There’s the common saying that “familiarity breeds contempt.” I would argue that familiarity can also breed indifference or passiveness, specifically when it comes to familiar sin. We can’t always see our sin; it doesn’t always appall us; and we don’t always know how to actively change. Like a familiar path we don’t have to think twice to wander down, sin habits feel easy and comfortable – seemingly instinctive. How can we ever hope to go down a new path?
I shared recently on Morning by Morning my continued struggle with anxiety; it is the easiest path for me to go down; it is well worn. When I was nine years old, I suffered insomnia out of anxiety concerning friendships at school. I experienced severe homesickness during any sleepover out of anxiety of something happening to me or my parents while I was away. I stressed my way into outbreaks of hives in high school, anxious about extracurriculars, grades, and popularity. While I remained stressed in college, I felt like I had finally reached a level of maturity that brought a certain “go with-the-flow” faith; I was finally like the Proverbs 31 woman, “laughing at the time to come” (v. 25). Anxiety surely was a part of my past.
But here I am, battling anxiety once again, and this time to the extent of literal panic attacks. Anxiety is my default response, the path so easy to go down when the bills come, when the jobs change, when Chad and I just can’t seem to communicate, when the relationships don’t take shape like I imagine. Questions of am I enough? Have I done enough? Maybe your path isn’t the path of anxiety – maybe it’s anger, self-righteousness, doubt, insecurity, self-gratification. Maybe like me, your path has many twists and turns that can look like all of the above. These sins have felt invasive, infectious, and inescapable; I don’t seem to know what other path to go down. It’s defeating. But that’s the point – I, in my own strength, don’t know how to veer off the path of anxiety, of unbelief, of sin. I need a strength greater than my own.
Isaiah 42:16 promises:
… “In paths that they have not known, I will guide them. I will turn the darkness before them into light, the rough places into level ground. These are the things I do, and I do not forsake them.”
How sweet these words of hope are to me and how repetitively I have prayed them. Like the imagery of Psalm 23, we need our Good Shepherd to lead us down unknown “paths of righteousness” – paths of forgiveness, humility, trust, gentleness, faith – with his prodding rod and staff, that sometimes jabs but always lovingly directs. He provides comforting presence and superior strength (Eph. 6:10). Not only that, but He provides the path itself.
In a world of “you do you” ideology – whatever is true and right for you is good enough; whatever path seems the most comfortable to walk down, by all means, walk down it, though it may lead to death and destruction – in such a world, Christ entered to veer our paths instead to life and love. John 14:6 recounts Jesus describing Himself as “the way, the truth, and the life.” Where our paths of sinful nature could never breach God’s presence, Christ opened a way in by willingly living as a perfect man in a fallen world, obediently dying like a worthless criminal, and gloriously resurrecting as a triumphant savior. He did this for you and for me, so that we don’t have to settle for familiar paths of darkness, but experience the wonder of exploring new paths of light.
If Christ promises these new paths, why then do I still struggle with anxiety? Why then has it seemingly gotten worse? These are the questions to ask honestly and wrestle with continually. I believe an aspect of the why is found in 1 Peter 1:6-7:
“…though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.”
These trials are refining and bringing praise. As I continue to wrestle with my anxiety, discouraged by how easy I go down such familiar paths, I see more and more my need for a new path, my need for a strength that is not my own, my need for Christ. How self-reliant, and in turn hopeless, would I be otherwise. He opens my eyes to see anew what had unknowingly grown familiar, and in turn, it breeds a healthy contempt, where I want less and less to go down that old familiar path.
We live in a world of already, but not yet. A world where the unknown path is open to us, but we haven’t reached our destination yet- we can only see the next three feet ahead. But we know what’s coming, and until then, I cling to the hope that He leads us, He strengthens us, and He will “bring [us] to the broad place (Ps 18:19)” of finished redemption.