Before she moved any furniture, my college roommate would issue a warning. She knew I’d pause, flinch, then ask some version of “Isn’t it fine the way it is?”
“Think about it,” she’d say. And as time passed, I would realize that the chair really did block the outlet. That the room would feel so much larger with the beds pointing another direction. That I had created quirky, impractical ways of operating because a less awkward solution would require change.
If there is any month that glorifies tradition, it is December. We are all creatures of habit, consciously or unconsciously, but around the holidays sameness becomes a cult that culture mixes indiscriminately with the thrill of the new. We buy new things like we always do. We make new treats like we always do. We plan new traditions like we always do. And when we cannot live up to the demands, we suddenly see that nothing we said was quite true.
The Sunday after Thanksgiving, I blared carols, hung garlands, and arranged the Christmas books: The Fourth Wise Man, The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey, Why Christmas Trees Aren’t Perfect, and a dozen others my mother had given my sister or me. But in the time between Decembers, my family had moved from Iowa to Michigan, and none of my habits had easy translations. Every action required a discussion. This was not the familiar, rhythmic work of slotting traditions into their predetermined slots. But within the discomfort of change, I started to notice details I hadn’t seen in years. The years I had set the same objects in the same places over and over and over.
Growing up is a constant process of discovering habits you didn’t even realize you created. “Adulting is telling yourself you have food at home,” I told a friend recently, paraphrasing something I had read online, and found myself re-enacting a conversation from my own childhood. She laughed, and I heard the echo of a conversation she, too, had absorbed and heard and lived.
“Gradually I came to realize that people will more readily swallow lies than truth, as if the taste of lies was homey, appetizing: a habit,” writes Martha Gellhorn. And I find myself craving the earthy flavor of all kinds of lies again and again. I want sameness; I want newness; I want it the way I want it and that is the way it has always been. And I savor the familiar taste of the lie on my lips.
We sing the songs we have hummed for decades, and we blunt the words into swords that can strike anyone but ourselves. We tell the stories as we want to know them, withholding the details that would round them into truth. And we fight little changes, as if this will prevent the larger ones we have even less hope of stopping. If habits are everyday liturgies, as Tish Harrison Warren would say, I want my habits to be more than just another lie I dull myself into loving. When truth comes, I want to recognize its taste.
Courtney Zonnefeld graduated in 2018 with a degree in writing. She currently lives in Grand Rapids, Michigan, where she works for Eerdmans Books for Young Readers. In her free time, she enjoys reading, baking, and saving up for more herb plants. You can usually find her wandering a farmer’s market, hunting for vintage books, or browsing the tea selection in coffee shops.