This devotional was originally published on February 1, 2019.

Plant a thought and reap a word;
plant a word and reap an action;
plant an action and reap a habit;
plant a habit and reap a character;
plant a character and reap a destiny.

— Episcopal bishop John Beckwaith, 1885

On Sunday, we learned about the three seasons of relationships: perfection, preparation and purity. In a way, all relationship seasons are about preparing and purifying. We are continually practicing to become something. I will always get better at what I practice, and so will you. We don’t have to intend to get better, we just will. It’s a natural law of the universe.

This means that if I practice dating around flippantly, giving my heart and body to one partner after another, I will get better at it. Marriage will not magically undo all of the practice I gained. I will tend to struggle with fidelity because my practice made me good at infidelity. If I practice bailing out of a relationship the moment things go south, I will get better at it. Marriage will not cure that. I will have to fight against an urge to leave when things get tough. If I practice using pornography or alcohol or drugs to offer me an escape, I will get better at it. If I practice keeping secrets because of shame and guilt, I will get better at it. If I practice fault-finding, I will get better at it. If I practice harboring resentment, I will get better at it. If I practice lashing out with my words, I will get better at it. If I practice withdrawing in self-righteous anger to punish my partner, I will get better at it. And on, and on, and on… It doesn’t matter one bit whether I want to get better at any of these things. It only matters that I am practicing them. That’s the bad news.

Here is the good news: I can change what I practice, so that I am preparing for a pure and healthy relationship. Paul advised believers in Philippi to do this:

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.
— Philippians 4:5—9

Did you catch that last part? Practice these things!

Maybe you’ve been practicing for so long to become someone you don’t want to be that you feel helpless and hopeless to start practicing a new way. Maybe you’re thinking, “OK, yeah, but that’s easier said than done.” I agree with you 100%. My impure habits are just too ingrained for me to change by myself. Luckily, I’m not by myself. That is where true perfection comes in. I am far from perfect, and so is every potential mate (even though that initial honeymoon phase may temporarily blind me to their flaws). But Christ Jesus is perfect, and his power is available to everyone who recognizes their need for it! As Christians, we are new creations (2 Corinthians 5:17) who have the Holy Spirit to guide us into all truth (John 16:13). It’s about time we started asking the Helper for what we need to change what we’re practicing! If you are not a Christian, I want you to know that it’s completely normal to feel stuck, to feel trapped in the patterns you have practiced. Today, you can accept the gift of salvation that God freely offers through his only Son, Jesus. There is a better way, and it belongs to you. Will you grab hold of it?