There comes a time in our lives when we realise that we aren’t becoming the people we thought we were going to be. Partly, this is humbling realisation that our expectations may have exceeded our limitations. Among the other reasons is the influence of habits in our lives. These small and usually unconscious decisions change us in ways we don't realise until it's too late. In The Common Rule: Habits of Purpose For An Age of Distraction (IVP, 2019, 196 pages), Justin Whitmel Earley helps us see how powerful habits can be, and shows us how to harness that power to help us love God and our neighbours more.

I've experienced for myself how the intentional creation of a habit has profound influence across more areas of my life than the one being focused on. So long as they come from a motivation of love, they can be remarkable means of grace to us.

Written around the same times as The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry, there are a lot of shared concerns, and some crossover in solutions proposed. Earley may not have the preacher’s rhetorical flourishing of John Mark Comer but his practices are deeply considered and have been well-lived, and his job as a lawyer in a high-pressure secular environment gives his commendations extra validity. The value of both these books is determined by how well we can put what they share with us into practice and Earley’s structure, suggestions, summaries, and starting-points seem designed to make this simple.

It seems automatic for many of us to become self-absorbed when considering a subject like this but Earley's structure (see below) ensures that these habits are about looking outward, and he suggests that they are best learned in community too.

Here are some of the quotes in The Common Rule that I found helpful, followed by the diagram summarising the habits Earley suggests:

"I was way too busy, totally overcommitted, and living with a chaotic, packed schedule. But I thought I was different because I had a calling." (p.4)

"When we combine [James K.A.] Smith’s insight that our habits of liturgies of worship and [Charles] Duhigg’s neurological insight that our brains aren’t totally engaged when our habits are playing out, we have a robust explanation of how our unconscious habits fundamentally reshape our hearts, regardless of what we tell ourselves we believe." (p.9)

"A keystone habit is a super-habit. It’s the first domino in the line; by changing one habit, we simultaneously change ten other habits." (p.36)

"One of my favourite cultural critics, Ken Myers, argues that the kind of atheism we experience in America today is not a conclusion but a mood. This is an incredibly important observation. If secularism is not a conclusion but a mood, we cannot disrupt it with an argument. We must disrupt it with a presence." (p.58)

"As image bearers of God, we have a powerful presence to give to others. But unlike our omnipresent God, we have a limited presence." (p.66)

"There’s nothing more terrifying and redemptive than removing the fig leaf and telling who you are to a friend. It’s terrifying because we are never who we wish we were. It’s redemptive because that’s at the core of enacting the gospel in communal life." (pp.99-100)

"If the goal is self-help, failure will destroy you. But if the goal is beauty, failure makes that goal shine all the more brightly. So you get up and keep walking." (p.162)


Photo by Roman Kraft on Unsplash