Summary: Why is it we are so addicted to the bad and so unable to change? And what can we do about it?
“Between the Lines: Did I Do That?”
“Did I do that?” I hope I’m not the only one who remembers Steve Erkel – that klutzy, nerdy yet wonderful and lovable television character. He was constantly doing things that resulted in creating messy or difficult – and often humorous – situations. And whenever he came across one of these situations he would query, “Did I do that?” “For what I do is not the good I want to do.”
A Calvin and Hobbes comic strip shows Calvin in the house next to some smashed furniture, holding a baseball bat, and his wild-eyed, frantic mother shouting, “You’ve been hitting rocks in the house? What on earth would make you do something like that?” Calvin responds, “Poor genetic material?” in the final frame he’s sitting in his bedroom, under punishment, and says, “Bad guess.” “The evil I do not want to do – this I keep on doing.”
How many times have you said something like, “I don’t believe I did that?” “Why did I do that?” “I swore I would never do that again!” “Did I really do that?” “Why can’t I keep my resolutions?” Agnes Allen put it neatly: “I should be better, brighter, thinner, And more intelligent at dinner. I should reform and take some pains, Improve my person, use my brains. There’s a lot that I should do about it, But will I? ... Honestly, I doubt it.” “For what I do is not the good I want to do. “The evil I do not want to do – this I keep on doing.” Why is it we seem to be addicted to the bad and so unable to change? Paul has some vital insights into our behavior as he spells out the patterns of our addiction to sin.
According to Paul THERE IS A SYSTEM TO OUR BEHAVIOR. I am keenly aware that factors such as heredity and environment have an impact upon how we behave and the way we live, but I also know that much of our behavior is learned. The sensations or feelings we experience as a result of certain actions and choices influence future behavior. Pavlov and his dogs taught us that a long time ago. Behavior can be, and often is, conditioned.
If a behavior is associated with an effect of pleasure or relief from pain and distress, that behavior will occur more frequently. If I do something that makes me feel good, I’m likely to do it again. If I keep doing it and it keeps feeling good, it will soon become a habit. I’m attached, even addicted to it. I may not even be conscious of that fact, but it is true none-the-less. To be more specific, there are at least FOUR PROGRESSIVE STEPS in this system.
First, LEARNING TAKES PLACE. Choose any behavior – taking a drug, counting money, dreaming of someone, biting your nails. If the first time you do it brings you pleasure or relief, your brain associates that relief with that action. Learning has taken place. For example, let’s say that one time I snapped my fingers and Barb kissed me. So I snapped them again, and she kissed me again. What do you think I’m going to start doing with more frequency? Right – snap my fingers! Or if biting my nails gives me a ‘high’ of some sort, I’ll bite my nails periodically just to feel that ‘high.’ Learning takes place.
Second, A HABIT IS FORMED. When my brain begins to associate learnings with other behaviors in my life, I’ll repeat those behaviors more often. For example, if I feel depressed my brain might communicate “You’ll feel good if you bite your nails.” Guess what I’ll do. Or if I’m having a difficult day and come home frustrated and my brain says, “When you snap your fingers Barb will kiss you,” guess what I’ll do. The specific behaviors increase. Now, instead of just doing them when I desire the sensations, I begin to do them to ward off other not so pleasant feelings. Then the desire for the effects increases even more. Now I’m headed for difficulty.
The third step in the system of behavior is that A STRUGGLE OCCURS. The habit has become entrenched; it’s an integral part of my life. With any upset the behavior is a reflex. Then soon, even without an upset, I desire the sensation to prevent an upset and to help ward off potential bad feelings. Soon I cannot go very long without repeating the behavior so I do it frequently. By now you have a finger-snapping, nail-biting preacher!
Now, fourth, the battle heats up. INTERFERENCE COMPOUNDS THE ISSUE. Something is bound to interfere with the increased frequency of my habit. For example, if I take a drug more frequently, the supply becomes a problem. If I chew my nails more frequently, I run out of chewable nails. If I snap my fingers too much, Barb will not always be around, and she may tire of kissing me. (I don’t know how she could ever tire of that but it could happen!) So I decide to stop, to withdraw from the behavior. But that’s stressful – and how have I learned to deal with stress? By repeating the habit! So if I try to stop the habit I’ll be in a real battle with myself. My attempts to quit simply fuel my desire to continue! I cannot stop and repetition makes the habit more ingrained. I am now at war with myself. The apostle Paul said that we become addicted to sin in the very same way. “For what I do is not the good I want to do…The evil I do not want to do – this I keep on doing.” Our habits, and our propensities towards sin, become gods which enslave us.