Prayer Habits and a Challenge

I’m a fan of Gretchen Rubin‘s work on happiness and habits, including her book Better Then Before, which is part memoir, part practical suggestions about forming good habits. As my congregation approaches the Lenten season (Ash Wednesday is only 2 days away), I’m doing something I haven’t done in a while: issuing a challenge during Lent. Last fall at our congregational retreat, I introduced the book Learning to Pray Again by Michael Rinehart and it was well-received. This Lent, I’m encouraging the congregation to read a chapter a day (the book is 40 short chapters)–and I’ll be reading it right along with them.

As I thought about ways to support myself and others in this endeavor, I went straight to Rubin’s work and started thinking about the connection between a fruitful prayer life and the ability to form and maintain good habits–because aren’t spiritual practices just that–daily, weekly, monthly practices? Rubin suggests that forming good habits is all about knowing yourself and setting up your life to support your desired habits…and I would include prayer in the list of desired habits.

Rubin writes in Better Than Before, “What I do most days matters more than what I do once in a while.” That’s why I’m offering a daily prayer challenge during Lent, and kick-starting a daily habit for 40 days may help all of us keep the habit after Easter.

Rubin came up with a 4 tendencies framework (you can take the quiz to discover your tendency) that puts people into 4 categories of habit-forming styles: Upholders, Questioners, Obligers, and Rebels.

Upholders are able to meet inner and outer expectations. These are people who can hold themselves to a regular prayer and devotional life. It may not be easy for them, but it’s probably easier than it is for other people.

Questioners question all expectations. They’ll stick to a habit or rule, but only if it makes sense to them. These are people who will consistently question if prayer is worthwhile, and if it’s effective to do it daily–or while sitting down, or with a devotional, or quietly, or   in a group, etc.–for it to be effective. Their prayer habits may change often according to what’s working for them in the current moment.

Obligers need outer accountability to keep habits. These are people who need a prayer group, or friend, or a goal–some external reason–to develop and keep a regular prayer habit (which is why I’m offering weekly book group opportunities during Lent).

Rebels resist all expectations. These are people who will develop a prayer life on their terms. They may NOT read the book daily just because they were asked to read it, but this doesn’t mean they have to write off a regular prayer life. In fact, Rubin was surprised to find a high percentage of rebels in a group of Christian ministers! Rebels will pray if they can choose to do it each day: I’ll pray because it works for me today. Tomorrow I may not. 

Which one of the Four Tendencies are you? How can knowing your tendency help you to form a regular prayer habit that works for you?

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