Stuck on the same sin day after day?
Whether it’s confessing them once a week, once a month, or even two times in two days, the frustration that comes with repetitive sin is unmatched. Swallowing your pride and sheepishly confessing that sin you can’t seem to shake no matter how hard you try can truly make one feel weak and helpless. If you have listened to our newest podcast you know that much of my life has been spent in this struggle with certain sins.
Repetitive sin in itself is of course less than ideal, but the temptation to fall into despair that comes with it is far worse. Many types of sin, whether it be related to purity, sobriety, eating, lying, or anything else, are often paired with immediate shame post-sin. Now this regret and shame is not the same as despair, and it is important to make this distinction. We have talked about this before in a prior reflection (Response to Sin), so I will not spend much time on this topic, but our response to sin is critical. Even if the sin is repetitive, our response should not falter. Regret and shame focused inward on ourselves is never okay, but what is okay is regret and shame for how we hurt Jesus. With this mindset we can acknowledge that we relied too heavily on our own strengths and abilities to refrain from sin, instead of the correct mindset where we fully rely on God’s strength. We are often told to ask God to make us stronger to avoid sin when in reality we just need to invite God to be a part of the fight and rely on His strength. It is not our own strength that will deliver us from repetitive sin, but God’s grace working inside us.
While repetitive sin is inherently wrong, there are insights and graces that can come from them. First, repetitive sin opens your eyes to where there is room for growth. Knowing where and how we are falling is actually something we can find a great deal of hope in. It is only then that we can take legitimate steps forward in resolving our repetitive sin. If our sins were all sporadic and random, it would be much harder to pinpoint where God is inviting us into growth. This growth includes a multiple step realignment of our views towards our sins and our God.
Let’s first focus on the sacrament itself. Many times when struggling with repetitive sin I find myself going out of guilt for falling again, rather out of sorrow for offending God. It was a labor of fear, rather than that of love. The temptation many of us fight is that once we go to the light and receive healing, we still feel unworthy of God’s love and immediately return to the shadows. So truly the first step for us is to truly believe in the power of the sacrament. We must truly believe that we are forgiven and that our slate is wiped clean, and this starts with forgiving ourselves. This is tough though, so how do we do it? We do so by not being surprised. Not surprised that we have fallen and not surprised that we have sinned because it is our nature. Note that this is not an invitation into complacency, but an invitation to peace. We must acknowledge our sin and be regretful of them, but the guilt should not lead us into losing our peace.
The next trick that I believe helps is how we confess the sins. Everyone has their own style for confession. Some confess sins broadly, while some tell the entire backstory and aftermath. I’m not here to debate which is correct, but I am here to relay some advice that was once given to me. We can think of Confession as a trip to the doctor. When you go to the doctor and they ask you what’s wrong they expect you to give them all of your symptoms. What help would it be if you said your chest hurt? They want to know what part of your chest hurts, when it hurts, and the type of pain. Likewise, the more specific we are in naming our sins, the better the God can heal us from them. I’ve also found that naming the sins often takes some of their power away. It reminds me of Harry Potter when people are afraid to say Voldemort's name. The more we attempt to ignore and avoid the reality of our struggles, the stronger their grips will tighten on us.
Beyond the intricacies of our mindsets, I find it worthwhile to go into the practicals: What should you do when stuck in repetitive sin? First, don’t be discouraged. You can find hope in knowing that just about every other person in your life is also stuck in some rut of sin. You are not alone in the fight, and it is often beneficial to fight alongside someone. Afraid to open up and let someone see inside your struggles, let this bit of scripture be of encouragement to you:
Where one alone may be overcome, two together can resist. A three-ply cord* is not easily broken. (Ecclesiastes 4:12)
Next, learn the true meaning of the near occasion of sin. This is something I ignored for much of my life, and admittedly still do. I was once told in confession, “You seem to like to torture yourself and test your own limits.” This pretty much hit me straight in the heart because of how true it was. Oftentimes our falls are avoidable, even if they seem like they are not. You’re much more likely to fall off a cliff if you tiptoe to look over the edge than you are if you stand 5 feet back. I found that my falls into sin weren’t always an issue with the sin itself, but that I didn’t even give myself a chance to escape it. What I mean by this is that we all need to set barriers to protect ourselves. If you cannot avoid gossiping in certain situations, don’t go into those situations. If you can’t be pure with your significant others behind closed doors, don’t hang out behind closed doors. You see, when we continually put ourselves in these compromising situations we are relying purely on our own strength and merit to do something heroic. In reality, we may not be ready for that heroic act. It’s far harder to stop a car that’s going 100 mph compared to one going 20 mph. Through learning where we most often fall, we can create a plan to avoid those situations all together and therefore avoid the sin.
Reflections for Prayer:
Are you currently struggling with a repetitive sin?
Do you rely on your own strength or God’s strength when combating this sin?
What compromising situations can you strive to avoid to protect yourself from this sin?
Take 5 minutes to pray and develop an action plan to avoid and fight this sin. Invite God to fight with you.