The Book of Ecclesiastes tells us that “Nothing is new under the sun,” and we see this particularly in a post-Christian society. Often, something that has a long history in Christian thought can be repackaged in a secular, self-help language and be embraced, while the same message coming from a religious person may be met with skepticism.
This experience is something that Fr. Matthew Spencer, OSJ reflected on during a recent St. Joseph’s Workshop when he discussed the New York Times bestselling book Atomic Habits by James Clear. He said:
“Somebody gave me a copy of this book and I’ve been reading through it. It’s very practical, it’s not religious, but there are some really fascinating applications of this book to the spiritual life.
He’s looking at habits, essentially talking about them as a way to achieve your goals, and to live the life that you want. As I said, it’s more of a self-help, self-improvement kind of book. But he makes a few important points that I think we could talk about here, and identify as important qualities in our own spiritual journeys with the Lord.
One of the first things he identifies, which is the title of the book, is atomic habits. Meaning not nuclear, not explosive, but small, little habits that can change your life. Have you ever noticed that sometimes it’s the very small things in your spiritual life that can make a big difference?
When you bless your food at the beginning of each meal, and when you give thanks to God for that meal at the end, that can take a total of a couple minutes total throughout your whole day. How long does it take to say, ‘Bless us, O Lord…’? I just watched the clock, and it looks like about 6 seconds. And we can say that devoutly, meaningfully – but just that act of gratitude, the act of giving thanks to God Himself and realizing our dependence on God can have a profound effect. And that is a good spiritual habit.
In fact, if you look at the spiritual patrimony, history that we have as Catholics, we can see many saints who would invite us to live small moments in our life with great fidelity. To do little things in our life with great love. I’m thinking of St. Therese of Lisieux, I’m thinking of the founder of my religious community St. Joseph Morello, I’m thinking of St. Francis de Sales. I mean, we could go on and on about different saints who have said that if you do the small, little things in life well, if you do them with a love for God, if you direct your whole life to live the way that God wants you to (especially in the little things) guess what? The big things start to take care of themselves.
It was Jesus who also mentioned to us that when we’re responsible in small things, then He will entrust us with much greater responsibilities. That’s just how God works in our life. He first invites us to be faithful in small things, and slowly gives us more responsibility.
So I just think this is a really valuable point for us to reflect on. That if you and I are called to create good habits in our life that cover many significant, serious issues and serious things, then we also have to be faithful in small things. And being faithful in those small things can actually lead to great growth and development in our life.”
Listen to the full reflection below: