Altoids and Lent: Shaping the Habits of Your Home

Anyone who is a fan of the TV show “The Office” will tell you one of their favorite parts is watching Jim play pranks on Dwight. Episode 15 of Season 3 opens with a classic. Talking to the camera, Jim says, “In school, we learned about this scientist who trained dogs to salivate at the sound of a bell by feeding them whenever a bell rang. For the last couple of weeks, I’ve been conducting a similar experiment.”

Each time Jim reboots his PC, at the sound of Windows starting up, he offers Dwight an Altoid. After repeating this over the course of a few days, Jim reboots again and Dwight holds out his hand and sighs.

“What are you doing?” Jim asks.

Dwight responds, “I don’t know. My mouth tastes so bad all of a sudden.”

Maybe you can relate. Maybe every time you hear the sound of a vibration you find yourself reaching for your pocket or purse, even if it’s not your phone. It’s the same principle discovered by Russian psychologist, Ivan Pavlov, when researching salivation in dogs.

By now most of us have now been conditioned to reach for our phones when we hear vibrating, when we’re standing in line, waiting at a stoplight, or even any time we experience a pause in the action of our day.

The conditioning isn’t just affecting adults. Apps like Snapchat and Hoop use this principle to intentionally form the behaviors of younger audiences. Designers have actually built a rewards system into the apps that “give Altoids” for daily usage. A new popular app called Hoop awards users an in-app currency of diamonds when the app is opened on consecutive days. Last year, when our church took kids to summer camp, my teenage friends were warned that phones were not allowed and there would be no cell service in the remote location. So what did they do? They left their devices with friends back home so their friends could log in and keep their daily Snapchat streaks alive.

The allure of the “Altoid” is hijacking our habits and training our teenagers to salivate over empty promises. So how can we offer our kids a new way to live?

In “You Are What You Love: The Spiritual Power of Habit,” James K.A. Smith writes,

“Worship works from the top down, you might say. In worship we don’t just come to show God our devotion and give him our praise; we are called to worship because in this encounter God (re)makes and molds us top-down. Worship is the arena in which God recalibrates our hearts, reforms our desires, and rehabituates our loves. Worship isn’t just something we do; it is where God does something to us. Worship is the heart of discipleship because it is the gymnasium in which God retrains our hearts.”

With the season of Lent approaching, consider using those forty days to cultivate one new worship-habit as family.

Potential Family Worship Habits

  • Plugging your devices into a power strip in the kitchen, each night at 9:30pm, together, with every phone-user in the house and then circling up to read a Psalm before bed.
  • Or doing the same practice before sitting down for family dinner.
  • Reading through the book of Acts together, either over breakfast, dinner or before bed. There are 28 chapters and 28 weekdays during Lent.
  • Writing thank-you notes together.
  • Kneeling to pray together before bed.
  • Gathering together each morning to listen to a worship song together.

But don’t make this a mandate for your kids. Invite them into the process. As a family, brainstorm what you could do together that could re-wire your minds and bodies towards knowing and loving the Lord. At first, it likely will feel unnatural–and your kids might even whine and rebel. But after Easter, don’t be surprised if they stick their hands out on Day 41 and ask you for another “Altoid.”

Alongside Frontcover with Medal 1

Alongside: Loving Teenagers With the Gospel

In this book, author Drew Hill unpacks the challenges teenagers face and how youth leaders and parents can share the gospel with them at this crucial age. Full of practical insight and biblical knowledge, Alongside is an invitation to love teenagers well with the hope of the gospel.

About the author

Drew Hill

Drew Hill (MDiv, Denver Seminary) is an award-winning author, speaker, and pastor in Greensboro, NC. Drew has been in youth ministry for over two decades and regularly speaks around the country to thousands of parents, youth workers, and teenagers. He is married to Natalie and they have five children. He is the author of Alongside: Loving Teenagers With the Gospel, Alongside Jesus: Devotions for Teenagers and the minibook When to Get My Kid a Phone. You can visit his website at

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