It is time for a FIRST Wild Card Tour book review! If you wish to join the FIRST blog alliance, just click the button. We are a group of reviewers who tour Christian books. A Wild Card post includes a brief bio of the author and a full chapter from each book toured. The reason it is called a FIRST Wild Card Tour is that you never know if the book will be fiction, non~fiction, for young, or for old…or for somewhere in between! Enjoy your free peek into the book!
You never know when I might play a wild card on you!
Chris Tomlinson, a graduate from the U.S. Air Force Academy and the UCLA Anderson School of Business, is a businessman and writer who desires to see people realize the beauty and joy of knowing Jesus. He lives in Northern Virginia with his wife, Anna.
Visit the author’s website.
List Price: $13.99
Paperback: 224 pages
Publisher: Harvest House Publishers (January 1, 2010)
AND NOW…THE FIRST CHAPTER:
Habits Are Good
Unless They Become Our Habit
I hate to floss.
I don’t think I’ve ever liked it. My parents must have taught me how to floss when I was a child—they are great parents. But I don’t remember them doing so.
I do remember learning how to ride a bicycle on our front lawn. I also remember learning how to water-ski behind our pontoon boat. I have some recollection of learning to snow ski down the tee boxes on the golf course near our house, and I can recall learning how to jump off a diving board wearing a super-cool green and purple Speedo. My memories of learning how to read, spell, and count are clear. And I think I remember learning how to brush my teeth and comb my hair. But I don’t remember learning how to floss.
Come to think of it, I had an abnormal relationship with my dentist, Dr. Avery. I knew him to be a man of the church, and he had an expansive grin, so I felt good around him, even though he wanted to stick drills and needles in my mouth. But his best attribute was his laughing gas machine. I really loved the man for it. Nobody in his right mind likes going to the dentist, but I did.
After most checkups, he strolled into the office lobby with me in tow, waded through the towering piles of Reader’s Digest and Southern Living toward my waiting mother, flashed his enormous smile, and said these beautiful words: “Chris has a cavity.”
I loved those four words. Joy welled up inside me when I heard them because I knew I would soon be back in that office, high as a kite on laughing gas, floating in the blissful euphoria of altered hues and offbeat sounds. That was my reward for failing to brush properly, and what a reward it was. I would return to my dentist with great anticipation, and after he finished filling my latest cavity, Dr. Avery would always give me a new toothbrush and tell me to be sure to floss. I would nod my head in superficial assent. I knew it was the right thing to do because he told me time after time and my mom told me time after time, but it just seemed so rewarding not to do it.
Maybe that is why I have never liked to floss.
As I got older, I noticed a lot of things in my life mirrored my reticence toward flossing. I don’t particularly like doing sit-ups or eating vegetables. I rarely clean my shower, and I’m almost certain I have never once dusted the leaves on my fake ficus tree. I know I should spend time each day in prayer and reading my Bible, but I don’t do that with any regularity. I can’t remember a sustained period of time in which I consistently thought of someone else first, and I don’t often look for opportunities to provide for those in need.
Finally, I believe I have the world’s greatest information—the gospel of Jesus Christ, a message of great news to everyone on earth, something so important that I should not rest or eat or drink anything until I have shared it with every one of those people. But I have only told a few people about it. I haven’t even covered my apartment building, much less my neighborhood, city, state, or country. And if my apartment building, neighborhood, city, state, and country are still unreached for Christ, maybe you haven’t told them about this gospel either. We would both acknowledge the primacy of sharing the gospel with the world, but it seems to occupy very little of our conversation.
All of this makes me wonder if we spend nearly all of our time bypassing opportunities to do the things we know we should be doing. I see evidence of this both in my spiritual walk and in the mundane duties of being a presentable human. And as I look at the lives around me, both inside and outside the church, I think I can fairly say I’m not alone. When faced with the opportunity to do something for God, we’d rather eat chips.
Why are we like this? My own attitude toward God saddens me; I am actually pretty annoyed by it. But apparently I am not saddened or annoyed enough to really do something about it.
