Yep, that’s the question I’m throwing out into the blogosphere today.
Do you have something that you find yourself turning to again and again throughout the day to the point where it’s become a personal obsession?
If you're like me, I’m guessing whatever it is popped into your mind immediately as soon as you read those words. After all, we know ourselves better than anyone else, and deep down we know exactly what we spend our time doing, especially in those hidden moments when no one is really paying attention.
I know this isn’t something we talk about much in Relief Society. And it isn’t something we’re likely to chat about over lunch with friends. It’s just that quiet little something we keep to ourselves . . . that something we crave every time we have a spare minute . . . that something that’s become our own private obsession or addiction.
The thing is, it’s probably not even something all that bad. Maybe it’s just a bag of Reese’s we have hidden in the back of the cupboard. Or that TV show we’ve grown overly attached to recently. Or a game we just can’t stop playing on our phone. Or a little more cleaning than is actually necessary. Or some mental fantasy that continues to crop up in the back of our mind. Whatever it is, it’s just that thing—that thing we can’t seem to stop doing, no matter how hard we try.
Even if we attempt to downplay it as harmless, we still occasionally end up feeling guilty about our obsession (especially after General Conference or a really great lesson in Sunday School). So we make a plan to help us kick our secret little habit. We delete that app off our phone or throw out our entire chocolate stash. We invent ways to distract ourselves or tell our family about it so they can help keep us accountable. But most of the time, those strategies don't work for very long. Though we may make it a day or two or maybe even a whole week, eventually we just can’t help ourselves—we go right back to our favorite obsession and find ourselves doing it compulsively all over again.
And it’s in that moment that we get hit with a recurring sense of shame. Shame that we can’t control ourselves any better than that. Shame that this habit seems to have so much power over us. Shame that we don’t have more willpower to overcome it on our own. It’s a cycle that keeps repeating over and over, no matter how hard we try to break free. Despite our best efforts, we continue to carry this thing around with us—this obsession we both love and hate at the same time. On the one hand, we’d love to give up for good, but on the other, we can’t imagine living life without it.
Maybe it would help if we stop all our efforts at behavior modification and instead ask ourselves what’s fueling this private little habit. What’s driving our secret obsession? What is it that this thing does for our heart? I mean, there’s got to be a reward of some sort or we wouldn’t be turning to it so compulsively throughout the day. Determining what need our obsession is meeting is the first step to truly overcoming the power of our personal addiction.
It reminds me of a woman I met a few weeks ago while speaking to a group of Young Women and leaders about body image. In the middle of our discussion, she brought up her struggle with emotional eating (an obsession I've experienced myself). She said she knew very well why she did it—because food had this way of soothing and pacifying her negative emotions. It gave her a little rush of happiness, a moment of bliss, an escape from the stress of the daily grind or the realities of whatever difficult situation she may be in.
I believe that’s actually the motivation behind most (if not all) of our secret obsessions. No matter what form they may take (be it a credit card, a personal hobby, or a place we like to hang out online), the results are still the same: they really do give us that little rush of happiness, that moment of bliss, that escape for a minute from whatever difficult thing we're experiencing. These are our coping mechanisms. The happy place we run to when we’re feeling low.
But even though we may understand that idea in theory, we may have never considered that what we're really doing is using these things to feed our restless heart. That we’re trying to satisfy a soul hunger that we may not have even put into words. That we’re trying to fill an emptiness that we may not even realize we’re feeling.
It would certainly explain why that particular thing has become such an obsession in our lives. If it’s actually been feeding our heart’s deepest needs and longings, then of course we’re going to turn to it over and over and over again. That thing may be validating us when we’re feeling inadequate or insecure. Or it may allow us to live in a fantasy world that helps us forget about our failing relationship or that difficult child or an overly stressful job. If that’s the case, the truth is that behavior modification is never going to be enough to overcome it.
Imagine what happens when we try to remove that thing from our lives without replacing it with something that truly fills our need. Won’t the resulting emptiness eventually drive us right back to our special little something? Making ourselves stop our habit out of sheer willpower doesn’t even come close to addressing the real problem. The real problem is that inner need (whatever it is) that keeps driving us to find relief from our obsession. If we'll pinpoint that need, we’ll finally be on our way to true and lasting healing. For once we understand what our heart is truly longing for, we can take those pressing needs to the One who really, truly can satisfy us (Psalm 36:8). And once our hearts are filled with His grace and His glory and His love, that little obsession will suddenly feel like small potatoes in comparison to the exquisite taste of the fruit of the Tree of Life.
So maybe the next time we feel a need to invent some strategy to help us overcome a personal obsession, perhaps we could focus instead on the true “bread of life,” a nourishment that promises us that we’ll “never hunger” and “never thirst” ever again (John 6:35). It’s the only thing that can fill us in a way that is “everlasting” (John 6:47). Once our heart is truly that satisfied and content, our secret little obsession will simply no longer hold the same appeal and will drop right out of our lives. And we'll wonder why we ever even tried behavior modification. ;)
“Yea, he saith: Come unto me and ye shall partake of the fruit of the tree of life; yea, ye shall eat and drink of the bread and the waters of life freely”