Tag Archives: habits

Silver linings

Joy is a sign of a generous personality, Mother Teresa of Calcutta.

Since the pandemic began a year and a half ago, I have been on the look-out for “silver linings,” those unanticipated good news moments. (It must be my tendency toward optimism!)

Anyway, due to some odd things that happened in my old church during the pandemic, I started thinking about looking for a new church. I have been going to my old church for seven years, and I tend to feel a sense of loyalty to my parish, but last weekend, I visited a new church.

There I sat in this new church, surrounded by strangers, observing how things are done here.

The first thing I noticed was the music. There were several people leading the singing and in addition to the pianist and guitarist, there was also a flautist and a violinist. The sound was rich, and it pulled me into a sense of community worship.

At the beginning of Mass, the priest called the children up front for children’s liturgy, and about a dozen children happily approached. He said a few words to them and then began singing, “If you’re happy and you know it….” The kids and the congregation joined in, singing and clapping their hands. The priest added a silly bit, and everyone laughed.

And then I realized I was feeling something I hadn’t felt in church for a while—I was feeling joy.

As Mass went on, the sense of joy continued. Two children were baptized during Mass, and I found myself smiling, happy for these two young families and their extended families.

The priest included the congregation in his sermon by asking questions, and he called people by name. His sermon was relatable—he talked about spiritual healing and physical healing, and days later, I am still thinking about the message.

Perhaps none of this seems extraordinary to you, but all of this indicated to me that I have probably stayed at my old church too long. Church is one of those places that can get comfortable, and the habit can make it easier to stay than to go. The pandemic shook that up for me—I only attended Mass once in-person, and I found my church too casual about Covid guidelines for me to be comfortable.

This has been a year of many changes for me, with my mother’s death and leaving my job, and I feel I have been living in a liminal space. Here, where routines have been tossed aside and everything is new and different, it seems a good time to explore.

What silver linings have you noticed because of the pandemic?


Developing new habits

“Stop apologizing,” a friend said to me.

“It is a bad habit,” I replied.

She is reading a book about over-apologizing and trying to change her own habit; I am caught in her new-found awareness.

I am grateful for her insight, though, because it is helping to develop my own awareness. When I am with her now, I swallow every “I’m sorry” that attempts to escape my lips.

But, why do I apologize for things over which I have no control?

Bad weather? I’m sorry.

Bad hair day? I’m sorry.

You didn’t see my text? I’m sorry.       

Trouble with your car? I’m sorry.

The store was out of your favorite whatever? I’m sorry.

On and on it goes. At first, I had thought to count the number of times I apologize in a day, but it quickly became apparent that the number was just too many.

So why do I apologize?

I don’t really feel responsible for the weather or car trouble or most of the other inconveniences of life. I know I am not that powerful that I can control any of it.

In the bigger scheme of habits, this one may seem inconsequential, but I am beginning to see how my over-apologizing is connected to my self-image.

I grew up feeling invisible and believing that being invisible was the best I could be. If someone saw me—if I became visible—that was a bad thing, as if I was the inconvenience and I needed to apologize for being a bother. It was as if my very presence was the problem.

Therapy helped me understand the flaws in this belief system. But changing the habits I developed during those early years has taken a lifetime, and obviously, I still have a way to go.

What I need is another way to express my concern that something bad has happened or that someone has been troubled in some way—without taking responsibility for what has happened. I need to develop a new habit that expresses empathy or sympathy.

I hadn’t anticipated this as a New Year’s resolution, but it is the gift that has come to me, and I will try to honor it.

What habits are you trying to change?

Two Lists

The past two years have been very stress-filled for me, and I have often felt “not myself.” I have lost track of the number of times I have said, “I am just not myself.” Sometimes it is connected to daily activities, like being almost incapable of parallel parking (something I used to do so well I often thought it could be my “talent” in a contest). Other times it is the absence that I notice.

For example, I have long been faithful at sending cards to family and friends for birthdays and other occasions. I love the whole experience of browsing the racks of cards, sometimes laughing out loud and ultimately finding the perfect card. But, over the past two years, I have rarely entered a card store or even remembered many of the occasions that once filled my calendar. When I realize I have missed someone’s birthday, I think, “That is not like me”—and then I forgive myself. I have had other things on my mind.

Baking is another thing I love to do, and I would usually have chocolate-chip cookies on hand at all times. I would bake banana muffins year-round, zucchini bread in summer and my Christmas baking would begin on Thanksgiving weekend. But my cookie sheets, muffin tins and bread pans have not seen the inside of the oven for a very long time. I have settled for store-bought cookies for the past two years, which is definitely not like me.

At some point recently, I realized that I have been keeping two lists in my head: One was titled “like me” and the other, “not like me.”

For the better part of the last two years, the scales have tipped in favor of “not like me.” Every missed birthday and store-bought cookie reminded me that I was not myself. The list also includes my lack of exercise, knitting, gardening—all those hobbies and habits that shape my daily life and give expression to who I am. I don’t even take my daily vitamins any more.
I have not been myself.

So, when I not only remembered three birthdays in July, but actually bought cards and sent them (and on time), I noted how “like me” that felt. Two of the birthday people even received gifts (ok, so they were gift cards I bought on-line, but still…).

I moved into my new house a few days ago and went shopping to stock my pantry. I walked down the baking aisle and optimistically picked up basic supplies, thinking of the day when the aroma of fresh-baked cookies fills my new home. On that day I will know that the scales are tipping and I am becoming myself again.