All of us fall at time through sin, but what we do in response to our fall varies person to person. So, what is the correct response?
Through the frustration of falling into sin I am often led to the same question, “why is it so difficult to break the chain of sin?” In the past I have found myself in the recurring cycle of feeling like a “fraud” every time I fell into sin. It was until a confession about a year ago that I found peace while I was down. What the priest told me was to look at Jesus' walk to Calvary with the cross on his back. He fell not once, not twice, but three times.
I want to stop here and note that I am in no way condoning sin and that it should be avoided at all costs.
When I first heard this it bothered me and maybe it is you to. How could my selfish falls be compared to the greatest love story ever told? When I pushed back at the priest trying to understand what he meant, I finally got the point. The falls are not the end of Christ's journey, he is on his way to fulfill his mission through his death and resurrection. Just as the fall does not define Christ’s journey, our falls into sin also do not define us. What defines us is what we do in response to sin. He has fallen so that we might get up with Him once and for all.
So what is the correct response to sin then?
This is a question I have also been troubled with. Should I not pray until I go to confession? Should I pray an insane amount extra instead? Should I busy myself with actions to distract myself? All of these options are birthed out of hearts that want to do the right thing, but are sadly misinformed on the true answer. What we should do is acknowledge our sin, feel sorry for it, repent, and resume our normal spiritual habits. In brief, we must remain at peace and not fall into the temptation of despair. The false humility that causes us to hide and separate ourselves from Christ comes from the devil. Why would the one who heals us separate himself from us when we need his love and mercy most?
“Those who are well do not need a physician, but the sick do. Go and learn the meaning of the words, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ I did not come to call the righteous but sinners.” (Matthew 9:12-13)
Contrary to what many of us have been conditioned to believe, Christ invites us to go to the doctor and be healed. The faster we can restore our hearts and minds to the peaceful state in which we can pray and offer ourselves to Christ, the faster we can expect ourselves to detach from sin itself.
The Fall and Redemption of Peter
One example I have often looked to is that of Peter when he denies Christ three times. We can see the stages that many of us go through after we commit a sin.
Then Peter remembered the word that Jesus had spoken:
"'Before the cock crows you will deny me three times.' He went out and began to weep bitterly." (Matthew 26:75)
Note here that he understands the magnitude of his sin. He takes time to weep bitterly in sorrow for his shortcomings. Looking at this may seem to contradict my previous point that we should not let sin drag us down, but it doesn’t. Note that Peter is sorrowful, not regretful. Regret comes from a place within which we see that we shouldn't have done what we did. Sorrow on the other hand is what Peter experiences because he sees that his actions wounded that heart of His Lord. Although we should bring ourselves back to a state of peace as soon as possible, it does not mean we should be emotionless robots whose actions don’t matter. This sorrow is a necessary element that we must encounter to be able to return to peace after committing a sin and recognizing that we have sinned. This period of sorrow allows us to see ourselves before God and better understand how desperately we are in need of saving and healing from him. As stated previously, our actions matter greatly, but our response to actions is what determines our future.
Let us look to the Restoration of Peter:
"So the disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, 'It is the Lord.' When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he tucked in his garment, for he was lightly clad, and jumped into the sea." (John 21:7)
Peter literally is so excited to be with his Lord again he can’t wait for the boat to get to shore and jumps in to swim to him. He does not hide. He does not fear what Christ will do to him or say to him. Peter desires his healer, his friend, his savior. This contradicts what many of us do in response to sin. We are tempted to hide or shy away because we “are not worthy” of God. What Peter deeply understands is that his savior is the source of healing and change. If he wants to lead the Church, be the man he’s called to be, or have a fulfilled life, it starts with an intimacy with Christ.
God works in peace, not anxiety or despair. We must fight the temptations of the devil to falsely humble ourselves through hiding or despair over our sins. Christ knew that we would fall. He knew all the sins that would be committed for all of time when he bore his cross. He knows how you and I would deny him. He wants to restore us and bring us back to his loving care.
Questions to reflect on:
What is your personal response to sin? Do you hide? Kick your faith life into overdrive? Do you fight to keep the peace?
What sins do you need help breaking the chain of and how can you offer them to Christ to heal?