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Christian Counseling & Educational Foundation

When familiar beats good

Author: Date: February 21, 2017

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When Familiar Beats Good

She lives under a bridge with hundreds of other junkies. Once beloved by her six grandchildren, she now shuns them in favor of squalor and heroin.

I’ve never been well or happy for a long period of time. So when I do feel like I am doing well, I’m afraid because it’s not a feeling I’m familiar with and it scares me. When I do become clean, I’ve got to become a new person because I’ve been this other person for so long.¹

The familiar, even when miserable, can be preferred to the good. It seems the brief high outweighs the misery and any possible good that could come with sobriety. Whatever the reasons, the good—growing relationships, better health, work, warm shelter, a decent meal—is not always perceived as good. You would think that an escape from abject misery would be a strong reason to change, but it is not. There is a pull toward the status quo in addicts—the familiar beats good.

But this is not unique to addicts.

What about people who seem to sabotage anything good by being cantankerous with a boss or accusing a friend? Or children who prefer an abusive parent to someone who is genuinely kind and patient? Why do we so often duplicate our past, even when our past was atrocious? Maybe shame drives some people back to the miserable—worthless people deserve the worst. Maybe guilt—you get what you deserve. In fact, the pull of the status quo affects most of us. To borrow an observation from C. S. Lewis, we prefer our familiar mud puddles to the offer of a holiday at the beach. We are, indeed, a curious people.

All this reminds us of some basic AA insights: we are not reasonable people, so don’t expect reason to change us. We need something or someone much stronger than ourselves if we are to be transformed.

Bad consequences are not sufficient in themselves to change us, insight alone is not able to change us, the offer of heaven itself is not sufficient to change us. We instinctively regress to the familiar. Only the Spirit can revive our moribund souls.

So, in the name of Jesus, we come to him, who is the light, the life and our very sanity, and we invite others to come. He holds out his hands and invites even the most contrary among us (Romans 10:21). He never refuses those who come to him (James 4:8).

We come to him with a slightly keener sense that among the threats to spiritual vitality is that we do not always think the good is that good. Vigilance is the order of the day. So we pray: “Jesus, help. Help me not to regress to the familiar. Help me to see the good.”


¹ From an article in the Philadelphia Inquirer, by Sam Wood and Stephanie Farr, “A Heroin Hellscape,” Sunday, February 19, 2017, A18.