Proverbs 4:11-12- "I instruct you in the way of wisdom and lead you along straight paths. When you walk your steps will not be hampered; when you run, you will not stumble."
Proverbs 4:19- "But the way of the wicked is like deep darkness; they do not know what makes them stumble."
Proverbs 3:23-26-"Then you will go on your way in safety, and your foot will not stumble. When you lie down you will not be afraid; when you lie down your sleep will be sweet. Have no fear of sudden disaster or the ruin that overtakes the wicked, for the Lord will be at your side and will keep your foot from being snared."
Choose Your Own Adventure
I really enjoyed reading choose your own adventure books as a kid, especially if they involved escaping from mummies, zombies, or pirates. The goal was to keep making choices that would keep you alive. It was a terrible feeling to turn to a page only to see that the monster caught you or you got poisoned or your parents grounded you. A lot of bad things could happen. The goal was to make it out alive, to take the safest path possible. If you didn't, you could just turn back to the last page where you were safe and make a different choice. Amazingly, in life we do often seem to get second chances, but as I see every day in my office, sometimes chances run out. Marriages end, people lose jobs, teenagers are estranged from parents, people sink further into addiction.
I've been chewing on the first 7 chapters of the book of Proverbs for a little while now and I'm noticing how frequently they talk about choices. The writer often uses language about light and darkness, freedom to walk/run vs stumbling or being ensared, and a stable path vs a crumbling one that leads a person straight to death. According to Proverbs, the stakes are high.
The first and perhaps most important thing to grasp is that there are actually two different paths you can travel down, with very different results. It's hard for us to believe that our actions will have consequences. The world spends a lot of time promoting unstable paths and promising things on it that may feel good in the short term but never deliver. We have largely moved away from an agricultural, local economy and so it is harder for us to understand the concepts of sowing and reaping, of diligent effort leading to delayed results. Because I spend so much time working with people on the issue of sexual addiction, I want to run this issue through that filter, but I hope you'll see that it applies to any pattern of unhealthy choices.
Sexual addiction starts with what often seem to be innocuous choices. We're told to achieve as many sexual conquests as possible, to have fun, to be liberated. We find that porn is an amazing escape, a place of beauty and fantasy. Proverbs 7 paints an incredibly realistic picture of sexual temptation as offering an amazing meal, comforts like we've never known, and the promise that we will never be caught and no one will know. The path starts out feeling like we may actually be walking on something pretty satisfying and stable.
But soon you find that your foot is ensnared. Perhaps your spouse is hurt by your behavior and wants you to stop. Maybe you have started to have sexual difficulties because you've programmed your brain to respond to fantasy instead of reality. If you come from a faith background you have likely often felt guilt and distance from God as a result of these behaviors. Whatever the reason, you realize it's time to stop. But now you can't. Proverbs 5:22 says, "The evil deeds of the wicked ensnare them; the cords of their sin hold them fast." You now enter into a cycle of trying to be free but continuing to return to the old behaviors, what some writers call the noose of addiction. As Proverbs points out, you now begin to live in fear- fear of discovery, fear of failure, fear of sudden ruin and exposure. You look around and realize that long ago you left the stable path in the sunshine. The picture I see is the difference between running a race during the day on a track compared to stumbling along the side of a winding, crumbling mountain pass in the middle of the night, flirting with death.
Choose the Stable Path
Proverbs starts by spending so much time contrasting these two paths and warning about the difference between the two because we have such a hard time believing on an emotional and experiential level that the second path will harm us. Even once we've felt consequences we quickly forget. People in the world seem to be having a great time and the wicked are prospering and advancing. Some part of us still feels we can't live without masturbation or the high from porn. But Proverbs again and again urges us to write wisdom on the tablets of our hearts. This means to move it from external, intellectual knowledge written on a piece of paper, to being internalized and etched into our very being. This is to believe on a deep level that God's ways are best and to make choices accordingly.
I was trained by Dr. Weiss to have people write thank you and goodbye letters to their addiction at the start of treatment, and it is something I utilize with almost everybody. This is to come to a place where you understand why you initially sought the addictive behaviors and how they helped you, but that now you have discovered they were not really your friend and have only brought destruction. God is holding out his hands and pleading with us to take him at his word, to not have to discover everything the hard way, to find life instead of death. Even if you have gone way further on this path than you intended, God is offering you a way out. Won't you pray that wisdom will be written on your heart so that you can walk in light, stability, blessedness and peace?
Proverbs 4:26-27- "Give careful thought to the paths for your feet and be steadfast in all your ways. Do not turn to the right or the left; keep your foot from evil."
Proverbs 6:23-"For this command is a lamp, this teaching is a light, and correction and instruction are the way to life."