It’s almost that time of the summer when children begin to complain bitterly to their parents. The last few months of the school year are usually an uphill battle for parents and teachers as well as students. Finally, the calendar marks the end of classes for the year. Children are elated that classes are finished, but their elation typically lasts only until they run out of things to keep themselves occupied. Parents probably dread complaining about this boredom worse than the complaining associated with standardized testing and end of year exams.
There is something about our human nature that both depends on, and gets bored with, habit. Our habits save us from having to concentrate on repetitive tasks. Habits develop the skills we rely on for work, play and social interaction.
Habits can also lead to distraction and boredom, especially when the habits pertain to our thinking and deciding. Unstructured play for children will last only a while before it gets boring. Habits of mind for adults can lead to the same outcome.
In this Sunday’s Gospel Jesus says some shocking things. “Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever does not take up his cross and follow after me is not worthy of me.” (Matthew 10:37-38)
These statements are, in part, a warning about the cost of discipleship. There are often great sacrifices required in order to be faithful disciples of Jesus. These statements are also a warning about complacency. We are reminded of the potential negative consequences of repetitive religious practice. Habits serve us well in our faith life, but habits can also become a burden on faith.
Participating in Sunday Mass, for example, depends heavily on a few habits. Sunday Mass can be true worship for us because of the comfort level we develop with the repetitive rituals of Mass. The repetitive nature of those rituals can also lead to boredom and inattentiveness.
Jesus’ words were intended to be encouragement to perseverance. His rather shocking statements were directed at those who are at the point of growing weary. Jesus’ instruction about perseverance says that our faith will continue to grow as long as we continue to nourish our spiritual lives. An essential habit of prayer is daily conversation with God through the Scriptures.
“Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.” (Matthew 10:37) How would you know if your priorities are faithful and appropriate? Do your relationships reflect your faith in God and your adherence to Jesus’ teachings?
“Whoever does not take up his cross and follow after me is not worthy of me.” (Matthew 10:38) It is a rare event to be given a choice about the burdens you bear. Does your attitude about life’s burdens reflect Jesus’ faithfulness to God and the generosity to human nature he manifested on the Cross?
“Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” (Matthew 10:39) What are your goals in life? Would your family and friends see those same goals as the motivation for your actions? Do those goals serve you or do they serve God and neighbor?
In the absence of this kind of on-going, prayerful dialogue with the Scriptures, our religious practice can degenerate into empty habit. Mass attendance can become empty ritual, and faith can erode slowly away.
Habitual activity, whether it’s school, work, prayer or unstructured play can become monotonous unless it is periodically refreshed with new enthusiasm. The regular renewal that our faith and prayer need are always ready at hand. The Scriptures always offer an invitation to spiritual renewal and greater faith.
Take time each day to let the Scriptures speak to you about the people and events in your life. Have a daily conversation with God about where your life is going, where you need God’s help and what you’re grateful for. A habit of daily prayer with the Scriptures will never become routine or boring. The Scriptures can help us maintain an awareness of God’ presence, a deep gratitude for God’s gifts and a faithful response to God’s call to repentance and spiritual growth.