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Why Familiarity Breeds Contempt & What To Do About It

God made you to be great. But you will never walk in the greatness he made you for until you’ve left your hometown. Hometowns are places of familiarity and as the proverb says, “familiarity breeds contempt.” Jesus said as much at the beginning of his ministry. Although he was 30, Jesus hadn’t re…
By Seth Barnes
By Seth Barnes

God made you to be great. But you will never walk in the greatness he made you for until you’ve left your hometown. Hometowns are places of familiarity and as the proverb says, “familiarity breeds contempt.”

Jesus said as much at the beginning of his ministry. Although he was 30, Jesus hadn’t really done anything publicly yet. He’d been baptized and fought with the devil in the desert. Then, as Luke reports, Jesus showed up at his home church.

He read Scripture there and people loved it. But what he did next set their teeth on edge and made them want to kill him.

Jesus said a provocative thing – “You will ask me to do here in my hometown what I did elsewhere. Well, let me tell you something: No prophet is ever welcomed in his hometown.” And then he cited the example of Elijah.

The madding crowd

The crowd’s response? 

They were furious and “drove him out of the town, and took him to the brow of the hill on which the town was built, in order to throw him off the cliff.”

That’s contempt in the extreme. The same contempt that many of us experienced in more subtle forms in our hometowns.

Jesus escaped, passing through the crowd. The passage leaves us with two unanswered questions: How did he escape? And, what was it about his response that made them so mad?

Jesus made lots of people mad, but these were the people who had watched him grow up. They had passed by the carpenter shop in which he apprenticed with his father. They had seen him carrying wood around and delivering furniture. They’d seen him on the streets and in the marketplace.

Over the years, their expectations had been set. Jesus had become familiar. He’d become ordinary. His greatness had been hidden. How is it that someone so ordinary could do miracles? How dare he talk down to them!

Familiarity breeds expectations

And so it is with any of us. We become familiar with one another and we begin to predict behavior based on past actions. We look at a data set and we extrapolate the average.

The problem is that greatness implies a deviation from the norm. Greatness lies on the outskirts of the bell curve. Yes, if we are living a Groundhog Day life, those who have seen us are going to expect us to keep living it.

But realistically, we have to be able to live this way or we would forever be making decisions as though we had no criteria. We’d be hopelessly naive and find ourselves in dangerous places without discernment.

And then we’re stuck

What unsettles us is the contempt that familiarity breeds. We grow up like Jesus did and people think, “Because you’ve never stirred the pot, you’re not going to. You’re not going to threaten things that are important to me. You are going to leave the status quo be.”

And those words of theirs lock us into place. They freeze us in time. We will always do what we’ve always done as long as our elders keep patting us on the head as though we were still 14 years old.

No upper lips may sneer, but it’s still contempt – a diminishment of who we are as an individual. And that contempt is a way of exercising power – keeping things as they were.

But God delights in upsetting apple carts. His son certainly did. Right out of the gate, he called a spade a spade. And his neighbors wanted to kill him for it.

The solution: You have to leave

That’s one reason Jesus hit the road at the outset of his ministry. He needed to be free of the expectations all around him.

It’s because of this dynamic that societies the world over have put rites of initiation and gap year experiences in place. Not only did the young boys and girls going through the initiation need a line to step across, so did the adults who had become accustomed to viewing them as children.

We all need help with change. God continually was asking his people to move out of their hometowns. Yes, he wanted them to move physically. But he knows that we are creatures of habit. And to change us, he often has to change our environment.

We live in a world where change is a constant. And we may want to cope by hunkering down. But God doesn’t want us to live in a place of contempt.

He wants to set us free. He puts a restlessness deep inside us that whispers to us of a better world and a better us in it. We grow as our world view expands. God’s whispers are righteous prods to move us from our ruts and into our greatness.

Some say that leaving home implies a failure to commit, but how do you know what is worth committing to unless you’ve looked at the world outside your neighborhood?

Leaving home or leaving a job that is comfortable but wrong for you is a righteous step out of the safety of a nest. We discover our greatness as we encounter the needs of a hungry world and different ways of doing things.

When was the last time you did something for the first time? Maybe it’s time to move beyond the familiar things that have made your world too small.

