This article was originally written as a speech to satisfy an assignment for the speech class we held in our living room. Nicholas was one of the participants. After he delivered his speech we got the idea to ask him to submit it for Homeschool Highlights. Nicholas is helping his parents build their New England style house. He likes to play basketball, and also plays piano for a group that ministers music to the little congrations here in Midcoast Maine. Visiting shut-ins and old people in the community is another way he offers up his free time.
Have you ever been sitting in a group of people and someone begins to rapidly shake their leg, causing the whole floor to vibrate. When you ask them to stop, they retort with, "I can't help it. I didn't even know I was doing it." Have you sat and listened to someone as they gnawed on their fingernails? They seem completely unaware of the crunching sound they are making or that they have their fingers stuck in their mouth. Have you ever sat next to someone at dinner who insists on keeping their elbows on the table, even if it leaves you no room to maneuver your fork. At creation, we were all given certain tools to use to accomplish what the Lord would have us do. There is one certain tool that has far reaching consequences, whether good or bad, that will affect nearly every aspect of our lives. Listen to this little riddle and see if from it, and the illustrations I used, you can figure out what tool it is.
I am your constant companion,
I am your greatest helper or your heaviest burden.
I will push you onward or drag you down to failure.
I am at your command.
Half of the tasks you do you might just as well turn over to me,
And I will do them quickly and correctly.
I am easily managed, you must simply be firm with me,
Show me exactly how you want something done;
After a few lessons I will do it automatically.
I am the servant of all great people and alas of all failures as well.
Those who are great I have made great,
Those who are failures I have made failures.
I am not a machine, but I work with all of the precision of a machine,
Plus the intelligence of a person.
Now, you may run me for profit or you may run me
For ruin. It makes no difference to me.
Take me, train me, be firm with me,
And I will lay the world at your feet.
Be easy with me and I will destroy you.
WHO AM I?............. I AM CALLED HABIT.1
There are common peevish habits like the ones I mentioned before that many are confronted to deal with every day, but in the face of reality these habits, though they sometimes affect how people look at us, play a very minor role in our lives as a whole. Stop and think with me for a minute of the other kinds of habits that you have formed. Not those little peevish ones, but the ones that affect how you live and consequently how you will conduct yourself in the future.
There are eating habits which can directly determine your health and even longevity of life. There are driving habits that can affect the safety of yourself and others. There is the way you choose to spend your time, whether constructively or lazily, that will decide whether your life on this earth is fruitful or being wasted. There are financial habits. Are you thrifty or wasteful? Whether we like it or not, we are all affected greatly by our habits, whether good or bad. Beyond our own self, the daily habits of our walk of life will either destroy or uphold our testimony before others and before the Lord. So, how can we spend so little time thinking about and striving to improve something that has such vast and far reaching affects. The answer lies in a character flaw that nearly everyone in the world faces on a daily basis. The flaw is our humanly undisciplined nature.
William Bennet in his The Book of Virtues defines self-discipline this way: In self-discipline one makes a disciple of oneself. One is ones own teacher, trainer, coach, and disciplinarian.2 As you study history you find that an overwhelming majority of the people that accomplished anything great or of lasting value were very disciplined in their own personal lives. The life of Demosthenes, of the days of Aristotle the great philosopher, illustrates very well what it is to be disciplined. He had an innate desire to be an orator, but was hindered by his poor pronunciation and his constant stammering. To overcome this he spoke with pebbles in his mouth and even repeated whole speeches when he was out of breath, walking or running up hills. When he needed to concentrate on study (usually for two to three months at a time) he would discipline himself by shaving half of his head so that for fear of shame and ridicule he would not go out but be concentrated on his study. Don't worry. I'm not suggesting the shaving of half your head, or any of your head for that matter, but there is an excellent lesson to be learned. Through Demosthene's self-discipline, though at times extreme, he was able to overcome his disabilities and form invaluable habits for his life. I know that as a Christian God has called me to service for him. How or where I don't yet know, but I am convinced that unless I strive to be a disciplined person and form good and Godly habits in my life, I will be of very little use to the Kingdom of our Lord.
1 Author unknown.
2 The Book of Virtues, William Bennet, ed., compil., and commentary, (Simon & Schuster, 1993) , p. 21