Rooted Recommends: A Habit Called Faith
Here at Rooted we get a lot of parents and youth ministers asking for devotional resources to share with teenagers. I am happy to announce we have a new go-to favorite to recommend: Jen Pollock Michel’s A Habit Called Faith: 40 Days in the Bible to Find and Follow Jesus.
For those of you who don’t yet know her work, Michel is an American writer living in Toronto with her husband and five children. A Habit Called Faith is her fourth book and first devotional. As a believer living in one of the world’s most thoroughly secular cities, Michel wanted to write something that would speak to Christ followers and faith-seekers, providing them a way in to read the Bible side-by-side. She guides her readers through daily selections in Deuteronomy and the Gospel of John, inviting them to explore the possibility that faith “may have as much to do with habits as epiphanies.” (22)
As the title suggests, Michel examines the Christian life as a marriage of habit, which is universally human, and faith, which characterizes believers. Echoing Pascal’s thought that habit might be a “means of faith formation,” she guides her readers to commit to the practice of reading Scripture for forty days. (21)
To be clear, Michel does not suggest that observing routines makes anyone a believer. If that were so, one might “believe” in a morning cup of coffee or a predawn run. Faith is above all a work of God’s grace: “To choose for or against faith is, paradoxically, a response to the initiative of God.” And yet, for the seeker, the practice of daily looking for God in His Word certainly increases the odds that one will see Him. For the believer, spiritual habits build trust. As Michel puts it, “I began daily Bible reading to stand on my foal legs of faith. I read it to learn to walk. I still do.” (22)
One could easily work through the book alone, with a Bible and a pen in hand, but it is designed to be read in community. Read it together as a family, read alongside a struggling teenager, read with your small group or Sunday school class. Forty days of devotions, daily questions, and group discussion questions facilitate quiet time and processing time. Nine conversion stories, interspersed throughout the weeks, bear witness to the marvelous variety of God’s work in individual lives.
Fifteen days in, I have underlined on nearly every page, scribbled notes in the margins, and responded in the blank space provided at the end of each day’s reading. The book encourages us to wrestle with doubts and questions, and simultaneously encourages us to trust and believe this God is good. Michel’s stunning prose is confrontational, forcing me to examine my habits of faith, and comforting, as she acknowledges that the habit of faith is work, which Jesus makes possible.
Early in the book, she offers an image that made me exclaim “me too!” as I read in my quiet kitchen: “I am a spiritual sieve, leaking everything I know to be true about God.” (74) But she closes the book with another, lovelier image from Psalm 1:
I will say that there are days – and strings of days – when I seem to be impervious to God’s words. They sit on my skin like glistening drops of water and I feel myself disinterested, distracted by the errant jogger I glimpse from the front window. But there are other days, not altogether rare, when I hold audience with the Creator of the universe –or rather, he holds audience with me. Stilled, I become, “a tree planted by water, that sends out its roots by the stream, and does not fear when drought comes, for its leaves remain green, and is not anxious for the year of drought, for it does not cease to bear fruit.” I am learning to trust, however I feel on any given day, that this daily habit of faith is rooting me deep. (228)
You’ll want to check out Michel’s other work as well. Her first book, Teach Us To Want: Longing, Ambition, and the Life of Faith, won Christianity Today’s Book of the Year in 2015. Keeping Place; Reflections On the Meaning Of Home and Surprised by Paradox: The Promise of “And” in an Either-Or World are equally rich and insightful. She has twice been a guest on the Rooted podcast, speaking about shepherding students through paradoxes of faith and about helping students lean in to faith during difficult times.