If you’ve been fighting some bad habits for years, trying everything, and so far you’ve been unable to break that habit and keep it broken, you might want to try this simple little two-step program. The two steps are Prayer and Work.
Step One – PRAYER
The prayer in Step One is not, at least not primarily, reciting prayers. We all know that it is so easy to recite like a parrot even a perfect prayer like the Our Father, just mouthing words with little meaning and less heart behind them. Step One, The Prayer, is made up of the very short prayers the Fathers of the Church called javelins. These very short prayers are tossed up to Heaven, tossed from your heart, and tossed from the need and circumstances you’re in right now. Here are some javelins:
Help. Thanks. Save Me. I’m Sorry. I love you. Jesus, I need You. Mercy, Lord.
Mother, be with me. St. Michael, defend me.
St. Joseph, please. God, I’m scared. Dear Holy Spirit, show me. Be with me.
How short is very short? Each of these prayers takes a second or two to toss up. In other words, if you pray a hundred of them, it might take you two whole minutes.
Step One, The Prayer, is the most important part of this little program. But, unsupported by The Work, it probably won’t be enough to break a deeply ingrained bad habit, especially if it’s a mortally sinful bad habit.
Step Two – WORK
The Work requires a few little acts a day. Be sure to keep these acts little, and keep them to only a few a day. That way there is less risk of being derailed by discouragement after a setback that may follow because you took on too much too fast.
The Work has two aspects – Negative and Positive.
The Negative Work is made up of a few little acts each day of you saying Less, No, or Wait – not to temptation, not to anything bad. Every day, a few times, you will say Less, No or Wait to some of the good things in your life: your favorite entertainment, your favorite movies, hobbies, games, TV shows, your favorite foods, desserts, goodies, your preferred internet sites (good ones), most-loved books, magazines – everything you enjoy. Just tell one of your favorite things, “You look really good right now, but I’m only gonna take half as much of you as I feel like taking”; or “I really wanna get into you, but I’m gonna wait three minutes”; or “I’m gonna watch my show, but I’m gonna miss the first two minutes”. You hold up, consider for a few seconds, and decide to indulge a little less than usual in one of your enjoyments; you stop, deliberate, and choose to postpone, even for a brief moment, some legitimate pleasure. But what good is waiting two minutes, putting off a pleasure three minutes? The brief postponement of some enjoyment helps you mostly, and mostly unconsciously, by beginning to break your habit of acting on impulse. The many little decisions that are the heart of this program gradually becomes new strength in your soul, real moral muscle, and serious power that makes it possible for you to say NO to temptation, Not Now to your bad habit, and mean it.
The Positive Work is a few little acts each day of you freely choosing to come out of your selfish self to do for others. And these positive acts may be very brief (three seconds to wave at a neighbor you usually ignore, two seconds to smile when you don’t feel like it, one second to keep your eyes off your watch while somebody’s boring you). Or they may take a few minutes (listening to your excited kid explain his video game; offering sympathy to your wife as she complains, at length, about her day; giving money or a gift to someone not in a position to repay the favor). The point, at least in the beginning, is to keep these acts of generosity, of giving, of love, little and few.
The Work, briefly, is you telling yourself: Less and Later for me – More and Right Now for somebody else. And when you do limit yourself, when you do bless someone else, tell Jesus, explicitly, you’re doing it to conquer that bad habit.
This simple, little two-step program of Prayer and Work, if you only know it and admire it and talk about it, won’t change anything in your life. If you want that bad habit broken, you must do those two little steps; Pray – every day. Work – every day. And never take a day off till you’re in Heaven.