Thank you, Martha, and Chimers!
Jesus was very direct in Sunday’s Gospel about devotion and participation in Him: “I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.” Here, Jesus is talking directly to our hearts and requiring participation in his life and sacrifice through which we, as individuals, have eternal life, but Jesus also speaks within the context of the “gathered community.” When these words are translated into action, Jesus paired spiritual communion in him with physical communion with one another: “eat this bread and drink this cup.” The event of weekly worship is nothing less than the consummation of Jesus’ own words and deeds in our imitation of his sacrifice.
When I was in Jerusalem, I attended an Arminian worship service which lasted several hours! This service included a rotation of three choirs which relieved each other to stave off exhaustion! This effort was the Arminian church’s witness to the instruction in Ephesians to “sing…and making melody to the Lord…at all times.” In our denomination and through our theological understanding, we have accepted that once a week and for about an hour (ok, maybe a little longer!) our sacrifice of time and place is pleasing to the Lord. Once a week we gather as Christ’s own people; we gather together to consummate (make perfect) the words of Christ in us by holding up and leaning on each other. Those of us still begging God to show us our path, show us the (W)ay, show us a sign, and make clear God’s desires for us find that our spiritual communion with Christ is indissolubly connected (challenged) with each other.
Inspiring beautiful hymns and spirituals filled with centuries of theological dissent and strife alike reflect the lines of the Gospel truths to those of us who believe. Jesus’ body—his earthly, fleshly body—really was broken for us, and our weekly Eucharist (literally thanks-giving) is our closest approximation to what occurred in the Crucifixion: a gift of unimaginable, impossible love and unmerited grace saving your life, forever. Restoring a contract made at Creation and ruined by sin. So, when the one who gave all tells us to gather in his name and commune, I think it’s best we take that seriously! Call it my Anglican upbringing or Marine Corps background, or whatever, but at one level I have a very practical and logistical view of weekly (sacramental) worship, as the gas that fuels the car, the battery that powers the device, the food that nourishes and sustains the body. Without it, we are soon dead to the transformative power of true life (right now) through the eternal promise of Christ as we are separated from the benefits of being in regular communion, as a corporate body and an individual believer. You have life in me means something this very moment as well as for your eternal life, and that truth grows more real, more apparent, and able to be apprehended and lived out, with every Communion you make. Our time of physical separation notwithstanding, that and those times of unavoidable physical distance should empower us all the more, through the process of spiritual maturing, to anticipate and eagerly rush to the opportunity for Communion!
To be sure, our belief in the Resurrection and our valuing of the Sacrament of Eucharist is (in part) what make us Episcopalians, and Anglicans. The “living” bread is new week to week and as dynamic and life-changing as was the Crucifixion, which we relive each and every week if we are churchgoers (or, yes, church Zoomers). That’s why you might feel a little emptier or flatter, or like something is missing, in the week following an absence. Summer, especially, can be a “thin” time in the pews as folks come and go, take their vacations and trips, fall out of regular worship. In the Episcopal Church, we even have a tradition of “Welcome Back” Sunday sometime in September, welcoming back to weekly worship the members of the parish who have been scarce over the summer months. That floored me at my first parish, as I did not know God takes vacations as I do. Over the years I’ve gotten used to it as a human season, as natural as the ebb and flow of a congregation, its passions and programs, ministries and missions. Surely change is our only constant. But wait that’s not true: Our God is the only constant in a changing and unpredictable life. And communion, gathering together and gathering in, grounds and re-grounds us in that truth.
Here’s one thing we learned in Seminary: you can’t wreck Communion. The human considerations—priest, polity, policies and procedures, the weather, the administration thereof, the constitution of the elements—nothing ultimately matters or stands in the way of God’s grace reaching God’s believing, worshiping people. There are all number of theological treatises and cumbersome terminology for this simple truth. The Eucharist, instituted by Jesus Christ on the last night of His earthly life, cannot be diminished. It stands as immutable and critical as it did on that night all the way to this present day. Sounds a little like the famous Romans passage: “For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Rom 8:38-39). I believe that, and I believe in the power of the gathered Body to commune-icate that to each of us.
So, while the diocese works out how to safely commune in round 3 (4? 5?) of the pandemic, and our faithful congregation waxes and wanes, beset by a “to do” list bigger than we are, and no doubt suffering separately during the week, trying to carry on in a world made of sin and selfishness, know this: “My flesh is true food and my blood is true drink. Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them.” (Jn 6:56). The “hard wood of the cross” we name each Sunday in the words of the communion service …the hard wood of our altar rail (or our un-cushioned pews)…these stand as weekly reminders, weekly re-groupers and re-purposers as to the point of it all. Let us recommit to our regular weekly worship life and there find strength and courage to go in peace to love and serve the Lord.
