Second Nature

I tend to draft things out longhand on legal pads. It’s become a part of my writing process over the last couple of years and I have found it to be a (mostly) distraction free and cheap way to get the words out. I also love having a physical copy of things that later become digital, because the actual object means more to me than seeing type on a screen. The current legal pad absorbing my scratches of madness is a Tops Second Nature Legal Pad, graciously “borrowed” from the school supply closet. I found myself staring at the logo at the top of the pad as I would brainstorm or vacantly daydream, and I realized how clever the idea of the product name “Second Nature” was. Yes, it’s clearly an indication of how the pad is made from recycled paper, but it’s also pointing to the broader ethos being pushed by a lot of the world – we should be reusing, not consuming. Environmentally speaking, people are wanting the idea of giving back to become the expectation, not the exception.

“Second nature” essentially means that something, a habit or mannerism, becomes almost instinctive because it’s been done so often. It’s almost as if you hardwire it into your brain. Our minds and bodies create nearly automatic responses or routines through repetition, often to the point that we are completely unaware of them. We develop social tics and mannerisms without realizing what we are doing (the average person checks their phone around 80 times a day), or we tell stories repeatedly without remembering we’ve already told them (I’m super guilty of this and I promise I’m working on it). The interesting thing about a second nature, and this is often forgotten by many, is that they are created by us, either by action or inaction, and we only notice them when we try to explain them away like our actual instinctual nature, only to find the narrative doesn’t really fit.

Human nature is a paradox that will never be unraveled. Something deep within us longs for companionship, yet we are inherently selfish. We look out for ourselves, get we have a deep sense that things should be fair in the world. We have an amazing capacity for warmth and generosity, yet our history is painted by bloodshed and savage cruelty. Perhaps we create second natures to try to compensate. It’s our first nature that years for more and creates creates crumbling towers that fail to reach what we feel we deeply need.

In the Christian faith, there is a concept called sanctification. This basically means a continual process of becoming more holy like God. From the moment a person follows Christ, the journey of sanctification begins, and it continues for the rest of their life. Marriage, by extension as one of the many things created by God, is designed as one of them many ways that people are made more holy. What people often fail to articulate is how hard of a journey that is.

I’ve been a married man for less than six months, so please do not take these as the writings of someone who has all the answers. Far far from it. I’ve failed to even get my head into the right classroom, much less find the answers. This is simply sharing what I’ve learned so far. I am a, for lack of a better term, a marriage noob (my son loves that word. I blame Fortnite for that). The biggest thing I’ve learned so far is that the worst thing I could do is be ignorant to my selfishness. After living as a bachelor for as long as I did, selfishness was not only my primary nature, but also my second nature as well. It will be a hard thing to break out of.

I’m a firm believer in the idea of acknowledgement – to really change you just first be totally honest with yourself about where you are and then work from there. I must accept that I am indeed selfish before I can ever learn to be selfless, and I know it will take time and God’s help before it ever truly becomes second nature. To truly love my wife and my son, I have to daily, hourly, maybe even minutely (is that even a word?) ask God to break me of my nature and take on His. Marriage is a lifelong obstacle course and training ground, and thank God I have an amazing woman to run it alongside me.

1 Comment

  1. Tony says:

    Amen, bro. Marriage is a proving ground, and it’s the killing ground of selfishness. There are few places in life where we are more tested, by the nature of the calling, in dying to ourselves than in marriage. And the fruit of the dying-to-self is unbelievably beautiful – but the first nature doesn’t believe in that. How many people enter marriage not having a category for dying-to-self… and how many marriages die because of that? Lord have mercy – and may He give us the strength to continue to daily die to ourselves. What a blessed message to put out there – thank you!

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