The Sunk cost fallacy: the phenomenon whereby a person is reluctant to abandon a strategy or course of action because they have invested heavily in it, even when it is clear that abandonment would be more beneficial (Oxford Languages).
My wife and I recently bought some used chairs. Once we got them home it was immediately clear these were not the correct size (they are way to big for our modest space). While we might like to recoup all our costs when we sell them we also need to be aware that they are taking up room in our house and they serve no real function for us. You would think that would make us happy to sell them for less than we bought them for in order to be rid of them quickly. The struggle, of course, is the sunk cost fallacy, because we paid a certain amount we don’t want to lose money or feel foolish, and thus we want the same (at least) as we paid for them. Yet, when it comes to our actually living our lives (and the tiny amount of cash involved) we would be better to give them away to a charity that would pick them up, since they do little more than clutter our dinning room.
I was thinking about this when I read a line in the psalms, Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. The word “renew” is what caught my attention. It suggests that there was a time that the writer identified with a steadfast spirit, but that over time they have moved away from that. I suppose this might have taken any number of forms but they would all involve a sort of investment into something other than God or the life of faith. To ask for renewal suggests changing paths, leaving the one they were on to return to the one they had previously been on. This might mean literally walking backwards to return to an earlier fork in the road and selecting different path (a seemingly costly choice) but recognizing the mistake as early as possible and acting on the recognition because the cost of not doing so will only increase. The chairs will only further aggravate and annoy my wife and I so we do well to change course, even at a cost.
Many have made decisions about faith in Jesus, either for or against, and have ceased to consider the choice. Yet, we know, don’t we, that such decisions need to be made over and over again as we learn more about ourselves and the world. I think we are reluctant because we have decided that a decision once made must remain made or else the costs will be too high (we will look silly, have to change important elements of our lives, friends, finances, careers, whatever) and so it is easier to stubbornly stick to the path we are already on even if it isn’t working for us. It’s a fallacy we tell ourselves that keeps us from moving forward, even if we sense a move is needed.
A move can be costly, our friends and family might not appreciate what we are going through nor the decisions we are making.
I won’t lie, often the costs are high when our worldview changes. I lost friends when I agreed to go into ministry, I have given more money away than I can count (never missed it and never lacked no matter what is given away, just sayin’). I sacrifice evenings and early mornings to meetings (with people and with God). I have siblings who tell me that the worst thing I can do for my kids is raise them in church. And yet, those costs are nothing beside the gain that is knowing Christ beside me, Christ within me.
I trust that God is open to our turning towards him at all times. The psalm I already referred to (#51) also contains these words: My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart you, God, will not despise. In other words at any time we might admit we have been wrong and turn towards God and he will accept our turning towards him.
The sunk costs always look worse or harder before we let them go. Maybe they are small and unimportant, like the chairs, or maybe they are larger, like the troubled relationships I must navigate with caution and care and love, either way when it comes to further trust in God, to renewing our spiritual lives and wellbeing, the costs are quickly forgotten or adjusted to as a new reality sets in. May your soul be like my uncluttered dining room!