A few winters ago we had mice. Not a fun experience. And when you have mice, you set traps. The good thing about mice is that once you do a little research (thank you Google and YouTube) you find out that mice are creatures of habit. Two things are always true about mice. First, since their eyesight is not very good, they always follow the exact same pathways, mostly using their sense of smell. And second, they will always (100% of the time) take the bait. They simply cannot, or will not, resist it. So all you have to do to catch mice is to look for the evidence of their pathways and set a trap right in the middle of it. Or, simply put some bait on a trap and wait for the magic to happen.
Traps are an interesting phenomenon. The definition of the word trap is a contrivance, device, stratagem, trick, or the like used to catch people or animals unaware. Thus, setting a trap involves intention, strategy, and cunning. You set a trap in order to catch something, or trick someone. And the reason the trap works is because it is either hidden, unrecognized, or baited.
In Psalm 31, David prays that God might help free him from the trap that is set for him. Now maybe he is talking about a physical trap, and maybe he is talking about a spiritual trap. Who knows? Most likely, he talking about both. Either way, it sounds like he had enough experience stepping into traps, and experiencing their effects, that he wanted to avoid them in the future if at all possible. Which meant that he had to become proficient in three things: recognizing, avoiding, and resisting.
I don't know about you, but I can totally relate to David. I have a tendency to step into traps as well. Which I suppose also means that I am not so different from a mouse. I, too, have a tendency to travel familiar pathways. I also have a difficult time not taking the bait whenever it is right in front of me. My bait, however, is not cheese. My bait tends to be affirmation, importance, significance, and esteem (there are many more to add to the list, but you get the point). And when I am hungry for one of these things I go looking for it. I sniff it out. Therefore, it is not terribly difficult to set a trap for me.
It is a familiar scenario. It usually starts with my insecurity welling up within me, which produces a need to be right and a hunger to be respected. When that doesn't happen in the way I'd hoped, it often leads to frustration, anxiety, and even anger--making me the absolute worst possible version of myself. It is a downward spiral from there. And there you have it. Boom! The trap worked perfectly--once again. I am such easy prey.
Maybe you experience the same thing. Oh, it may not be insecurity. It may, instead, be control or power or pleasure, or any number of other things that sets you in motion, but the result is the same. You follow familiar pathways, or you go looking for places to satisfy your hunger, and then boom! There you are--trapped. Again!
So how do we battle this? How do we keep from being trapped in the same old habits and patterns and dysfunction over and over again? First of all, we need to be trained to recognize the traps that have been set in our paths. This takes attentiveness, presence and prayer. We must begin to walk with God in such a way that he is able to help us have eyes to see the reality of our situation. After all, as David reminds us in Psalm 139:3, God is familiar with all our ways. If we walk slowly and attentively with him through the course of our days (and our lives) he will teach us how to see the things that we normally miss. He will help us to see the rope hiding beneath the leaves that is waiting to grab us by the ankles the minute we set foot in it. Learning to live life with God, at his speed, will help us to recognize.
Next, we must learn to avoid the places where the traps are typically set. This is not rocket science. We are not mice. If you step into a trap, one of the best ways not to do it again is to avoid putting yourself in that position. It's the old "fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me" routine. This is where it takes both wisdom and willingness. We have to be wise in recognizing our patterns and their results. And then we have to be willing to change those patterns. Men, if it is impossible for you to be on your computer and not be led into sin, get rid of it. If you continue to use it, you will repeat those damaging patterns--again and again. Or if it is your phone, get rid of the smart phone, go old school. The question is: "Are you willing to do whatever it takes to not fall into that trap over and over again?" Will you do everything in your power to avoid it? If it is a certain situation, or person, or circumstance that makes you become the worst version of yourself, you might want to reflect and pray about the dynamics of that relationship and change it somehow, lest you find the trap slamming shut on you again and again.
And finally, we must resist. This one is a little tricky because we immediately begin to assume that our success or failure ultimately has to do with our own willpower. If that were the case, we would all be in big, big trouble. You will not conquer the biggest enemies of your spiritual life with sheer willpower. You will be easy prey. The tricky part is that resistance is not so much about being determined not to take the bait anymore. It is, rather, about realizing that there is something much better, much richer, much more satisfying than the piddly little bait we normally take, and feeding on that (on Jesus) instead. It is about being filled with something so much better that we will lose our appetite for the things of the world because of the depth and beauty and riches of the things of the Kingdom. It is not about stopping up our ears and refusing to listen to the Siren Song (Ulysses), as much as it is about being captured by a more beautiful song altogether (Orpheus). It is about letting go of the lesser affections because you have been seized by the power of the Great Affection. It is really about falling in love.
Unfortunately, even still, I have a tendency to not even think about the trap until after I have already stepped into it. So I must continue to cultivate a more and more intimate life with God. I must continue to live my life with God in such a way that I can learn to recognize, avoid, and resist the many traps that have been set for me. Maybe constantly praying this prayer (Psalm 31:1-5) is a good place to start.