A Christian Science perspective: how can we pray when we're trying to kick an unwanted habit?

Long ago I spotted a small folded piece of paper on my then-7-year-old son’s dresser. It was so wrinkled that it looked as if it had been folded and refolded 100 times. As I opened it, I was shocked to see a centerfold from an adult magazine.

I asked him if he’d been looking at that picture a lot. He said, “Yes, Dad, but I’m trying to quit.” His sad eyes looking up at me made my heart melt.

Haven’t many of us been in that situation – maybe experiencing disappointment with ourselves for not measuring up, for doing things we regret, painfully aware that what we are doing is inappropriate, unwise, impure, perhaps not necessarily hurtful or really bad, but something beneath our standards. But we continue to feel powerless to resist the attraction.

The Bible, that historical record of humanity’s efforts to rise higher in spirituality and to escape the downward pull of materiality, has many examples showing that this is not a new phenomenon. Even for those whose life mission was to follow the teachings of Christ Jesus, sin was still a struggle. A Bible quote from Paul’s epistle to the Romans reflects his struggle when he wrote: “I often find that I have the will to do good, but not the power. That is, I don’t accomplish the good I set out to do, and the evil I don’t really want to do I find I am always doing” (Romans 7:18, J.B. Phillips’s translation). He was “trying to quit.”

Anyone who has tried to quit smoking, drinking, or using recreational drugs knows that quitting is difficult. But maybe quitting is not the answer after all, and perhaps starting is a better solution. Instead of trying to extract the unwelcome and undesirable habits and activities, filling their place with good ones is easier and more profitable. After all, in our schools we don’t try to pull out ignorance; we pour in ideas and instruction.

We can use the Bible as an instruction guide in our “getting started.” The book of Genesis tells us that we are made in the image and likeness of God (see 1:26, 27), and Jesus counseled, “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect” (Matthew 5:48). These truths form a solid platform from which to claim our oneness with God, divine Love, Mind, and Spirit. We reflect Him by expressing qualities such as tenderness, compassion, and purity, which bring healing to all situations.

Recently while cleaning our duck pond, I remembered how in the past I had used every method in the book to get the dirty water out of the pond, including a pump, suction devices, a shovel, and anything at hand. Getting the sludge, feathers, and dirty water out was a real chore.

This time I began filling the pond with clean water, which eventually forced out the dirty sludge, replacing it with clean, sparkling water. How much easier it was to let the clean water purge the impure contents rather than spending hours dredging out the unwanted dirty water. And, the added benefit was that the dirty water fertilized the land around the pond. Best of all, when I’d used the old method of emptying and draining, I ended up with only an empty vessel. By filling it with clean water, the end result was a clean and sparkling pool, delightful to the eye and welcoming to the ducks.

The Bible records a story Christ Jesus told to his followers that holds the key to our freedom. He described how a farmer had planted good seed in a field, but during the night someone had planted some bad seed in that same field (see Matthew 13:24-30). That “someone,” described as an enemy, perhaps is the same enemy that plants those bad ideas in our thinking – the temptations, selfish thoughts, greed, sensuality, insensitivity – that cause such pain, distress, and discouragement. Jesus told how the landowner advised against pulling up the weeds, but instead advised nurturing the good seed, faithfully cultivating and encouraging the good until the bad could be rooted out at harvest.

Religious pioneer Mary Baker Eddy, who discovered and founded Christian Science, counseled: “The way to extract error from mortal mind is to pour in truth through flood-tides of Love. Christian perfection is won on no other basis” (“Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures,” p. 201).

Each of us can decide how best to stop quitting and start starting. For me, the straightforward lesson in Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, which includes what are termed the Beatitudes, provides an excellent starting point, and shows me that we can replace harmful habits by pouring into our lives pure, loving, uplifting, tender thoughts regarding ourselves and others.

For starters I am going to practice living these initial steps, several Beatitudes I’ve paraphrased, inspired by the King James Version of the Bible and “The Message” by Eugene Peterson:

•Blessed are those who are gentle.

•Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for God’s approval.

•Blessed are those who show mercy.

•Blessed are those whose thoughts are pure.

•Blessed are those who make peace.

This is a start, and the rest of the list can be found in Matthew 5:3-12.

If you become discouraged trying to quit – trying to leave behind some unwanted habit, personality trait, or hurtful way of thinking – you don’t need to despair or wrestle endlessly in a futile effort to extract the bad qualities. Rest assured that diligent and sincere efforts to pour in love, meekness, purity, and other good qualities will soon clear out the “dirty water.” And, best of all, you will not end up empty, but will reflect more of God’s goodness.

Adapted from the author’s blog.

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