I once read a funny story about a woman who said she had finally stopped her husband from biting his fingernails.
When her friend asked how she’d broken his habit, the woman replied, “I took his teeth.” Though the story may be humorous, bad habits are no laughing matter, especially when the habit is destructive.
A habit can be defined as “a pattern of action that is acquired and has become so automatic that it is difficult to break,” or it can be “an addiction.” One scholar has written, “Chains of habit are too weak to be felt until they are too strong to be broken.”
There’s a thought-provoking story about an elderly teacher who took his pupils for a walk through a forest. Suddenly, he stopped and pointed to four plants growing there.
The first was just beginning to peep through the soil, the second had rooted itself pretty well in the ground and the third was a small shrub, while the fourth was a full-sized tree.
“Pull up the first plant,” the teacher instructed a student. A boy snatched it up easily, grabbing it in his fist. “Now pull up the second one,” he asked the student, who found the task more difficult.
“Do the same with the third,” the teacher continued. It took all of the boy’s strength to uproot it. Lastly, the elderly man said, “Try your hand with the fourth.” The pupil put his arms around the trunk of the tall tree and couldn’t even shake its leaves.
The teacher concluded his object lesson by telling the children, “This is just what happens with our bad habits. When they are young plants, we can remove them easily; but when they are older, it’s much harder to uproot them.”
When individuals get hooked on tobacco, alcohol, and drugs, we can measure the cost of bad habits in the lives destroyed. There’s also a price to pay for other addictions, like lying and gambling, which ruin the lives of others. Then, there are other bad habits, such as overeating that may not have as obvious an impact, but still over time leads to negative consequences.
Someone once said a bad habit takes 21 days to break, a good habit takes 21 days to make. Thoughts produce acts, acts produce habits, and habits produce character. Habits have been called the best of servants and the worst of masters. Another author puts it this way, “First we form habits; and then, they form us.”
That’s why we need to develop good habits like daily prayer and Bible-reading. As you and I put scriptural principles into practice, we can prevent bad habits from taking root in our lives.
We can’t always break bad habits in our strength, but Jesus promises His “strength is made perfect (most effective) in our weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9). Bible teacher Joyce Meyer has said, “Developing a habit of simply trusting God in every situation will help you overcome many other bad habits.”
Jan White is a wife, mother, and freelance writer who lives in Andalusia. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.