As many of you know I have been trying to quit biting my fingernails as what I 'gave up' for Lent. I guess what I gave up would be 'nail biting'. I have to say, it is actually been going fairly well. You can see white at the tip of each of my 10 fingernails and I am certain that has never happened before in my adult life. Still a work in progress though.
In a prior post I talked about the spiritual aspects of this work - actually wanting to quit and how that relates to our lives in relationship with God, and about not dwelling in our failures so that we can live into what God has for us next.
I continue to see parallels between this exercise of not biting my nails and our faith journeys. Let's start with my nail biting. As I said, I am actually doing a pretty good job of not biting my nails. But an interesting (and for me unfortunate) thing has happened. Now that my fingers are not in my mouth any more, I have been eating a lot more. I noticed it the other day. I didn't even realize it but I had basically spent the whole afternoon snacking on one thing after another.
My nail biting had left a hole in my activity - and literally a space in my mouth - and I was filling it with eating food. Some of my nail biting could certainly be attributed to nervousness (I am nervous person), but a lot of it was simply habit. I was doing, without thinking, something I was used to doing.
When I stopped doing it - or when I tried to stop doing it - I didn't intentionally put anything in its place. So, without any conscious thought on the subject, I found that I had replaced my nail biting with eating. Not good for the waistline. At. All.
But this is where the connection is for our lives of faith.
It is good and important to stop things that we are doing that aren't life-giving, healthy or in line with God's will for our lives and the world. But, as we are doing that we have to be aware of the space in our lives and in our hearts that taking away those activities will leave.
We have to make a decision about what we are going to fill that space with or it will get filled on its own. And if we aren't intentional about what we fill that space with, it will likely be filled with something just as harmful to us as what it is replacing (from a health standpoint, it would actually be better for me to go back to biting my nails and stop eating so much).
When we take something out of our lives - especially something that has been there for a long time - the space that is left exposed will be tender and sensitive. It hasn't seen the light of day in a while.
We have to be intentional about removing the things (habits, thoughts, attitudes, etc) from our life that don't fit with who God has called us to be. But we have to be just as intentional about what we put back into the space those things occupied.
A pastor I know was trying to quit smoking and was having a really difficult time. Eventually what helped him was finding a prayer that he could memorize and pray. The prayer took about 2-3 minutes to say all the way through, this was almost exactly as long as it took him to smoke a cigarette and about as long as one of his intense cravings would last.
If he was able to make it through the whole prayer without lighting a cigarette, he found that he almost always was able to resist the urge.
He had to fill the space before he could let go of those cigarettes.
Of course it isn't always as simple as 'insert prayer here', but it provides a model. I don't know what spaces you need to open in your life (I am busy identifying all of mine!) but I know that starting that process by inviting God into that space and asking the Holy Spirit to fill it is a good start.
I am a nail biter. I am trying to stop. I am asking God to open my eyes to how that space can be filled according to his will.
More nail related thoughts tomorrow.
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