James K. A. Smith is professor of philosophy at Calvin College and has a Ph.D. from Villanova University. In his book, You Are What You Love, Smith takes a look at how we form virtue. Smith says that we are shaped most by what we love most, more so than by what we think or do. In other words, it is our habits that shape us and also help parents to raise virtuous children.
Smith’s work is important because of the way that it explains the manner in which disciples of Jesus are formed into virtuous, godly people. It is often believed that such Christian formation comes primarily from reading, hearing speeches, singing Christian songs, and attending spiritual events. What is often ignored in this discussion is the daily work of habit, not only in the lives of adults but also in the building of good habits in the lives of their children.
Blaise Pascal, famous philosopher from the 1600s said in his famous wager that human beings can’t NOT bet their lives on something. Why? Because they are born leaning forward toward some goal, someplace we long to be, toward something we love above all else. There is no human being of which this is not true. That love shapes our behavior. If you love work above all else, you will be a workaholic. If it is sports you love, you will spend your money and time participating, in one way or another, in sports. If the object of love is sex or drugs, addiction will be the way you express that love.
Another way to look at this is to look at the call of God to love him and his kingdom above all else. That call exists over against the love of the world, and it requires the same sort of intention and commitment as any other love. To love sports requires certain habits such as playing the sport, attending sports events, and using one’s resources in support of the sport. The more one participates (habitual behavior) the greater one’s love becomes. The thing that is different between the love of God and all other things that one might love is the cost extracted from us. In Jesus’ words, “my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” That cannot be said of any other burden or habit.
The more one loves God, the easier it is to keep the habits that foster such love. These habits include feeding on God’s word, keeping the company of godly people, engaging in focused worship of God, and saying no to things that enslave and destroy us. And, it is incumbent on adults to lead their children in keeping these habits as well.
Smith is right; we are indeed shaped by what we love. You can identify it by our personal calendars, our checkbooks, the things we watch and read regularly, the habits we have, and by the company we keep.
What do you love?