It’s a struggle for both Christians and unbelievers: How do you stop doing what you don’t want to do? Maybe you’re like me, and you want to learn how to stop worrying about what people think. Maybe you’re like my friend Sam, and you want to learn how to stop believing lies about yourself.
Or maybe you can’t stop doing something physical or addictive such as drugs, drinking, overeating, having sex with a married man, shopping or constantly checking your iPhone for Facebook updates and text messages. How do you stop doing what you don’t want to do?
It depends on you, your personality, lifestyle, maturity, faith, friends, family and activity (obsession? compulsion?) you can’t stop doing. Let’s call the thing you can’t stop doing a “compulsion.” And, let’s use me as an example.
I used to compulsively overeat, then purge. Bulimia nervosa is the psychological term; some bulimics call it the “three-finger diet” or even the Mary-Kate diet. Not me. I never renamed my journey through bulimia, never gave it a cute nickname, and never actually learned practical ways to stop doing what I didn’t want to do. And yet, I stopped. It wasn’t me, or all the self-help books I read, or writing a book called Growing Forward When You Can’t Go Back or even my Christian psychologist who counseled me for a year.
How, then, did I stop doing what I didn’t want to do? The truth is I don’t know exactly how it stopped or when it went away…but it definitely coincided with my faith. I wasn’t obsessed with food or compelled to binge and purge as I got closer and closer to God. The deeper my relationship with Jesus Christ — and the more I felt the presence of the Holy Spirit — the less I turned to food for comfort.
How to Stop Doing What You Don’t Want to Do
This blog post is part of my She Blossoms Through the Bible project; I’m writing an article for every chapter in every book of Scripture. Right now I’m reading the book of Leviticus; today is Leviticus 7.
This chapter of Leviticus describes the law for various offerings: burnt, grain, sin, guilt, ordination, and fellowship. How do these sacrifices — told to Moses by God, given to the priests to perform on behalf of the Israelites — relate to us today? I think they shed a surprising amount of light on how we can stop doing what we don’t want to do…
1. Acknowledge the sacrifice you’ll make
Leviticus 7:37-38 says, “This is the law for the burnt offering, the grain offering, the sin offering, the guilt offering, the ordination offering, and the fellowship sacrifice, which the Lord commanded Moses on Mount Sinai on the day he commanded the Israelites to present their offerings to the Lord in the Wilderness of Sinai.” When the Israelites intentionally or unintentionally committed a sin, they brought an animal or grain offering to the priests at the temple. They chose to make a sacrifice after recognizing their sin. Not only did the Israelites have to recognize when they sinned, they had to sacrifice the best portion of their herd or crop.
If you want to stop doing the thing you don’t want to do, you have to sacrifice something. Maybe you’ll have to sacrifice your old routine or habits. Maybe you’ll have to sacrifice your pride, and talk to a counselor, doctor or pastor. Maybe you’ll have to sacrifice a relationship, a good-paying job, or your favorite places to go. Maybe your sacrifice will involve your husband, boyfriend, family or friends. This is something only you can figure out: what do you need to sacrifice in order to stop doing what you want to do? Acknowledge that you have to sacrifice something, and it won’t be easy.
2. Explore why you want to stop doing what you don’t want to do
Leviticus 7 tells us that the Israelites brought sacrifices to God because they wanted to be pure and holy in His sight. But it didn’t work; they had to keep sacrificing animals, and they never found rest in their relationship with God. In What If It Really Is “All About You”? I share my belief that making sacrifices was supposed to change the people’s hearts. It wasn’t God that needed the sacrifice; it was the Israelites who needed to stop doing what they didn’t want to do. Offering animals and grain was supposed to change how the Israelites saw their sin, God, and each other. Sacrifices were supposed to make them holy and keep them clean in God’s eyes…but it didn’t work. The Israelites needed the Holy Spirit and Jesus Christ to stop doing what they didn’t want to do and stay true to God…and so do we.
How is your compulsion creating pain in your life? You’re doing what you don’t want to do, and it’s costing you something. It’s probably financially expensive, physically unhealthy, emotionally painful, spiritually damaging, and socially embarrassing. And yet, you can’t quit. You keep asking “Why do I keep doing the thing I don’t want to do?” Sometimes you ask yourself why you’re doing the thing you don’t want to do even while you’re doing it. It may help to make a list of reasons why you want to stop doing that thing. When I was struggling with bulimia, I made a huge list of pros and cons — and of course the reasons I wanted to stop doing it was much longer than the reasons I wanted to keep binging and purging! But my reasons for overeating were more emotionally powerful than my reasons to stop, so I couldn’t. It was helpful to list the reasons why I wanted to stop doing what I didn’t want to do…but the truth is that it didn’t solve my problem.
3. Accept that you can’t give yourself the help you need
The Israelites had Moses and the priests to mediate their relationship with God. The priests took care of most of the practical details of the burnt offering, the grain offering, the sin offering, the guilt offering, the ordination offering, and the fellowship sacrifice in Leviticus 7. The Israelites had to recognize their sin. They had to show up with their offering, and make amends to God. Maybe they even talked about practical ways to stop doing what they didn’t want to do. They couldn’t do it alone, though — they needed the priests and Moses to help them enter God’s presence.
Ask for the right people to help you stop doing what you don’t want to do. You can’t heal your body, mind, heart, spirit or soul alone. You can’t solve your problems, fix your relationships, enter a new life or start fresh without help. Ask the Holy Spirit for wisdom, clarity, and guidance. If you know Jesus Christ, you have access to the Holy Spirit’s power and strength. If you follow Jesus, He will lead you to the right people, organizations, books and resources that can help you learn how to stop doing what you don’t want to do.
“I wish I had learned of your She Blossoms website years ago,” writes a reader on How to Stop Feeling Sorry for Yourself. “I might not have spent so many years eating myself to death, being so depressed and not getting on with my own life. Being stuck in the past is horrible. I keep doing what I don’t want to do, keeping the pain alive, and it’s torture. Thank God I found your helpful articles. Maybe now I can start to really heal my heart.”
You can’t heal your own heart or stop doing what you don’t want to do without help. Look to Jesus Christ and you’ll see that He has been gazing at you this whole time. Lean into His sacrifice for you. Learn how the Holy Spirit offers healing, comfort, wisdom and clarity. Spend time with God the Father, who is the only source of true, deep healing and freedom.
A She Blossoms blog article can’t give you a definite answer to the “how do I stop doing what I don’t want to do?” question. This is just a glimpse of my story, a few ideas and thoughts on how you might grow forward into a new season of life. It all hinges on how you choose to see God the Father, what you believe about Jesus Christ, and how you receive the Holy Spirit.
If you’re struggling with an eating disorder, you may find it helpful to read How to Stop Your Out of Control Binge Eating.
With His love,