Comments (19)

  • Hi Seth, Sarah’s blog address is Sarahheidenreich.theworldrace.org

    My husband and I resonated with your words below. Even at our ripened ages, we are just beginning, to peek outside of our box with the white picket fence … The American Dream of a false sense of security.
    Whenever the thought occurred that there may be something more for us too, we discounted it because of deeply planted roots, and the fact that our picket fence needs a fresh coat of paint.

    “And so it is with any of us. We become familiar with one another and we begin to predict behavior based on past actions. We look at a data set and we extrapolate the average.”

    The problem is that greatness implies a deviation from the norm. Greatness lies on the outskirts of the bell curve. Yes, if we are living a Groundhog Day life, those who have seen us are going to expect us to keep living it.

  • timely….The older I get i feel the pull toward the safe and known vs. the unknown (i guess I have more to lose than when I had nothing). Dreams dreamt but not lived or pursued…solidifies the cement around our feet until we because like a statue of regret in a park. A memorial, a reminder of how one can spend a lifetime scaling a ladder against the wrong wall.

    • That’s good, Troy “a statue of regret in a park” – awesome imagery. I constantly fight against that process of ossification that happens so routinely in America.

      You’ve got a ministry to help others like yourself who don’t want to give in to the matrix. Let me know how I can help you walk it out.

  • Thank you Seth. I appreciated this missive. And. This is in part why I left Colorado Springs and it just cannot feel like home to me. Love you.

  • Well put Seth. If your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out; if your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off; if your home is keeping you from becoming the person God created you to be, leave.

  • This information was very helpful. I always wondered what the saying, “familiarity breeds contempt” meant. I knew there was a deeper meaning.

  • Indeed…
    Familiarity breeds contempt .
    It also unappreciative /ungrateful attitudes from the one who is contemptuous!

  • Barbara A. Sakowitz

    Excellent Words! I have been struggling and this is an answer to prayer!
    PRAISE GOD! Thank You!
    Sincerely, Barbara

  • Praise God and Thank you, also for your obedience to him for writing this! I have been seeking God for direction and God just gave me my answer through you! May God bless you a thousand-fold in Jesus’ name! Amen!

  • Glad to hear that, Sheryl. We have all been given what is potentially a gift in this season – extreme proximity to just a few others. It’s a gift if it leads to intimacy, but a curse if you feel judgment instead.

  • This speaks to exactly where I am at currently. I have lived in the same town since I was 13 years old. I am 44 years old now and feel God has called me to minister to young ladies 10-14 years old at an academy in the North Carolina mountains. To give back into what God has taken me out of. I leave on the 29th of June. I have people in my current town who think I can’t handle it and shouldn’t go but I am listening to God

    • That’s so good, Valerie! There will always be wet blankets – naysayers who have given up dreaming.

  • As my daughter is approaching her journey into the world on October 5th, our family has also journeyed into a world of mixed emotions. After months of shifting and learning we now fully embrace that she must go. It’s not an option anymore and we are alongside her. She has been restless until last year when God whispered to her, “you are leaving” and confirmed to her that she was going on the World Race. She listened and now we are saying our goodbyes in 2 1/2 weeks.
    Seth, I continue to gain clarity through your writings. So grateful for your words.

    • Joni – “journeying into a world of mixed emotions” – well put.

      What’s your daughter’s blog address? I’d like to follow her.

      God bless you on your journey!

    • I just looked at your daughter’s blog. What she shared about you, Joni, let’s me know that you are ready to go to the next level. It’s already in you and part of your DNA. You just have to shake off the anesthetic of suburbia.

      She said: “One of the most important things my mother ever taught me has been to be intentional about the way I view and engage life; “Live in the moment Sare” she would always say. From a young age, I learned to embrace my current situation, even if it was one that was ill-desired, mostly because this privilege called life — is just that; a gift and despite whatever else I’d rather be doing, it is my duty to see the good in all healthy circumstances. On top of this, I have always been aware that our time here on earth is like vapor — limited in moments and time ever so fleeting. I will always feel like this is one of the greatest lessons we can teach those around us; appreciating life for what is is, rather than what it can give us.”

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Seth Barnes

I'm motivated to join God in his global reclamation project. He's on the move, setting his sons and daughters free from their places of captivity. And he's partnering with those of us who have been freed to go and free others.



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