Have you ever caught yourself midway through an obvious wrong-doing and then had to wallow in the guilt and shame of it?  I have and I know I’m not alone.

I heard something inspiring recently, from a drawing instructor no less.  He said, “instinct is actually ingrained learning.”  He was essentially telling us, “practice makes perfect,” yet his was such a simplified yet profound definition that I had to write it down and reflect upon it.  Obviously it made me dwell upon my role as a parent but it also gave some clarity to how our intuition/instinct/conscience is molded.

Many religious and/or spiritual people believe that their higher power (God/Holy Spirit/Goddess/what have you.  I will be using God for the remainder of this post because He is mine.) speaks to them by way of their conscience. I’ve written before about how a high school boyfriend and I were very aware of the serious nature of a predicament we were in and my last post was about how my daughter already has an instinct to care for others.  The quandary I’m finding myself in is that I used to think of  this “conscience” as a mystical thing. I believed conscience was some kind of similar breath and heartbeat between us and our creator, much like the exchange of life between trees and people (we exhale the air they need to live and they “exhale” the air we need to live).  I’ve decided that our conscience may still have an element of this but it also can be broken down by some realism and practicality.

A good practice by any religious follower is to read the text prescribed by the religion. In this way, one’s conscience (INSTINCT) can be formed/molded by the text.  For Christians, we believe that our text was divinely inspired and not just biographical accounts of history. So, in order for God to penetrate our soul and mold our conscious we need to read His words.

It goes beyond reading, however.  It goes into PRACTICE. Reading a text but not allowing it to penetrate the heart to affect change is a complete waste of time, unless the reading exercise was not for that purpose. However, unless we are just scholarly academic people, why would we read the text of the Bible the same way we read fictional novels for entertainment?  We should be reading our bible for much more than entertainment or view it as a box to check on our list of things to do. We should be reading the text to make real change and give direction in our lives.

If, then, we DO read our bibles to be divinely inspired and make changes in our lives then our conscience, or “instinct,” IS formed by engrained learning.

I’m reminded of this idea as I watch my daughter do elementary math. She will be unable to do correct rounding to the nearest 100th if she is unable to do long addition/subtraction. If she doesn’t know her simple math table, she won’t be able to do long addition/subtraction and, thus, won’t be able to round correctly. Everything builds upon the next.  Ingrained learning.

I wonder if God keeps us from growing, or WE keep ourselves from growing, if we continue to act like juveniles. If we still tell little “white lies” or untruths to spare hard conversations, are we then being held back to awesome transformations that await?  If we still just cannot move past sinful thoughts we have regarding pride or judgement or greed, are we denying ourselves the simple joy and contentment of simply being a child of God?  I think the answer is yes.  What kind of life is it to not want to change and grow and be affected the way God wants us to?  Why do we want to keep acting like bratty kids?

OR WORSE – we are learning but we are living in the guilt and shame of our continued bad decisions.  If our instinct is leading us to “right” decisions and we keep making wrong ones, we will have a price to pay. I’m not speaking of a fiery hell kind of price. I’m speaking of our emotional, mental and physical health. I’m speaking of contentment and peace here on earth. I’m speaking of living out the life that is placed before us so we can shine our lights to others.

If instinct is, in fact, ingrained learning – learning what God’s will for our lives is, or if we want to learn how to do our lives better so we can feel contentment and joy – then the simple answer is to crack open the book, contemplate its application and open our hearts.  We will learn some simple truths to apply.  We build on those and we can progress to the next.  My life truly is so much better when I approach Him like a child (Matthew 18:3) instead of like a hard-nosed know-it-all, thinking I have all of the answers with my earthly knowledge.