Contrary to first impressions, the author is not presuming we all make our beds. Some of you will wonder why not. Others of you will breathe a sigh of relief—you’re not alone.
Tish confesses that she is not a life-long bed maker, but one year for Lent she decided to try something new. She traded her habit of waking up with her smartphone for a try at making her bed and sitting in silent boredom for the first few minutes of the day. Instead of using her phone as “digital caffeine,” she experimented with “imprinting” her day with something other than the stimulus of a glowing screen—in this case a made bed and a silent prayer.
Instead of going to a device for infotainment, I touched the tangible softness of our well-worn covers, tugged against wrinkled cotton, felt the hard wood beneath my bare feet. (28)
She would sit quietly for a few minutes, and invite God into her day, often starting with the Lord’s Prayer. “Sort of listening. Sort of just sitting.” The results?
My new Lenten routine didn’t make me wildly successful or cheerfully buoyant as some had promised, but I began to notice, very subtly, that my day was imprinted differently. The first activity of my day, the first move I made, was not that of a consumer, but that of a co-laborer with God. (27)
I’ll admit, if the heart of the chapter were simply extolling the merits of bed making and the woes of screen addiction, I’d be less than enthused. I don’t disagree (with the latter especially), it’s just not news. But she doesn’t leave it there. In fact, this one particular experiment in habit becomes her entry point into the foundational claim of her book:
The crucible of our formation is in the anonymous monotony of our daily routines. (34)
Or, more directly:
WE ARE WHAT WE LOVE.
—And "[o]ur hearts and loves are shaped by what we do again and again and again” (33).
This is an old idea (Augustine-old) that has become new again. She’s reading James K. A. Smith, among others, who’s written a book you should definitely read if you like this one.[^1] Our rational beliefs, important as they are, may not be as primary as we assume in directing the way we live. “Most of what shapes our lives and our culture works ‘below the mind’—in our gut, in our minds” (29).
And the way we get at changes to the way we live (should we hope to live better) is less by reworking our beliefs, and more by re-forming our desires—less by conjuring up compassion with a list of shoulds, for example, and more by ordering our lives in ways that form us into compassionate people.
I think this is great news, actually. Choosing and changing small habits—that’s accessible and practical. But there are two barriers that come to mind:
First, many of us are too traumatized by legalism to hear this habits-talk outside of that framework. Legalism says that a certain list of behaviors defines whether you are good or bad, worthy or unworthy, in or out. Legalism focuses on actions as the test of whether or not you are acceptable—to God and to those setting the rules.
The tragedy of legalism is that it’s a subtle-but-poisonous distortion of a truth. Our ordinary everyday habits do matter, but not in ways that define our worth, our acceptance, or our embrace by God—not in ways that undermine Grace. Too often, I think, our legalistic scars leave us understandably wary of letting “choices” and “habits” anywhere near our spirituality.
Second, small habits seem too mundane for the spiritual heroics most of us long for. (What does my smart phone have to do with Compassion?) Tish gets it. She points to a sign that hangs in a monastery:
“EVERYONE WANTS A REVOLUTION. NO ONE WANTS TO DO THE DISHES.”
Yes! And duh. “But,” she insists, to herself and to us,
it’s in the dailiness of the Christian faith—the making the bed, the doing the dishes, the praying for our enemies, the reading the Bible, the quiet, the small—that God’s transformation takes root and grows. (35)
For me, this is the definition of discipleship. And a related definition of church comes from the conviction that the task of such formation is too large to be attempted solo. We need a community of disciples with liturgies both ordinary and grand, because becoming compassionate (the “revolution”) is not a natural outcome of life in our consumer world.
[T]o be an alternative people [ecclesia, church] is to be formed differently—to take up practices and habits that aim our love and desire toward God” (30).
She’s talking about liturgy, and by liturgy she means both our formal worship habits and our ordinary everyday habits. And then she presses, “What kind of people is our liturgy forming us to be?”
It’s a great question—one worthy of a quiet moment of contemplation, this morning or this evening, whether your bed is made or not.
[^1]: James K. A. Smith, You Are What You Love: The Spiritual Power of Habit (2016).