Love of the Familiar – A Roadblock to Repentance

Never underestimate the power of the familiar. It has kept countless people from change, even when change would save their very lives.

(Every Thursday we’ll post something to do with Emotional Issues or Relational issues. Hope it helps)

Love of the Familiar – A Roadblock to Repentance

After years of being immersed in the use of porn and sexual acting out, I had to honestly ask myself, when I repented, how I was going to learn to live without these things I’d so relied on? They were wrong, sure. But boy, were they reliable! Reliable, deeply ingrained and, most of all familiar.

Jesus makes an interesting reference to the love of the familiar when He refers to Himself as the “light which came into the world.” People, He said, were in darkness and unable to comprehend the light when it came to them. That at least partially explains the rejection of Christ by His own people (John 1:11). But He takes it a step further and says that people were not only in darkness but that they actually loved it! (John 3:19). Their deeds were evil, and they had no desire to change. The comfort of their present state made them unwilling to consider any other way of life.

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?

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.

Now, God is the author of legitimate need. He created us with the need for intimacy, bonding, love. If we, for whatever reason, do not get these needs met in the normal way, we may well develop abnormal ways of satisfying them. Once these abnormal methods are part of our makeup, we’re frightened to abandon them. Like faithful old friends, we rely on them and can’t imagine doing without them. In that sense we all love the familiar dark, not necessarily for its darkness, but for its familiarity:

Internet porn illustrate this.  It’s always there. You can call 20 of your friends in the middle of the night and they’re likely to tell you to call back in the morning, but the porn doesn’t care what time it is.  It’s reliable, familiar territory.

And familiarity, no matter how destructive, is hard to abandon. It is the security blanket that smothers our good intentions.

Fear of the unknown is just as tough to beat. When we give up the familiar, we turn toward the unfamiliar. It may be to our benefit to do so, but it still threatens us. The unknown, no matter how good, is still the unknown. We’ve never been there, so we’re not sure what to expect, nor are we certain what to do once we get there. At that point we long again for the comfort of the familiar.

Look at the Jewish people’s journey out of Egypt. They had been in a terrible situation, cruelly driven to slave labor by their taskmasters. They lived in bondage and prayed for deliverance, and God intervened. He brought them out of Egypt miraculously and promised them a new start in a good land. And for awhile that sounded great.

Then the exodus, and the problems, began. 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 trying to meet emotional needs through sexual sin, you may also wonder how you’ll fare in new territory. But your love of the familiar and fear of the unknown will be alleviated when you consider the joy that the unknown holds for you. Sure, it’s tough at times. But it also opens up a way of freedom, new relationships, and peace of mind. The good outweighs the bad immeasurably.

When the Israelites were finally ready to enter the land that God promised to bring them to, they sent out spies to see exactly what their new home would be like. Imagine the anticipation they were feeling! They didn’t know much about this place—only that, whatever it was like, it had to be better than Egypt, where they were slaves, or the wilderness, where they were wanderers. So they waited for the spies to return, having told them to bring back a sample of the fruit the land was bearing and a report on the kind of people who were already living there.

The spies returned with good news and bad news. The good news was that the fruit was abundant, a sure sign of healthy land. In fact, the grapes they brought back as a sample were so large that they had to be carried on a staff between two men! There was cause for real optimism, and good reason to charge right in and take over.

The bad news was that there were also huge, intimidating giants dwelling in this unknown territory. The children of Israel appeared to be no match for these guys, who were so big that, according to the spies, they made the average man look like a grasshopper (Numbers 13:17-33). So the unknown held both promise and foreboding. It was wonderful and frightening at the same time. But in the end, the fear of the unknown was finally conquered by the conviction that the land could be—must be—entered into.

Fruits and giants—they’re part and parcel of the unknown. The fruit of leaving sexual sin is a new and better way of living. But the giants scowl in the background. Loneliness, sexual temptation, misunderstanding from friends, and uncertainty about the future all loom large enough to make you chirp away like a grasshopper. The question 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.



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