A few years ago, I wrote an article for TGC explaining why habits have a far greater spiritual effect than resolutions. Now I am in the thick of my parenting years, and it is more true than ever.
I would strongly urge parents at the turn of the year: Make habits, not resolutions. Here’s why.
Why Not Resolutions?
Resolutions feel great. When you declare that you will quit hitting snooze, lose 20 pounds this year, and read the whole Bible in a year, there is a momentary elation at the thought of your brand-new self. The problem is, that’s all there is: a dream without a plan. A little lie we tell ourselves to feel good for a moment. All forgotten by February.
The longing to change is built into our spiritual DNA. Resolutions, though, don’t honor the way that change usually happens—through small, incremental, growth in community. What we need is habits.
Habits are the little things we do over and over without thinking about them. And the tiny and subconscious nature of habits makes them powerful. Why? Because they create our “normal.” Normal life is what stays with you from January through December. Normal life is what shapes your kids, your body, your schedule, and your heart.
The habits of the household are the engine of a family’s spiritual formation.
Examine Your Ordinary This Year
Before you make new habits this year, let’s be practical.
During the past year, as I worked on my book on habits and parenting, Habits of the Household: Practicing the Story of God in Everyday Family Rhythms, I began to realize that the more ordinary a habit seems, the more extraordinary its power is. I ended up writing chapters about ordinary moments of the day, because that’s when most family discipleship happens. Here are some examples that convicted me and got me thinking.
Waking: What are your morning habits? Is swiping the phone the first thing you do, or do you prioritize spiritual disciplines? Does rush characterize your schedule? Do you pay more attention to media and alerts than children?
Mealtime: How often do you eat together? Are there questions that help engage children and draw out relationships? Are guests and neighbors ever invited?
Moments of Discipline: What are your instincts with your kids in their daily moments of misbehavior? Do you bark orders from across the room? Or do you pause and take a moment to pray before you discipline?
Screen Time: When is it normal to watch screens in your house? Is this something that brings everyone together, or something that sends people to their corners? Are you curating the things your family reads, listens to, or watches? Or do tech-company algorithms choose for you?
Family Devotions: When do people in your family have a chance to pray together? When do you have a chance to talk to your kids about how everyone’s walk with Jesus is going? Is this an awkward, serious time when kids are told to be quiet and listen, or a normal part of your day when kids can engage and ask questions?
Church and Worship: Has the pandemic normalized skipping church or dropping out of small group? Have you worked to reclaim these since having them disrupted? Remember that parents have the incredible power of shaping what’s normal in children’s lives. It’s impossible to overestimate the gift we give when we fight to make communal worship part of our normal weekly rhythm.
If you’re like me, then a first read of this list can make you feel more guilty than excited. But remind yourself that guilt does not have a seat at the table of the Christian life (Rom. 8:1). Repent of any sin, confess it to the Lord, and then rejoice. Christ took all of our condemnation on the cross; there is no more left for us! Your habits won’t change God’s love for you, but God’s love for you should change your habits.
The New Year could be a time when new habits become your pattern. Don’t waste the Holy Spirit’s prompting you toward change. Instead, look at your habits as a matter of discipleship; Jesus is using them to make you new.
How to Start?
Here’s a free tool to help you engage new habits. It’s great for rethinking individual and family habits, but it’s best done with a friend. Whether that’s your accountability partner or your spouse, download this sheet and run through this together.
Whether you use the tool or not, you can start by thinking about your current and desired habits.
1. Name Your Roles
To live out the fullness of your calling, you need to be many things to many people. Start by listing the roles. For me, this ranges from disciple to husband, father, friend, worker, and steward of my body and finances. Think of your roles as areas you have to steward.
2. Dream a Vision
Here’s where you can indulge your desire for abstract goals. Spend some reflection time on who you want to become in that role. Dream big. Our souls need big hope to survive. “Where there is no vision, the people perish” (Prov. 29:18 KJV). If Jesus were to make you new in this role, in a sentence, what would that look like?
3. Make Habits
Now, answer that big vision with a plan. In each role, list what kinds of daily and weekly patterns would slowly create that kind of person. What would that kind of person act like day to day? Think ordinary, concrete stuff here. If you can’t easily check it off a list, it’s not a habit.
4. Invite Accountability
This may be the most important part of the process. No meaningful change happens alone. Get together with a small group and share your rhythms, or find one friend to have an accountability meeting with each month over the next year. These are the kinds of simple, communal actions that would fundamentally reshape your year. I encourage you to run to them as real ways to follow the call of Jesus in your life.
5. End with Prayer
In the end, the New Year has no power. It’s just another day. But Jesus does. Indeed, he is the God who came to live, die, and rise again, and all things are being made new, all because of him. So give God praise and ask for his help. The amazing grace of habit is that because of Jesus, your life next year doesn’t have to look like your life last year.
That’s not because of habit, but because of him.