Your job, parents is like that of a farmer: plant, cultivate, tend, water … and wait. The fruits of your familial husbandry are in the hands of the Lord, the Author of salvation and the Giver of grace.
Classical Christian educators, likewise, join parents in the faith-filled work of a farmer: diligently planting the seeds of learning and cultivating the virtues of prudence, justice, temperance, fortitude, faith, hope, and love in the hearts and lives of students.
But how, by God’s grace, do we grow in virtue, in moral excellence, in God-honoring character?
In short: by forming habits.
Teacher and author Jason Barney, at the website Educational Renaissance, contemplates “The Power of Habit in Forming Moral Excellence.”
He reaches back to Aristotle, who asserted that “We are what we repeatedly do…. Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit.” Barney writes that “The power of habit comes in its susceptibility to practice and development, like all other sports, arts or skills. This means that we can grow in moral excellence [. . .] Moral virtues become the qualities of a person through active exercise of them.”
Justin Earley, in Habits of the Household, puts it this way: “habits are spiritually formative,” and “The heart always follows the habit.” He continues, “Why? Because habits are kinds of liturgies. They are little routines of worship, and worship changes what we love. Habits of the household are not just actions that form our families’ routines, they are liturgies that form our families’ hearts.”
And that’s why Justin leans into the power of habits, because, as he puts it, the habits we develop for bedtime, waking, discipline, meals, screentime, conversation, work, and play form us and our children, just as surely as we form them. Habits in the household are “ways to align our heads and our hearts so we don’t just know the right thing to do, we also love the right thing.”
Habits are the building blocks of virtues, of character, always rooted in the transforming grace of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Habits that lead the head and the body to show forth the excellence of the character of Christ are powerful things. Sure, we can all fall into ruts, where habits can feel like straightjackets, but habits, rightly understood and put into practice will, as Justin Earley puts it, “profoundly matter to our families’ formation, and changing them is possible.”
In fact, “It may be the most important thing you do as a parent.”