When I begin to feel badly about myself, I often try to take solace in the Scriptures and seek comfort in the stories of the heroes of the Bible. These were ordinary men and women who did extraordinary things for God. The apostle Paul is easily one of the Bible’s greatest heroes. He wrote about half of the books in the New Testament, and he is revered as one of the foundation stones of the faith, a man given over to God’s Spirit in heart, mind, and soul.
I did not write half of the books in the New Testament. In fact, I didn’t write any of them. I am not revered as anything in particular that I know of. But I find Paul wasn’t so unlike me in some ways. In a letter he wrote to the Christians in Rome, Paul cried out in the frustration of his flesh, “I don’t really understand myself, for I want to do what is right, but I don’t do it. Instead, I do what I hate.”
This is the story of my life as well. This inclination to do wrong, or at a minimum, to do what is easy, is as natural to me as sneezing.
Often, I know the right thing to do, whether it is going to lunch with someone who needs a friend, or sharing my faith with someone who needs hope, or simply loving someone who is hard to love. But more times than not, I ignore these opportunities or come up with excuses or reasons why I shouldn’t have to act on them. Sometimes I know that what I’m about to do is wrong; I even know that when I am finished doing or saying the thing I know I shouldn’t do or say, I will be sorry I did it or wish I had not said it. And I do it anyway. Thinking I can get away with this kind of thing is like walking up a sheet of ice in bowling shoes; I don’t have a chance of making it up to the top, but I try anyway and fall every time.
God, however, was ready to give me cleats. I found them in David Crowder’s book Praise Habit: Finding God in Sunsets and Sushi. One particular section caught my eye.
Years ago a friend told me that an action repeated for a minimum of 21 days is likely to become a permanent habit. So I thought I’d give it a shot…After much thought I decided that my trained response to “Hello” or “How’s it going?” or “Hi” would be to salute and wink. In the beginning it was quite fun. Some pal would walk in the room and say, “What’s up?” and I would raise hand over eye in quick, sharp movements and wink while responding, “Not much.” It was beauty. The internal joy it brought was overwhelming. It was the perfect habit to form. It was quirky but legitimate. Impossible to tell if I was serious or not. The “Sunshine Sailor” is what I called it…Soon enough, before long I didn’t even think about it…until one day when I saluted the convenience store clerk and realized it did nothing inside. There was no suppressed smile…nothing joyous bursting in my chest…It was habit. I had done it.
It seems for most bad habits we [form], there was never any intentional formation…usually, destructive habits are formed more subtly with very little thought and planning. Good habits seem more difficult to manage…Why does it seem like the formation must be much more intentional in our adoption of good habits?
Lacing up these cleats, I reflected on this passage, and I thought a lot about the concept of habit forming. I often think of something that would be good to do on a regular basis, and sometimes I try my hardest to do it. Or I may find something about myself that I don’t like, or something that someone else doesn’t like about me, and if I agree with them, I try my hardest not to do it. I usually have some measure of success with my attempts toward personal change, but they never seem to work out on a long-term basis.
Searching for answers, I turned to the source of all knowledge: Google. I searched on the following phrase: “I do the things I don’t want to do,” looking for commentary on the apostle Paul’s frustration with his flesh, hoping to find some other poor soul who had felt my pain or had lived what I was living or had experienced what I was going through and had come out on the other side.
The first website Google listed opened with this:
Bored? Listless? Help is at hand!
Pass away the pointless hours with our list of things to do when you’re bored.
Push your eyes for an interesting light show.
Try to not think about penguins.
Repeat the same word over and over until it loses its meaning.
Try to swallow your tongue.
Step off a curb with eyes shut. Imagine it’s a cliff.
Have a water drinking contest.
Stare at the back of someone’s head until they turn around.
Pick up a dog so it can see things from your point of view.
Let me be clear: I appreciate the creativity this represents, and if I were to be completely honest, I have to admit I am thinking of penguins right now. I also wish I had a little dog.
