Willpower over Habits
Good and evil both increase at compound interest. That is why the little decisions you and I make every day are of such infinite importance. The smallest good act today is the capture of a strategic point from which, a few months later, you may be able to go on to victories you never dreamed of. An apparently trivial indulgence in lust or anger today is the loss of a ridge or railway line or bridgehead from which the enemy may launch an attack otherwise impossible. [C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity].
How often do we intend to act correctly, resolve to do right, and then fall short? How often do we begin a path with the best of intentions, only to quit half way to our goal? We seem to spend our entire life resolving to do things, setting goals for ourselves, committing to goodness, disavowing evil – but failing.
How rarely do we attain our goals? Most of us have forgotten hundreds of resolutions and affirmations we have made throughout our lives.
The Prophet (PBUH) said, “O people! The reward of deeds depends upon the intentions, and every person will get the reward according to what he has intended . . .” [Sahih Bukhari].
To accomplish goodness is better than only intending to so, but our intentions, half-done deeds and incomplete plans are not ignored by God. Where sincerity of heart is present, there is reward for the good thought and for the good intention.
Our repeated failure to fully act as we would wish must not discourage us. It is the sincere intention that is the essential thing, and this will in time release us from the bondage of habits which at present seem almost insurmountable. [Thomas Troward].
Giving Up Something
Giving up something of material enjoyment for a time is quite difficult without strong faith. We hoard comforts and pleasures as we do wealth. Our willpower must reflect reliance and trust in God that can repel rationalization and doubt.
Habits take time to develop. Remember that your character is the sum total of your habits. You can’t claim to be kind unless you are habitually kind—you show kindness without even thinking about it. You can’t claim to have integrity unless it is your habit to always be honest. A husband who is faithful to his wife most of the time is not faithful at all! Your habits define your character. [Rick Warren, The Purpose Driven Life].
Most of us feel confident that we can quit any habit, if we really want to. Whether it is smoking, alcohol, drugs, or any other undesirable addiction, excessive indulgence or harmful pastime, we are convinced we can stop at will.
However, to reestablish control and confidence, we must first abstain for just one day. When our bodies demand the chemicals, or our minds insist on the customary delicacies, we must begin by recognizing the lamentable state to which we have descended. And, for just one moment in our ceaseless relapsing, we must pause and turn to God.
… spiritual fasting is … to abandon all that is disharmonious, inwardly as well as outwardly. The slightest breach of that intention breaks the fast. Religious fasting is limited by time, while spiritual fasting is forever and lasts throughout one’s temporal and eternal life. This is true fasting. [Shaykh Abdul Qadir Jilani, Spiritual Fasting, Ch. 17].
Fasting can be very disagreeable. Withdrawal from accustomed levels of eating and from accommodated social habits can produce unpleasant physical and psychological reactions. This is not a bad thing. Fasting should, indeed, produce a spiritual upheaval within us that prods and provokes remembrance of God.
Perhaps what demands most willpower is the resolution to cease from our own works, our own busyness, and to stay our minds upon our God. [Amy Wilson-Carmichael].
Faith and Willpower
Without discipline of mind, what works can our faith produce? Our willpower must complement our virtues and talents. The essence of our good deeds depends on it. We must conform our will to the Divine.
Faith focuses on the Divine. Willpower focuses on our self. With true faith, we have no doubt in God’s help. Such faith reinforces our self-confidence and invigorates our willpower.
We can use our wills to override our habits for a few minutes, but our habits will always beat willpower alone in the long run. Deep change takes more than willpower. It requires God renewing our minds. It requires surrender. [John Ortberg, The Me I Want to Be: Becoming God’s Best Version of You, p. 50].
Fasting is pleasing to God. Knowing that our will conforms to the Divine Will makes our fasting not only easier but more fulfilling and satisfying.
Let us abandon craving thoughts and restless ambitions. Let us fast to leave a lifetime of self-abusive habits. By treating ourselves to a dose of nothing, we can cure that sickness caused by too much of everything, and not enough of God.
How brave the fight they waged to master their evil habits! What pure and straightforward purpose they showed toward God! By day they labored and by night they spent themselves in long prayers. Even at work they did not cease from mental prayer. They used all their time profitably; every hour seemed too short for serving God, and in the great sweetness of contemplation, they forgot even their bodily needs. They renounced all riches, dignities, honors, friends, and associates. [Thomas a Kempis, The Imitation of Christ].