Michelle Martin

In the habit

Wednesday, May 4, 2022

Every morning, after I get up and brush my teeth, I take the dog outside and then come in and feed her.

Every morning, I put the kibble in her bowl and put it down. And every morning, she waits in the corner of the kitchen, back by the coffee maker, until I take a fish oil capsule from the bottle and drop it in the bowl.

The sound of the pill landing in the kibble seems to be her signal to eat, because then she rushes forward, making me pull her water dish from between her feet to refill it before I replace it next to her food dish.

The thing is, she only gets the fish oil capsule once a day, in the mornings. When I feed her her evening meal, she doesn’t wait for the pill. She’s there, ready to eat, as soon as I place the bowl on the floor.

Habits are funny things. You don’t always know that you’re making them until they’re solid and hard to break. I’d like to say I trained Elly into the habit of waiting for her fish oil before eating, but I never made any effort to do so. Maybe I dropped the capsule on her head one too many times? I don’t know.

As habits go, all of those are fine: my habits, everything from getting up and brushing my teeth to taking Elly out and feeding her as soon as we come in, and her habit of waiting for her fish oil before eating. They’re useful, even, because they take care of things that need to get done with a minimum of thought. As a rule, I don’t have to worry about whether I fed the dog. If I took her out, then I did it when we came in, no matter how much she tries to convince the rest of the family otherwise.

More often, we speak about bad habits and how to break them, everything from children sucking their thumbs to adults smoking. But I think we need to pay more attention to building good habits.

Habits like, yes, teaching our children to brush their teeth. But also teaching them to do their homework, to get exercise, to eat healthy foods and to pray and go to Mass.

If they get in the habit of prayer, of talking to God and listening for an answer, how much easier will it be for them to rely on their faith when things get difficult, when they’ve failed a test or a friend has seemingly abandoned them or when a beloved pet dies?

And if, as children, they learn that God’s love is there for them, how much more likely are they to turn to him as they grow up, as the responsibilities and joys and sorrows grow with them?

Knowing that God loves you might be a simple kind of faith, but it’s the basis of a relationship: God loved me first, so I must not only love God, but also share that love with everyone around me. It’s something so basic you might even call it a habit.


  • family life