What bothers me, though, is this: Why did this useless information appear when I went looking for Bible verses describing the frustration I feel with the inadequacies and emptiness of my life? Why isn’t the Internet full of wisdom for souls desperately seeking a greater understanding of our human condition instead of inane information that addresses none of the real problems we face in life?
Clearly, this list doesn’t answer my question at all. But as I thought more and more about this list of things to do when I am bored, I realized the words I read on that page were emblematic of the things I waste my time on every day. Maybe the things I do aren’t quite as useless, but they are no more valuable when weighed on the scales of eternity.
So I decided the time had come, and I would live like this no more. My habits had to change. I decided that for the next 21 days, through rain and snow, hell and high water, under no circumstances backing down, I would floss.
And floss I did.
On the first day of my experiment, I wrote out the numbers up to 21 on a green sticky note, which I stuck to the wall beside my bathroom mirror. Every night, when I was getting ready for bed, that day’s number called to me softly. So I would floss, and then I would cross off a number. And it felt great—a neat and tidy little system of accountability.
Days flew by quickly, and nighttime would find me in my bathroom, laboring with my new, minty friend in the fight against unwanted plaque. Night after night, me and my floss. Days turned into weeks, and we were still together.
The morning of the fourteenth day, I awoke and went into the bathroom to brush my teeth. I noticed I had forgotten to cross off the previous night’s number, and an anxious pause came over me. Had I failed myself yet again? My confidence returned quickly, though, as I remembered that indeed, I had flossed the night before but had forgotten to mark it down. The habit was slowly taking shape.
The days continued on, and I was excited to finally be a person of good habits. All the poor habits in my life, my little grinding sins that cling to me like gum on a shoe, my idiosyncrasies that don’t bother me but drive others crazy—all of these things would soon be footnotes in the chapters of my life. My horizon was clear and blue; nothing could stand in my way from being exactly the person I thought I should be. I grew more and more content with who I was, and more importantly, with the man I was becoming.
The final day of flossing arrived as quickly as the end of an all too pleasant vacation. I had emerged as the conquering hero in this trial. I didn’t need to see Dr. Avery anymore, and his laughing gas machine was now a thing of the past. I had achieved resounding success in this area, putting together a DiMaggioan streak I had never before accomplished in all my life.
As I reflected on my triumph, the simplicity of it all struck me; it merely required a little determination, a little persistence, a little accountability, and a little green sticky note.
The implications were staggering. If I could master a habit of the flesh, why could I not also master a habit of the soul? I knew life to be far more than good dental hygiene. I knew God wanted me to address my lack of discipline in my Christian walk. And I felt the deeper cravings for more of God in my life. I had tried so many different things to experience God more fully, and perhaps this notion of habit forming could be a way to satisfy these longings.
I sensed a time was coming in my life when God would need me. I knew He could use my success and my good habits for His purposes in order to advance His kingdom on earth. I had practiced on something small, but I had succeeded, and God saw what I had accomplished. He knew He could count on me, and He knew I wouldn’t let Him down. Every boy who plays basketball on his driveway or practices his swing in his backyard dreams that one day, during the right game and at the right time, his moment will arrive, and he will be ready for it.
However, I also knew my time of testing had only just begun. I knew of many areas in my life that needed more practice, and I was finally ready to lay them before the Lord and say, Teach me how to do this better.
So I sat down to write a list of good habits I would like to have in God’s kingdom, behaviors and practices I knew would take me closer to the heart of Jesus and awaken my cravings for more of Him, and I came up with a really good list.
I thought of others, but I figured I should start slowly. The journey of my entire life would be spent shaping and forming these habits, but I could get started on them right away.
There were my goals, simple and on paper. Just as my little green sticky note and I had scaled the rocky heights of proper dental hygiene, so too would we conquer the sins of my soul. I began my quest in earnest, brimming with the confidence and optimism that only past success can bring, energized by my ability to make things right in my life, destined to be a person of good habits.
And clean teeth.