Environment is stronger than willpower. Think about that claim for a moment. We would like to believe we are strong and can transcend our environment. We like to hear stories about people overcoming the limitations of their environment. But most of these stories, if not embellished, are exceptions to the rule–the rare outliers.
We become what we surround ourselves with. Period. Think about the times you have tried to overcome some habit or addiction. Let’s take the simple example of trying to eat less junk food. Does it work to keep candies and sweets in the house just for special occasions? Does it work to keep chocolate in the cupboard, beckoning you to have just a little? How about when someone brings donuts to the office? It doesn’t take long until the presence of the temptation overcomes our will and we align with the powerful inertia of environment.
In spiritual things, if we wish to grow closer to God, we must surround ourselves with holiness. That’s it. There is no other way. We can try to fight this truth all we want, but time and time again we will wonder how our resolve to resist some temptation–or start some new positive habit–once again ended in defeat.
Christians may debate the relative merits of baptism by immersion or by sprinkling, but one thing is certain: conversion comes through immersion. We must immerse ourselves in the things of God until they seep into the fiber of our souls. We must baptize ourselves daily in that which is “true,” “honest,” “just,” “pure” and “lovely.” (Philippians 4:8).
Someone might say, “But Christ ate with publicans and sinners, got down into the muck of the world and ministered to the people. He didn’t remain aloof in some holy place!” It’s true. But look how often he “departed” from the people into some quiet place to renew himself. He prayed and meditated in the wilderness. He conversed with the Father on mountain tops. He conversed with angels in gardens. Although he often preached and ministered to the people, His day to day life in the ministry was often spent surrounded by nature and his disciples.
Successful recovering alcoholics do not hang out in bars. Those who are trying to quit smoking do not lounge around in designated smoking areas. Anyone who is pursuing a life of holiness is, in a sense, a recovering addict. The gravitational pull of the world, with its temptations and drama and negativity, is incessant. We simply have to eliminate as much of it as possible to have any hope of escaping its grasp. Yes, Christ can help us, but how, unless we surround ourselves with His presence? How, unless we make Him our environment?
He taught: “If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, you will ask what you desire, and it shall be done for you.” (John 15:7) The archaic meaning of “abide” is to live or dwell. When we abide in Christ, we dwell in his presence. We make Him our home, our environment.
This doesn’t mean we go through life prudishly sticking our noses up at anything or anyone we deem unholy. But it does mean we must be realistic about our weakness and the limitations of will power in bringing about change in our life. We cannot play all day in the mud of negativity, carnality, and worldliness and then scratch our heads in the evening, wondering why God seems distant in our life.
Yes, we have to live in the world and we cannot always control the type of environment we encounter. But for the environments we do have control over, we can cultivate spaces of peace and joy so that when we go into the world, we do so from a place of strength. If you have seemed spiritually stagnant, examine your environment to see what you have been immersing yourself in. By changing your environment, you could change your life.
Sheldon Lawrence is the founder of bibledice.com, an award winning essayist, and author of the recent novel “Hearts of the Fathers”, a story about one soul’s redemptive journey into the afterlfe.