Have you ever developed a bad habit which you had to unlearn later?
Like you started chewing on one side of your mouth because of a toothache but never stopped?
Or you hit the snooze button leaving you in a rush every morning?
One bad habit has nagged me for years. I started eating quickly when I worked at Starbucks. I had a ten minute break to eat a meal, check my phone and visit the restroom. Over six years later, I still struggle with eating slowly. My wife is constantly reminding me to chew (not inhale) my food. “Did you breathe while eating that?!”
A big part of our lives involves unlearning the things we’ve picked up.
While some of the habits having mild or moderate consequences for us (the chewing, the snoozing, and the inhaling food), other habits might ruin our futures.
When we’ve been hurt, we often develop unhealthy ways of relating to other people and we pass on the pain. When we’ve been disappointed, we become cynical and prevent others from living with a sense of expectation or hope. As we build our identity on the approval of others, we become addicted to people-pleasing, drifting towards burn out.
However we learned our current habits, they can be our worst enemies and our source of greatest frustration.
As a follower of Jesus, I’m seeking to learn and follow the ways of Jesus. This often means unlearning some old ways and learning some new habits. I love how Eugene Peterson’s The Message (a paraphrase of the Bible) renders Matthew 11:28-30.
“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”
I’m especially drawn to that line “learn the unforced rhythms of grace.”
In order to learn those “unforced rhythms,” I need to unlearn some of my normal rhythms. I have to unlearn trying to justify, earn, and prove my worth and value. I have to unlearn my filter that God is waiting to see my fail because He is secretly disappointed in me.
Unlearning can lead to big, life-altering changes. My friend Leanna experienced radical changes in her life when she began unlearning her tendency to hide. She embraced her identity and became “brazen”, showing up to life without shame and with vulnerability and courage.
What about you? What have you unlearned in life so far?
Did you grow up in a family that was dysfunctional in some area and you had unlearn their ways, so you could have healthy relationships yourself?
Were you burned by someone in the past, making you suspicious and guarded? Did you have to unlearn a posture of distance, so you could discover vulnerability and connection?
Do you have an epic fail on your resume? Did you respond by setting up systems to prevent yourself from experiencing that pain ever again? Is it possible you might have to unlearn the self-protection mechanisms in order to learn how to live courageously again?
Jesus’ longest public teaching is known popularly as The Sermon on the Mount. Spanning the fifth, sixth and seventh chapters of Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus outlines the way His kingdom works and how His disciples will live. In one section, he points out the way his audience has learned. Then he points out his way. He repeatedly says, “You have heard it said…But I say to you….” Jesus calls his audience to unlearn the way they’ve been living and learn His way.
We can unlearn old ways and discover new ways.
We can unlearn “earning love” and learn the “unforced rhythms of grace.”
We can unlearn suspicion and learn trust.
We can unlearn bitterness and learn forgiveness
We can unlearn cynicism and learn hope
We can unlearn a constant “yes” (to the point of burn out) and learn to say “no” (to the point of renewal).
We can unlearn insecurity and learn to root our identity in God’s unconditional love.
How do we unlearn one way and learn a new way?
1. Honestly face our frustration with the present.
I don’t know about you, but I’ve struggled to change when I lived in denial. When I refuse to face the brokenness of what is, I rarely experience a different future. So, pause and ask, “What is not working right now? What am I frustrated about? What habits and practices come naturally but they’re not actually helping me?” Lean into the pain and frustration. This is the path to the new.
“And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.” -Ananis Nin
2. Contrast our present way or habit with a different way.
We’re often much more familiar with dysfunction than health and frustration than success. If we’re frustrated with our cynicism, then dig into what the opposite of cynicism is. What does it look like, sound like, feel like, and do differently? If we’re hung up on bitterness and trust, then explore what forgiveness means (and doesn’t mean). Take a stroll down the hypothetical path by continually asking, “And then what?” Follow this path until you get more familiar with a different way.
3. Begin a new path with help.
In that passage where Jesus mentions learning unforced rhythms of grace, he also shows the way forward in that rhythm. He says, “Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it.” I know some of you who are reading this are not people of faith, nor followers of Jesus. That’s okay – I’m glad you’re here and want to help you! As a follower of Jesus, I cannot imagine attempting any change in life without the strength I draw from my relationship with Jesus.
But it’s not only Jesus – it’s also the people around us. And all of us can have people. We need people. I rediscovered an ancient African proverb recently which reads, “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, take someone with you.” We were not created to do life alone and we greatly increase the likelihood of success on our new path when we invite others to walk with us.
Driving with the Windows Down
Last week, as I was driving from the town I live in to the city I work in, I had a revelation.
I realized I didn’t have to drive with the windows up. A little back story will help you understand where I learned my “windows-always-up” approach. I’ve lived my entire life in Las Vegas and Phoenix – two valleys with a lot of smog and dust. Phoenix is regularly listed as the worst air quality in all of the USA by the EPA. Yet, I’m now living in a much different area and working in a town at 5200 feet elevation. I’m constantly reminding myself that the air in my new home is clean and I can drive with my windows down. Plus, on days like that one, the weather is 75 degrees and it’s cool and refreshing. Multiple days since then, I’ve turned off the AC and rolled down the windows.
I wonder how many of us have things in our lives where we need to unlearn and retrain ourselves.
It’s amazing how difficult it is to reprogram the new ways of thinking, responding and even viewing ourselves after years or decades of life. Unlearning and learning is not simple, nor easy. Whether you’re driving with the windows down or learning to hope again, reprograming your view of the world and yourself will take more commitment and time than you might imagine. But it is worth it. You can do this!
How about you?
I’d love to hear from you – either in comments or on the social media channel where you found this post. How would you complete this sentence?
“Today I am unlearning ____________ and learning (to) _______________.“