When you set up a daily verse routine, you face two obstacles:
- Finding time to say the verses
Making it a habit (actually saying them)
Finding Time to Recite
Can you say these verses while you’re doing something else? That’s the first place to look, because you won’t even have to change your schedule.
Do you already take a walk every day? Or have a time when you read and relax? Or put your kids to bed? How about morning or evening prayer?
Learning and reciting verses won’t merely “fit” into these slots. These new habits improve them.
For instance, prayer. With a little thought, learning and reciting verses can easily become a prayer.
If you have kids, get ready for major synergy.
When I put my kids to bed, I read them their bedtime stories, and then I say some verses. If I had replaced the stories with verses, there might have been a mutiny. But they’re perfectly happy to get the verses as extra stories.
By now, if I don’t say verses, they’re disappointed. Even better, they’ve learned huge chunks of my verses just by listening. When I hesitate, they sometimes pipe right up.
In fact, they often want to interrupt and ask questions. We can wind up launching into a mini-seminar. If I tried to schedule “Bible discussion time” during the day, I could easily waste a lot of effort trying to pry out some interest. But because it’s bedtime, and because when Papa leaves, that’s it for the day, suddenly all this Scriptural interest blossoms unbidden. If anything, I have to ask them to stop interrupting.
You’re going to spend many hours saying the Christmas stories out loud. With a little planning, you can make your efforts enrich your family’s lives in a big way.
Making a Habit
Habit is crucial. You’ve probably heard that it takes around three weeks to form a new habit.
If you’re doing this during Advent, it’s a busy time to be taking on a new habit. At the same time, our heads are full of Christmas, so that will help you keep saying Christmas verses.
Hook to Your Existing Habits
The easiest way to start a new habit is to hook it to something you already do every day. For instance:
- Getting up and going to bed
- Breakfast, lunch, and dinner
- Morning and/or evening prayer
- Putting the kids to bed
Can you say these verses when you first get up, and right before you go to bed? How about before or after a meal? And again, if you already pray every day, definitely consider including a recitation.
A Simple Daily Routine
- When you wake up, say all your verses, and learn your new verse.
Before or after each meal, start at your earliest “shaky” verse, and recite up through your new verse.
In the evening, after your prayers (or after reading your kids’ bedtime story), say all your verses.
Get Someone to Pester You
You should also get someone to pester you. The grownup word for this is “accountability”. But Jesus didn’t tell any parables about “accountability.” He did tell a parable about a widow driving an unjust judge crazy.
In my case, again, the kids take care of this. “Do you have any verses tonight, Papa?” In that special kid voice that is hopeful, hesitant, and infuriatingly irresistible. Sometimes.
Track Your Progress Like Seinfeld
Remember Jerry Seinfeld? Supposedly, an aspiring comedian once asked him the secret to success. And according to the story, Seinfeld told him that:
- A comedian needs to be as funny as possible.
The only way to get funnier is to practice writing jokes.
So you need to write jokes every day.
And the best way to make sure you do this every day is a huge chart on your wall, with a year’s worth of daily boxes.
Every day, if you write your jokes, you put an “X” in the box.
Pretty soon, you have a chain of X’s. Success, according to Seinfeld, is simple. “Don’t break the chain!”
I’ve tried this “Seinfeld chart,” and let me tell you, it’s the most effective habit-building tool I’ve ever seen.
From where I write, I can glance over and see my charts, one for each habit I’m trying to form or maintain. (For instance, writing this book.) Look at all those X’s! Pow! Instant affirmation doesn’t get any sweeter. All those X’s are things I’ve actually done, not goals or “To Do” items.
So use a chart. No excuses. If you’re learning verses this Advent, I’ve made a free chart for you. Download it, print it off, and tape it somewhere prominent. Put a marker, preferably bright red, within arm’s reach of where you hang it. Not a pencil. You want to see these marks from across the room.
And don’t just use that parish monthly calendar you get for free. It’s critical to see several months at once.
For other memory projects, see this longer article about the “Seinfeld chart”.
Daily Recitation Times + Chart = Habit
We’ve boiled this new habit down into two steps:
- Plan precisely when you’re going to say your verses each day. Don’t bother about times, focus on hooks. Which daily habits will you hook your verses to?
Download the daily “Seinfeld chart”. (Disclaimer: No, this chart is not officially endorsed by or associated with Seinfeld in any way.) Tape the chart to the wall in a place where you can easily see and mark it.
With your daily routine planned, and a chart to track your progress, you’ll soon find you have a habit.