Never underestimate the power of the familiar. It has kept countless people from change, even when change would save their very lives. The familiar, after all, may be unhealthy, but at least we know it. We relate to it. And we’re all too prone to cling to familiar territory.
When that ‘familiar territory’ is sexual activity, it becomes perversely dear to us. Even though we admit it’s wrong, we also come to see it as an old friend. It’s reliable and available, and it works. It eases our pain and temporarily satisfies us. To repent of habitual sexual behavior is like abandoning a trustworthy buddy.
Compare this to drug addiction. A person doesn’t just fall into it. Somewhere along the line he discovers satisfaction through a chemical. It temporarily eases pain, helps him forget troubles, comforts him. It is his anesthetic, deadening his anxieties like a nurturing parent. Of course there are other ways he could deal with his problems, but the drug is familiar and has a good track record. Why give up something that works? What began as a comfort, is now a necessity!
Meanwhile he is becoming addicted. What began as a comfort is now a necessity, emotionally and physically. To give it up means to go through physical withdrawal, which is hard enough. But it would also mean finding another way to cope with the inner conflicts which remain long after withdrawal. In fact, without the familiar coping mechanism, those conflicts will be stronger and more painful than ever. The truth is, he must find other coping mechanisms, because the one he uses now will eventually destroy him.
Look at the Jewish people’s journey out of Egypt. They lived in bondage and prayed for deliverance, and God intervened. He brought them out of Egypt miraculously. But when faced with difficult situations in the wilderness, they were prone to long for the familiarity of Egypt and to dread the unknown Promised Land. Think about the power the familiar held for them! They had been treated worse than animals in Egypt, yet at times they would remember it fondly, saying, “At least we were fed regularly and had our basic needs taken care of!” The unknown frightened them, making them turn toward the bondage that they could at least relate to. And when they finally approached the Promised Land, the terror of its giant inhabitants overshadowed all the benefits that would go along with their new location. In Egypt at least they had survived. How could they be sure they would fare as well in new territory?
If you’ve been engaging in sexual immorality, you may also wonder how you’ll fare in new territory. It’s tough at times, to be sure, but it also opens up a way of freedom, new relationships, and peace of mind. What will it be? Cling to the old, destructive and familiar or move into freedom and the unknown?
The question, then, is this: Are you going to cling to familiar, destructive ways simply because you can relate to them, or are you willing to abandon them in favor of a new way of living which is better, even though at this point you can’t relate to it?
I trust that you’re ready and willing to try something better, which means that you’re ready and willing to repent.
See Every Man’s Battle for help in breaking out of the familiar.