So I recently received one of those inspirational quotes – you know the kind, they trail around the internet either in emails or on social hubs like Facebook. It read:
“Watch your thoughts; they become words.
Watch your words; they become actions.
Watch your actions; they become habits.
Watch your habits; they become character.
Watch your character, it becomes your destiny.”
Since receiving it, I’ve spent some time with it – turning it over in my head. My search turned up that it goes back to the late 20th Century in this form, but has fairly direct roots to something that came from England in the later 1800s within the context of a convocation speech. You can search it yourself, if you’re so inclined. But more than that, give it some thought – tease out some of what it says.
I’m not sure that thoughts become words and that words become actions. Sometimes thoughts become actions. Sometimes words become thoughts. Depending on whether you’re introverted or extroverted, you might feel differently about the direction this goes. What I do know is this: patterns of thought, and of speech, and of action, all become habit. I think the interplay of thought, word and action is a little more fluid than the quote suggests (more on this below, in a different context), but I know that all of them become habits.
How many of us have heard someone giving a speech and heard them use turns of phrase that we knew were not natural to them? Perhaps they were given by a speech writer; they just didn’t sound natural coming from the speech-giver’s mouth. We all have habits of speech, ways that we tend to express certain thoughts or opinions. The same goes for our thoughts and our actions. The crazy thing is that whatever we indulge: whatever kind of speech we engage in; whatever thoughts or fantasies we entertain regularly; whatever actions we are encouraged in; these things all become habits for us. This is how everybody works.
And yes, habits are character-forming, and our character goes a long way to determining where we’ll end up and what we’ll accomplish. The real question is, and here’s where my thinking lies: is that the whole story?
For us, as Christians, no. No, we cannot stop at, “I am the master of my own destiny, according to the character formed by the habits developed through patterns of engagement with certain thoughts, language, and actions.” Can we? Because God has something to say about it. You see, there’s a conversation that goes on within people of faith – a conversation between what they are naturally and what they are being made into by God. God’s scale goes the other way:
“Mind your destiny, the character I have given you serves it.
Mind your character, it determines which habits you must cultivate.
Mind your habits, they are indicative of your thoughts, words, and actions.”
This is the conversation that goes on when my life isn’t my own, but God’s; when I come to know the One who formed me in my mother’s womb, and knew me before I was born; when I engage with the Person who has a plan for me. Not just a destiny that will be haphazardly thrown together by the crazy mixture of habits I develop by thinking, saying, and doing. A destiny that transcends my own graspings, rests securely in God’s unchangeable love for me, and reaches into the motivation that only God can give: purpose.
You were made for a reason. You were made to do more than simply lie where the sticks fall. You are not self-made. You are imbued with purpose, because the One who made you did so for a reason. That’s real destiny – not what you can make of yourself, but what you were made for. The interplay of these two, this is where life happens.