So, what can we do to overcome a bad habit? Jesus gave a good example in his parable of the prodigal son. This young man had a problem with self-indulgence and overspending. One day he hit a low point. Degraded, without funds, hungry and desperate, he had a sudden awakening. Jesus said that he “came to himself” – that is, he woke up from self-absorbed thoughts and behaviors and sought refuge with his father. (See Luke, chapter 15)
Of course, Jesus used this parable to teach an important lesson. We can all turn back to the one divine Father, to God, whose open arms welcome every repentant child and who shows a way out of the desperate corners we sometimes place ourselves in.
I once had a bad habit of nail-biting. It became an annoying way of life for me. I had chewed my nails for as long as I could remember. I wasn’t hurting anyone else with this habit but I wasn’t very attractive to look at while I was gnawing away, and neither were the fingernails!
When I was little, my grandfather tried to help me stop. During one visit, he put tape over my fingernails. But, undaunted, I soon chewed through the tape. During another visit, he polished my nails with an awful tasting liquid. I managed to put up with the taste and the nail biting continued.
As I grew older, I would make attempts to defeat the problem. But, the minute I started reading a book, watching TV, or going to the movies, I would find my fingers rising to my mouth and I was chewing again. And no human will – not mine, not my grandfather’s – could stop it.
The time came when I began to get serious about overcoming this habit. By then I was a grown woman with six children! But as a new student of Christian Science I realized that I could turn to prayer for problem-solving.
I remembered a certain Bible verse, “Thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things.” (Matt. 25:21) When it came to mind, I prayed, asking God to show me at least one little thing in my life that I could be faithful over. I saw this as a way to be more in tune with God.
Then I thought, “Stop the nail biting.” This message seemed to me to be guidance straight from God telling me it wasn’t necessary to be trapped with an unpleasant habit.
In fact, I was being called on to replace an old bad habit of nail-biting, with a new and good habit of being faithful to God by waking up to my true and good self.
I don’t remember much about the thought process that followed this insight, but I do remember feeling very confident that I could stop biting my nails as an act of faithfulness to God.
Not long after this, I was riding in the car with my husband. I remember my fingers rising towards my mouth and then, suddenly, they stopped. I was aware of God’s palpable, gentle presence with me. God’s goodness completely enveloped me. My hand dropped into my lap – and there it stayed.
The 40 year old nail biting habit ended that day.
So what was that presence that enveloped me in the car? What is it that prompts one to suddenly come to oneself after indulging a bad habit for a long time? I believe it is the Christ, the divine message of God, revealing God's goodness in action and reflected in His creation. The Christ has the ability to rouse us from mindless evil to a conscious awareness of God’s present goodness and our ability it express it.
Breaking bad habits involves more than an adjustment of attitude and behavior. Waking to a better sense of ourselves as God’s good creation, we can form new habits, good habits, that reflect our spiritual, liberated selfhood as children of God.