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Ravines




“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence then, is not an act, but a habit.”

--Aristotle


Every summer, my family and I take a trip to Breckenridge, Colorado. We do it old school style – we road trip. There’s something about turning onto I-25 and rolling down your windows at the top of Raton pass to feel a blast of cool air in late July. It’s just the summer break we need! Part of our road trip adventure takes us past Royal Gorge. If you’re not familiar, Royal Gorge is home to the highest suspension bridge in America. 956 feet below the bridge lies the Arkansas River, which has been carving its way through the canyon at a rate of one foot every 2,500 years. That’s right. It takes the Arkansas River 25 centuries just to carve through one foot of rock. What we often don’t realize is how much repetition it takes to build ravines.


Believe it or not, you have ravines too. A whole bunch of them. They are the neural pathways in your head better known as habits. Just like the Arkansas River has been at work, you’ve been at work too. In fact, some of your routines are so automatic you actually now use less brain power to execute them. All habits start like Royal Gorge did, with a little directed effort. The first time you decided to try CrossFit took some effort. You had to find a gym, find a class, get directions, meet the coach, figure out where to store your bag, and try not to get in anyone else’s way. But over time as you attended more and more workouts, the neural networks responsible for all those things grew stronger, to the point that you no longer really have to think about them. You associated the action of CrossFit with the outcome of fitness and when you got what you wanted, presto, you formed a habit.


You better sit down before I tell you this, because it may come as a shock to you. Researchers at Duke University say 45% of our daily behavior consists of habits. Almost one out of every two things you’ll do today is a habit. For some of you, reading this is one of your habits. When you get the notification that Building Spiritual Fitness has another blog post, you click, read, and digest. Thanks for that by the way! Consumer product companies also know the power of habits. In fact, their marketing experts believe habits are far better predictors of future behaviors than attitudes, intentions, or prior satisfaction. Aristotle was right – we are what we repeatedly do.


All of this means one thing – if you want to build ravines you need to start some new routines. It is not enough to think that tomorrow you’ll eat healthy. Because you won’t. Not without a new routine. Sure, you might hold it together for a day or two, but unless you make a new meal plan and buy healthy foods and purge the junk from the freezer and pantry, you’re setting yourself up for failure. Because your ravine for unhealthy eating is deeper than you think. Mine goes all the way back to childhood. I can trace it to a primary habit my parents helped form. Back then, I was known as “the human garbage disposal.” Not exactly a term of endearment I know. Essentially, when my father or mother or brother were finished eating, they would put their remaining food on my plate. In my parent’s eyes they were avoiding wasting food, but in my memory, the ravine of overeating was being carved.


We’re all battling ravines. But unlike the Royal Gorge, the ones in our heads can be reversed. Just don’t expect it to happen in 21 days. That’s like the biggest lie ever told. In truth, it can take eight to ten months to carve a new ravine. Notice how I eliminated the word habit from the action? You need to approach it like the river flows through the rock – with patience and persistence. You’re not building habits, you’re carving ravines. Every action you take, every negative thought you reject, one by one they all start to channel a new ravine in your neurological system.


In pursuit of a spiritually fit life, let me offer two ravines worth building. Some of you may have these but you need to build deeper neural channels. Some of you may need to rework your ravines altogether in order to make room for them. The first is embrace optimism. Let me let you on a little secret regarding pessimism. It sucks. Seriously. It sucks the air out of the room, the energy out of the conversation, and the life out of you. God didn’t fashion you for the purpose of pessimism. Because people who like to see the worst aspects in things or people basically have no hope, or they’ve put their hope in the wrong things. Learn to embrace optimism but putting your hope in Jesus. Not just in what Jesus has done, but what He’s doing in and through your life today.


The second is cast daily seeds. I think we all know how many crops the farmer will harvest who casts no seeds. Your words of encouragement to your kids, your acts of kindness to strangers, your offer of grace to those who’ve wronged you are all daily seeds. Think about some of the people who have had a big impact on your life. I bet you most of them can’t even remember what they did to impact you. But they took the time to cast some seeds. God offers you an unlimited supply of kindness and goodness, so why are you stockpiling it? There’s no Y2K for kindness and goodness. Cast daily seeds. It’s not important whether they take root, but they’ll never have a chance if you don’t put them out there.


“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence then, is not an act, but a habit.”

--Aristotle


Questions for Reflection:


Describe the process of developing and starting a new routine in order to build a new ravine, or habit. Where are the pitfalls for you? What role do you ask God to play?


Of embracing optimism or casting daily seeds, which do you more consistently do and why?

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