Might I be so bold, then, in the name of Jesus, to ask you if you haven’t been in a while – to come to church!
Peace in Christ,
Dear Creator Family,
Thank you for your prayers after last Sunday’s online worship service. The COVID exposure which caused us to cancel the in-person service was a confirmation that we must remain diligent. Please continue to pray for David and all members of our Parish Family as we struggle to stay abreast of the changing information regarding the virus.
Today I welcomed Energy Auditors from Eco-House Now, an energy use and planning company engaged by the Diocese. Not a cursory visit! They walked our property for a couple of hours, making an assessment of our current energy footprint and designing a plan for changes we could make. Their recommendations will include, among other things, new portico lights (already on the list to complete the painting project outside). I am very excited that these changes include a plan for solar panels and possible energy independence. The state of Virginia is very SLOW to embrace the value of solar power, but there have been some advancements that may make a project like this possible for us. I expect the full report in two weeks.
Last week, I submitted to the Health Department a “Soil Scientist” design for our new drain field. They also will respond in two weeks with an approval or a request for modification. In the meantime, I have also submitted that plan to several companies to bid on the project and hope to have their bids prior to receiving the Health Department report. As soon as we receive the report and the bids, I will inform the Parish and the Vestry to move forward with the repair of our septic system which has been in disrepair for months, interrupting our Sunday worship and making the facility off-limits for larger gatherings and groups. As you know from the joys of home ownership, that 30-40 year mark can be a doozie, as appliances and large home systems “expire” and need replacing. Remember that Creator’s 1970s drainage and septic system has far outlived its expected lifetime!
While we take on property care and maintenance, we are hastily looking to “take off” the accumulation of items for our yard sale. Here is where you can help. Our Junior Warden, Jim Eppes, is actively working with several charities to donate Yard Sale items to their ministries. In one week, we will move to more aggressively liquidate furniture, which may include a one-day fire sale—an “all bids welcomed, take it now” sort of affair. The details of this proposal are still being worked out. It will require no work on the part of the Parish aside from manning the door and coming behind to clear and tidy what remains. I can’t emphasize enough that there are many little helpful ways we can restore our parish building to its clear, clean, hospitable best. Please don’t assume that a tireless few have got it “all taken care of.”
Touching the first phase of the Vision Ministry’s reflection, Lee Barron and Mary Anne Taylor have been working daily to clean and organize the Book Sale items. Their hard work is an inspiration and an important piece in the plan to revitalize the building. Additionally, Mary Anne Taylor is organizing a crew to inventory and clean the parish hall kitchen. If you can help with this project, please contact her ASAP at 804-730-4625.
These are only a few of the projects we hope to check off soon so we can move on to fall programs and ministries. Thank you for your prayers and patience—and for finding a way you can serve. I look forward to the cleaning out of our Parish Hall and the exciting opportunities that are to come.
Peace in Christ,
Dear Creator Family,
Can you see it? Can you feel it? God is blessing us with so much action and opportunity in our parish, it is hard to know where to start! From the recent meeting and wonderful reflections of the Vision Ministry (soon to be presented to all!) to the ongoing sanitation repair, (yes, that is an opportunity as well) each of us is called to follow God to grow in spirit. And we always start with prayer and relinquishment to God in all things. It may seem to be an unreachable goal to “give all to God,” but it is not if we just shift our understanding a tiny bit.
God loves us; God loves you! God’s love for you is immeasurable and God is walking with you along this entire life journey. Imagine walking with a person you know loves you and wants the best for you—say, along a beach. This person invites you into a conversation and through love and openness, you, at once, feel comfortable and honored to share, almost at a spiritual level. I hope you have had that blessed human experience and know the joy and wonder it brings. In that moment, we willingly give all of ourselves to the conversation and would give more if we could. When we enter into this posture in our daily life it is the true experience of prayer.
Prayer is speaking with God, but prayer is also the manner of life, the interaction of life, the opportunity and routine of life. Prayer is doing and considering God in the process. Prayer is giving up ourselves because we can—to the glory of God, in everything we do.
Next week we will be deep in Yard Sale preparations and then “Yard Sale Day.” We know what it’s like to offer ourselves for our parish and for our community. Knowing this is just a shadow away from the realization that our service is really “walking with God”. Being aware of that, we are able to give at a spiritual level. No wonder that feels so good. Service, as I’m sure you’re aware, has a way of reorienting the perspective and resetting our priorities in ways that are healthy, healing, and wholesome. I encourage you to find your niche in our Creator family as we tend our parish and serve the Lord in the joy of community.
Faithfully in Christ,
Father Bill Burk†