Saturday, September 6, 2014

Shackles of Darkness: Temptation, Sin, and Despair

There are times when a Christian feels on top of the world, spiritually, and feels so at peace with the Christian way of life that it seems easy not to depart from it.  At times like this, one can go for months on end without any significant weakness rearing its ugly head, and it seems that holiness and the things of God are sweet to the taste.  Things come easily.  

Then there are times when that same believer scarcely seems to have picked himself up from one fall into sin's clutches before being tempted all over again, when he feels the pull of temptation--and is overwhelmed by its allure--practically before he has even received absolution in the confessional.  

Forgive me Father for I have sinned.
It's been two seconds since my last confession.

I've been going through that very trial, in recent weeks.  It may be anxieties about my son's impending birth, and the fears I've talked about in an earlier post.  Or perhaps Satan, knowing that I will need great energy in the coming weeks and months, is attacking me full force in the hopes of distracting me from the amazing duties of fatherhood and marriage.  Either way, I have gone from a period where I went weeks at a time without needing to go to confession to this period where I can scarcely make it one week.  Even if the only thing I have to confess are that I had the intention of some sin or the other, before "coming to my senses" and fortunately not doing anything "concrete," still something serious enough to warrant confession seems to come up at least once, if not more, within a seven day period lately.  And even when I'm not actually caving to temptation, the temptation can come about daily, so that I am tempted to despair.

Why do we chase the things that we know are not good for us?  Why, when I know that doing something wrong will ultimately make me unhappy, am I interested in it, sometimes obsessed?  

It's probably, to some extent, a way of withdrawing into myself when I'm stressed.  In sin, there can be a tantalizing refuge of "privacy."  It's "my own world," a place where I can feel cozy and comfortable, if only for a time.  There, no one can really follow me, because my sins are mine, or so I tell myself.  When everything has spiraled out of control, and life and people make demands on me, it's far too easy to feel, if only on some subconscious level, that sin is something I can do on my terms.  And I'm sure that anyone who's ever had family obligations can tell you, the chance to do something on one's own terms, for a change, can seem dangerously attractive.

Like eating the whole box of candy when you very well feel like it.
(But without the weight gain!  Sure, your soul could be lost, but details, details!)

But the problem is, of course, that sin isn't really something I do on my terms, it's not some nice treat to reward myself at the end of the day.  Sin is really only ever done on the evil one's terms.  And it always, always becomes clear eventually that giving into sin only makes things worse instead of better.  My mind is muddled, my connection with my loved ones--including God--becomes weak, and loneliness sets in.  What was an attempt at self indulgence becomes, instead, isolation.  I feel far from everything and everyone I ever loved, and that's when sin reveals to me that it was never my servant, but a slave master whose demands are far more callous than whatever demands or stresses of life I intended to escape.  For after leaving me feeling so cut off from all that's dear to me, sin whispers:  "Now that you're already all alone, thanks to what you have done, your only comfort is to take more of me into your soul!"

That's how sin invades.  It offers a promise of escapism, but when the escape proves too depressingly perfect, and you feel lost from the world you once knew, sin seems to be all you have left, all that offers any light.  All that is good and pure and true, the devil whispers, is beyond my reach.  I have tainted myself; "good" people are too pure for me, holy pursuits beyond me, so I may as well stick with the only thing that will have me:  Sin.  

It's all, of course, a wicked lie.  Even at my worst, those who love me want to reach me.  God most of all.  I am surrounded by such caring and wonderful people who, when I feel that I am unlovable because of my faults, want even more to hold me close to their hearts and tell me how much they value me.  And I have a God Who so loves sinners that He gave His only begotten Son to die for them.  

I don't know, yet, the answers to breaking out of the cycle of temptation, or avoiding it altogether.  If I did, it wouldn't happen anymore.  But I think that maybe a key to not losing myself when I stumble is to offer myself up to God and to my loved ones as I am.  Broken.  Spiritually clumsy.  Prone to sin and wickedness.  I must learn to serve God and love others even in the midst of my weakness, not only in the absence of it.  There is no excuse for me to be lazy, but I have to keep a better sense that even when I do fall, I am not beyond hope; the bonds that tie me to God and neighbor are not so hopelessly severed that "sin is all I have left."  That's a poisonous lie.  And, by God's Grace, may I one day be better at rejecting it.

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