Have you ever had a behavior that you can’t quit? Maybe it’s a bad habit, like chewing your nails or hitting snooze twenty times (hi, my husband!). Maybe it’s an internal thing: a constant string of negative self-talk, or critical thoughts of others. Of, if we’re willing to get vulnerable, maybe it’s a hidden and harmful thing: an eating disorder or physical self-punishment.
We can get stuck in cycles of harmful behavior that seem impossible to stop. We wake and declare, “I am NOT going to lose my temper today!” And twenty minutes into our morning commute we are shaking our fists in anger, wondering why we even try.
Why does this happen? Do we just lack the willpower to control our behavior? Do we not love Jesus enough? Are we not using big enough words in our prayers? Are we actually stuck in the Matrix, doomed to repeat this cycle until Morpheus arrives to wake us up?
I bet you’ve got a million lines that you repeat to yourself as to why you’re stuck with this behavior. You call yourself weak or stupid, remind yourself that this is the way things will always be, admit that there’s no point in trying to change. But I’ve got a question for you: has your goal all along been to simply stop the behavior? Because that just might be the problem, friend.
Aiming to stop the behavior will just lead to sin management. Sin management is where we jump from sin to sin to avoid confronting pain, addiction, or negative memories. This is where cycles are created, because without confronting the root (or reason) for our behavior, we are bound to either return to it, or find another behavior to deflect from our hurt. The cycle repeats itself like those diabolical stair stepper machines. At the end of the day you are exhausted and discouraged, yet you’ve made no forward progress.
Put another way, these behaviors can function as coping mechanisms. Coping mechanisms are behaviors we develop to deal with stress, trauma, or emotional discomfort. These behaviors can be healthy, like learning deep breathing techniques to calm down during a panic attack. But they can also be unhealthy, like consistently using sarcasm to cut down a friend whose genuine affection is triggering memories or abandonment. Or, we might use a normally healthy behavior to substitute going to God for help. Exercise is a great thing, but when we pile on workouts to avoid thinking about our troubles, then it just becomes an unhealthy diversion.
These coping mechanisms do nothing to solve our problems. They merely mask a root we don’t want to explore. And they can be so ingrained in us that we don’t recognize them as harmful or out of the ordinary.
So what’s a person to do? Sin management doesn’t work. You can’t stay on that stair stepper forever. I mean, if you’re like me you hopped off that thing five minutes in and went looking for a Chipotle.
A fuller, healthier life is not found in simply correcting our behavior, but in addressing the root of why we behave like this in the first place. That means leaving behind sin management and pursuing authentic healing in the person of Jesus Christ. Jesus doesn’t want quick fixes to quit a habit. He desires authentic healing for our souls. Not a band-aid, but a full restoration to wholeness!
Authentic healing is allowing Jesus to address our hurts and skewed belief systems. Rather than changing behaviors, we are allowing Jesus to change us at our core. It takes intimacy with God and vulnerability within safe community. It’s not the quick fix, but it is the eternal fix.
Paul declares in 2 Corinthians 5:17, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!” And this give us a blueprint on how to begin pursuit of authentic healing.
First, we start by acknowledging (again and again and again) that we are new creations NOW. Not once we stop the behavior, but now! This is simple in concept but can be difficult when old memories come knocking. When you feel the pull of a bad habit, remember that you have been set free from those chains once and for all. You are not obligated to stay on the stair stepper.
Second, Paul states that the old is gone. If it’s truly gone, then we need to stop bringing it up, right? If you tell yourself a hundred times a day to stop thinking about white cheddar Cheez-Its (Lord help me!), then you’re actually still thinking about Cheez-Its a hundred times a day. That kind of thinking keeps our focus on what we’re trying to get away from, and what we’re thinking about determines the direction we head in. It’s the dreaded stair stepper mentality! We must learn to keep our thoughts forward-facing positive, not rear-facing negative. Allow Jesus to shift your eyes to the hope He’s offering, not the past you’re trying to escape.
Finally, we must take our focus off what binds us and latch on to what can free us: Jesus. We need Jesus to reveal the root of our behavior. Once we allow Jesus to work on the root, it can be totally removed, and we’ll have no need for the coping mechanism. How do we do this? Philippians 4:8-9 says it best: “Finally brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me – practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.”
Focusing on quitting the behavior will train our brains to return to that very behavior and fill us with discouragement. But when we train ourselves to focus on Scripture and praise Jesus, we will be filled with peace. And it is that peace that can lead us to truly hear how Jesus wants to lead us into full restoration, authentic healing, and a transformed life. This is possible for you! Jesus is ready to show you a much healthier way. Healing is waiting…no stairs required.