Break free from what's holding you back

You can break free from the things that are holding you back, but it will take much more than just willpower.

Sometimes we know exactly what we need to change. Other times we're unsure and need the help of a therapist or pastor. One thing is certain: Change is hard no matter what your age or circumstances.

Getting out of your own way

When you're trying to break free of something, usually your biggest obstacle is yourself. I know in my own life there have been times when I failed to muster up the necessary resolve to make a needed change.

We don't often think of ourselves as our own worst enemy, but usually it's something we're doing--or not doing--that's holding us back. It's hard to admit to ourselves that we're standing in our own way, and it's especially painful when another person points that out to us.

Often we can't be objective about our own situation because we're too close to it. In those cases, it's easier to blame someone else or circumstances for our lack of growth. Acknowledging that we are what's holding us back can be humiliating.

So we go through life stunted and stagnant because our "solutions" are to imaginary problems, when the real problem is us.

Break free: What we can't escape 

It's easier to tolerate a miserable situation because it's familiar rather than risk getting relief, because we don't know what form that relief might take.

Singles are especially vulnerable to this. We may stay in a wrong job, a wrong relationship, a wrong neighborhood, or a wrong leisure activity simply because it's familiar to us. We know we should break free of it, but we're afraid of what's out there.

And so we rationalize, making up excuses for not doing what we know we should.

All the while there's one thing we can't escape: the calendar. Weeks turn into months, months turn into years, and one day we realize most of our life has slipped away and we can't get it back.

The problem, distilled and refined

In his book How to Say No to Stubborn Habits, Dr. Erwin W. Lutzer says:

Perhaps now you are beginning to understand why you cannot begin to break your sinful habit unless you believe in God's goodness. The reason is simple: if you doubt God's goodness, you will not want to change. You will be convinced that God wants to rob you rather than enrich you.

Isn't that true? The core reason we're afraid of becoming more like Christ (and shedding our wrong ways in the process) is that we're afraid we'll lose ourselves. If we truly believed in God's goodness, we'd expect him to take us to something better when we break free of our wrongdoing. Instead, we think he'll take us to something worse.

Sadly, we believe that God is too good to be true. We've been beaten, battered, disappointed and disillusioned so much in life that we've lost hope that One could exist who is not only flawlessly good, but also total trustworthy.

Most 12-step programs insist that participants call on a "Higher Power". For Christians, that higher power can only be God.

Fortunately we don't have to make that leap of faith about God's trustworthiness alone. The Holy Spirit is eager to take our hand and help us jump, and he won't let us fall as long as we hold tightly to him.

If you really want to break free

No matter what you're trying to break free from, it won't be easy and it won't be overnight, especially if it's been a lifelong situation. To a large part, your success will depend on your desire and your willingness to let God help you.

    1. Step out in faith, trusting in God's reliable goodness. You don't have the strength to do this on your own, but with God as your guide, you can work your way through it. If you believe that God is good, you'll know he's leading you to something better.

    2. Expect internal struggle. Just as God wants to tug you into growth, Satan wants to hold you back, in stagnation. He'll do his best to sow fear and feelings of inadequacy in you. Search your Bible for passages affirming God's faithfulness and protection.

    3. Once you have the problem identified that you want to break free of, set realistic goals to do it. Don't expect too much too soon. If your goals are smaller components of a larger goal, your confidence will soar as you accomplish them.

    4. Expect setbacks. Expecting them will take most of their power away, because they can't catch you by surprise. Respond calmly, intelligently. Readjust. Keep your goals clearly in sight, not allowing yourself to be sidetracked in a "pity party."

    5. Draw closer to God than you ever have in your life. Say silent prayers of thanks and petition throughout your waking hours, even if they're only one sentence. This nonstop conversation will remind you that you're not in this alone.

    6. Celebrate every victory, no matter how small. As you achieve each step of your goals, congratulate yourself, and praise God for his constant assistance. When you're humble enough to know you can't do this without him, his power will flow through you in a way you've never experienced before.

    7. Once you break free, promise God and yourself that you'll never go back. You're a new person now. Leave the old you behind. You have more of God; you no longer need what you escaped from. But even if you should backslide, confess it to God immediately, repent, and ask his help to get back on track. Expect him to stand with you now as he did before.

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