Are you looking for a biblical understanding of how people change? I recently re-explored James K.A. Smith’s book, You Are What You Love: The Spiritual Power of Habit. It might be what you’re looking for. But a forewarning: it’s not a quick-and-dirty self-help book, full of quippy mottos or chicken-soup anecdotes. It’s accessible to most readers, but it’s more a steak than a shake – you’ll have to chew a bit. The book is brilliantly written, and I appreciate Smith’s compelling logic and exegesis.
Smith’s key premise is simple: you are what you love. This differs from the more Cartesian assumption we’ve absorbed from the modern era: you are what you think. Smith argues that people are far more than thinking things – they are first, and foremost, lovers. You cannot, therefore, think your way toward becoming a more virtuous person. You need to train your loves. Ultimately, these are developed through habits: “Good moral habits are like internal dispositions to the good – they are character traits that become woven into who you are so that you are the kind of person who is inclined to be compassionate, forgiving, and so forth” (16). In essence, the book is about how to train your loves and develop your virtues, by establishing habits, or what Smith refers to as liturgies.
Depending on your theological tradition, you might hit a few speed bumps across the book’s pages, particularly if you have an aversion to liturgy, or would prefer a greater emphasis on Spirit-empowered transformation. These shouldn’t deter you from taking Smith out for a spin!
I’m a firm believer in self-reflection. Stepping back from the book, I’ve come up with a few diagnostic questions: What kind a person do I want to become? What do my virtues and habits reveal about my loves? How might I train my loves by creating life-giving liturgies (rhythms and habits) and abandoning rival liturgies?
Get the book. Reflect deeply about it. Train your loves. Share the book.