Natural light—it illuminates so many things. As I sat in the sun one day, I was mortified to find a patch of hair, far too long for public viewing, growing on the front of my ankle. I was appalled at how many times I would’ve had to miss this spot for it to have grown to this length. As I examined a couple of other missed patches, I realized that these were all areas where I had cut myself before. The little notch on the front of my ankle, the back of my hamstring, and the crook behind my knee are places I have drawn blood several times. Apparently, my fear of being hurt again had led to a rather unpleasant situation at the beach.

We are born with an instinct to avoid pain, which is essential to our survival. We need to know how to avoid things that are sharp, too hot, and otherwise dangerous for us. Even in relationships, we learn to avoid situations that aren’t healthy for us, which is a good thing. However, just like my predicament at the beach, this instinct can lead to unpleasant situations in our lives.

In our attempt to circumvent discomfort, it’s possible to develop unhealthy patterns that can negatively affect our personal well-being and relationships with others. These unhealthy patterns of self-preservation can cause us to live in a cage of our own creation, missing out on all that God wants us to experience.

We all have had painful experiences—a betrayal, a lie, a loss, a hurtful word someone said to us, etc. We may have mostly healed, or there may still be a sting when we think of it, but these experiences have caused us to alter our gait as we walk through life.

Some gait-changers are obvious to pinpoint. When I was seven years old, my family moved across the country suddenly. I had no idea that I would never again see my home, my school, or my friends. Since then, I’ve struggled with the fear of sudden loss and overcompensated by needing too much closure. Because this was an obvious loss, it was easy to connect the dots as to how it was affecting my life years later. I still sometimes struggle with anxiety over sudden loss, but I’ve been able to work through much of this, no longer needing to hug my husband repeatedly and tell him to drive carefully ten times before he goes to Wal-Mart. (Now it’s only two or three times.)

Other gait-changers are more subtle—patterns of relating to people, unhealthy ways of communicating stemming from our families of origin, an off-the-cuff comment that stings more than we realize. These things may not affect our lives as deeply, but we still might have a “missed spot” we should shave.

Recently, I was wondering about a tendency I have to be “anti-bandwagon.” If everyone else thinks something or someone is great, I’ll be overly skeptical for a long time until I am hard-won-over. As I was pondering where this originated, I remembered an incident that occurred in third grade. At a new school, I was desperate to fit in. Apparently, I was a little too desperate because the kids teased me about being gullible and called me a poser. While I was hurt at the time, I had no idea it was still affecting how I process life today. My reaction to that comment swung me to the other end of the spectrum, being skeptical and overly cautious about whatever might be the “it” thing at the moment. Thinking critically and independently are traits I enjoy about myself, but taken to an extreme, they’ve resulted it missing out on some great people and experiences.

These are just a couple of specific experiences from my life that I can pinpoint, but there are many others that have held me back from experiencing all God has for me. Having a few unshaven patches of hair on my legs didn’t prevent me from getting to the beach, but it sure prevented me from experiencing freedom, confidence, and joy after I arrived.

In John 10:10 Jesus says, “I have come that they may have life and have it to the FULL.” He wants you to experience freedom, confidence, and joy in every area of your life! Anything that holds you back from experiencing total freedom is simply not good enough for you, his beloved child.

Where are you self-preserving in unhealthy ways? What is hindering you from experiencing fullness? Where do you find yourself in a prison of your own creation?

I encourage you to pray, reflect, journal, talk to a friend or mentor, memorize Scripture, and even seek counseling as you go deeper into finding freedom, fullness, and ALL that God has for you. Diving into these issues may be painful, but finding healing and freedom is so worth it. None of us want to sit on the sidelines, hiding our patchy legs under a towel. We want to find confidence and thrive.

So, girl, shave your legs!

A recovering perfectionist, Erica Horyza is learning to embrace God’s grace in the chaos of raising and homeschooling her four children. She loves sharing her journey with other women in the hope they will find grace, peace, and freedom in Jesus. She holds a B.A. in Church Music from North Central University, teaches piano lessons, and is a fitness instructor. Her heart is happiest around a table full of food with a house full of guests.