There seems to be something that causes humans in some kind of crisis to need to return to something they had previously known—and in which they had found some kind of comfort. I’m not sure how to label this observed human tendency, so, for lack of a better term, I’m just calling it “going back.” One or two other “going back” blogs may appear; those will be of different types. Here, I am thinking primarily of the spiritual, sociological, and/or psychological pitfalls inherent in retreats to one’s former ways. Thus, “going back.”
The scenarios to which people go back might be positive or neutral. A family friend, upon learning of my trying times in another phase of life, commented that I might need to go back to “the Northeast,” which is the area of the country in which I was raised. I did go back, rather purposefully, and it turned out to be a good thing for a while. Going back can also be decidedly negative, such as with incarcerated individuals who, upon obtaining freedom, may revert subconsciously or even intentionally to harmful or illegal ways of life.
A person who struggled rather openly with homosexuality later repudiated homosexual practice in a speech to other believers. Still later, the person went back to homosexual practices that began during child abuse, presumably (consciously or subconsciously) looking for some emotional salve.
Again, not all retreats constitute lapses or regressions, but many do. Countless would be the sad stories of alcoholics who start on the recovery road but then return to destructive drinking. I have also seen people go back negatively in conjunction with the impending failure of a marriage. For instance, a deacon in a Restoration Movement Church went back to his less-well-founded religious roots even as he concurrently abandoned his family.
I knew of a person who had accepted principles of non-participation in human government as an expression of allegiance to Jesus Christ’s examples, teachings, and Kingdom That person made demonstrably poor, sinful choices over a period of months and was eventually divorced. A couple years later, in a new dating relationship, the person went back to the pro-military stance affirmed in the family of origin. It would be hard to say this “going back” could have led directly to any emotional solace, but there might have been something vaguely comforting about returning to one’s roots. What became of the higher, more enlightened way learned as a young adult? It is difficult to imagine that both the prior course and the latter one were both matters of conscience. Perhaps the conscience was undeveloped in the first place, allowing room for political conservatism to edge out Christ-ian devotion.
A family lost an adult son in a horrific accident. One of the parents has reverted, in some measure, to his Roman Catholic upbringing, seeming to find meaning there, even though he retains connections in evangelical non-denominational, quasi-Reformed expressions of Christianity. (I don’t know the timing for a fact here, but it is difficult to conceive of another reason in this particular case other than the life-tragedy experienced.) Even for those who see Roman Catholicism as one way among many or even as the way, an argument could be made in this case that the redirection constituted a conceptual regression.
The particular “goings back” that I have noted are but a few, but I hope the general point is clear: something often causes humans in some kind of of crisis to revert to something they had previously known—something in which they had found solace or meaning.
This has perhaps amounted to little more than an unstudied observation about human nature. Is there a doctrinal “beware” here? Something related to the “Hebrews” letter, maybe? I wouldn’t suggest that every negative “going back” (above or otherwise) should connote the revulsion of a dog returning to its own vomit (Prov 26:11; 2Pet 2:22). At times, it seems, we return to patterns of the past, and at times, those are negative patterns. Moving away from observations of others, I ought to beware of any destructive or negative “going back” behaviors in my own life.