Often we choose bondage over freedom. Sounds strange, doesn’t it? Who would do that? We don’t do it intentionally. We don’t even realize we’re doing it. But we do. We do it when we choose the sick familiar over the healthy unknown.

The dysfunction we grew up with is familiar. We think it’s normal, even if we hate it, because it’s all we’ve known. It’s not normal; it’s sick and dysfunctional. But it’s normal for us. It’s familiar.

Moving into healthy freedom can be scary. It’s uncharted and unknown territory. It doesn’t have the comfort of something familiar. It requires us to face the fear our familiar sickness was protecting us from.

Freedom comes at a price. We certainly get that at a national level. But it’s true even at the personal, emotional, and spiritual levels. God’s unique calling on the life of every individual, that adventure he created you to live, is totally free but it costs you everything. Dude, make sense!

Jesus died to make a way. His blood paid the price to make that way freely available. In that sense, intimacy with God through the person of Jesus, pursuing the calling on your life, is totally free. Freely available.

But it costs you everything. Everything familiar. Everything you value above Jesus. Every idol in your life. Every behavior you use to protect your own heart instead of trusting God with it. It requires (eventually) facing every fear.

So it’s understandable why often we choose our familiar, comforting, sick over the unknown, uncomfortable, healthy. It comes down to fear, and who we’re going to trust.

So how do we break out of the sick familiar into the healthy unknown? Here are 3 steps.

1) Recognize where You Are

We have to honestly recognize our behavior is sick, and it’s not ok. Otherwise there’s no reason to change.

For example, maybe our family of origin shouted at each other when they were angry. Maybe bullying the other person into submission is the only communication style we’ve been taught. It’s all we’ve ever seen modeled.

How do we know when we’re stuck living in the sick familiar? Here’s 3 indicators:

  • It’s something we grew up with.
  • We hate it when our family members (or others) do it to us.
  • We do it to others.

If you respond to others with a behavior that you grew up hating, you’re living in the sick familiar. Stop taking it for granted. You’re hurting the ones you love the same way you’ve been hurt. It’s not ok.

John Wimber, the founder of the Vineyard, told a story about talking to God one day during his devotion time. He said, “I think I’m doing alright. I’ve got some hang-ups, but I’m doing ok.”

Immediately the Holy Spirit spoke to his spirit, “I don’t deal in hang-ups, John. I deal in sin. If you have sin in your life, confess it, and let’s deal with it. But don’t mask it by calling it a hang-up.”

We have to realize our sick, familiar behavior is actually sin. It’s hurting the people around us, and it’s hurting us.

2) Admit the Benefit

We act this way because we get something out of it. Sandra Sellmer Kersten (Elijah House Australia) tells a story of a man who came for prayer ministry to deal with his temper, his horrible rages. The prayer minister asked him what he got out of it, what benefit this behavior gave him.

“There’s no benefit,” he answered. “I’m destroying my family and hurting everyone I love!”

She replied, “There has to be a benefit, or you wouldn’t act this way. Let’s ask the Holy Spirit to reveal the benefit.”

After several moments of prayer and waiting on the Holy Spirit, he looked up and said, “You know, there is a benefit. When I’m angry, I don’t feel the pain.” Bingo.

3) Face the Fear of Being Free by Running into the Pain

This is counter-intuitive. Our natural reaction is to avoid pain, not run through it. Here’s a post that describes this concept more fully, but the upshot is this. Unlike cattle who run away from a thunderstorm, buffalo run right into it. Since they’re running the opposite way the storm is moving, they minimize their time in the storm. By contrast, cattle, by running away from the storm and trying to avoid the pain, actually prolong their time in the storm. Let’s put some skin on what “running into the pain” means.

If we want to be healthy, we have to release the benefit of being sick, facing the fear of not having that benefit.

Let’s make up an example. Suppose you’re a shouter. Maybe that’s how your parents taught you to communicate by their example. All negative behavior is driven by fear. If you don’t already know, ask the Holy Spirit what you’re afraid of.

Suppose it’s vulnerability. The anger, the rages, the shouting — it all keeps people at a safe distance. It keeps you safe from the vulnerability you fear. If you want to move out of the sick temper tantrums and rages into healthy, satisfying relationships, then you’re going to have to embrace being vulnerable. Yikes!

Will you trust God to protect your heart in the place of vulnerability? Or will you continue to protect your heart yourself, by raging and shouting and keeping people away? The choice is yours.

God loves you enough to trust you with that choice. He’s not going to impose the right answer on you. God’s not into control.

So how about you? How are you guarding your heart? Does your heart need healing? Learn how to go to the root and find healing in your own life with a fun, engaging, short story. Download Dave’s FREE ebook “The Runt: A Fable of Giant Inner Healing.”


Dave grew up in Los Angeles, CA, graduating with a Master’s in Mathematics from UCLA. He now lives in Stafford, VA, and has worked as a software engineer for 30+ years. He and his wife, Janet, volunteer at their local crisis pregnancy center doing post-abortive recovery. After much brokenness and loss in his family, job, and churches, Dave loves to write and share the healing he’s received. IdentityInWholeness.com.
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Dave grew up in Los Angeles, CA, graduating with a Master’s in Mathematics from UCLA. He now lives in Stafford, VA, and has worked as a software engineer for 30+ years. He and his wife, Janet, volunteer at their local crisis pregnancy center doing post-abortive recovery. After much brokenness and loss in his family, job, and churches, Dave loves to write and share the healing he’s received. IdentityInWholeness.com.

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