Years ago I used to enjoy the mind-numbing babble of a popular national morning show while I got ready for work. One segment that caught my attention was, “Eat this! Not that!” The ultra-skinny host whose own diet clearly consisted of an occasional rice cake topped with kale would run through a display of mouth-watering dishes, often well-known fast food items. With the help of an “expert” guest, the bobble-headed anchor would compare the fat and calorie information of each. By comparison of the nutritional facts, they would conclude, “Eat this grilled chicken sandwich which has 50-billion fewer calories than that one loaded with mayo and fried in gobs of fire-retardant lard. (Gasp.) And for heaven’s sake, don’t ever eat that!” But the greatest shock entertainment value came when they compared seemingly healthy salad entrees against obvious fat-laden dishes like pizza, or hamburgers and fries. The plates piled high with greens and veggies often contained—wait for it—double or even triple the calorie content of the junk food items! The moral of the story: unsuspecting customers were often hoodwinked into heart disease by the lurking fat in “healthy” salads. Poor shmucks! “They should eat this delicious all-beef patty! But not that deadly harvest salad piled with carcinogenic croutons and dreaded trans fats! It contains enough calories to nourish a small town for two years. Just look at all that BACON and RANCH!” Yum…
Recently, I came up with a twist on the morning show game which has shed some light on the problem of recurring sin in my life. Let’s call this little game of spiritual discovery, “Hate THIS! Not THAT!”
As I was gearing myself up for confession and internally running through my list of sins, it struck me that one of them, which I was planning to confess, yet again, was a transgression I had grown pretty comfortable with. While I knew well enough to admit that it reared its head regularly in my life, I never ventured to ask the why behind the recurrence? Why did I fall prey to this particular sin on a regular basis? Through my examen, I began to realize that I had sort of normalized the ugliness by viewing the sin as insignificant and a mere fact of life. My thinking up to that point went something like this, “It’s a venial sin, so… No. Big. Deal. It’s simply how I’m wired.” I was trivializing it. With a wave of my dismissive hand, I rendered it harmless. However, the Holy Spirit in His gentle way made it known to me that it was weakening my relationship with God. I should hate any and all things which create obstacles on my path to Christ. Instead, I viewed the sin as a wily, but familiar old friend who pops into my life from time to time to stir things up. I was certainly aware of the sin, hence the confession, but I wasn’t exactly prepared to bar the door to my routine visitor. Don’t mistake me, I hated confessing the sin. (Confession: I don’t actually like confession! Before you holy rollers call for a ban of my “heretical” blog, be advised, I go regularly to confession because I desire Christ’s mercy at the end of it. I go through the icky confession part because it’s good for me and I eagerly anticipate the glorious absolution part. As long as I participate in the healing sacrament, it’s okay that I don’t love it. Please, no ban.) But in doing my examination of conscience, I began to wonder if I actually hated the sin? Didn’t Jesus say something about chopping off an appendage if it causes one to sin? Seems a might harsh. My response, however, was to make nice with the offending limb, maybe dress it up a bit. I certainly wasn’t scandalized by it. “It’s not a mortal sin so…” But the Holy Spirit wasn’t about to let me off the hook. Comfort with any sin is never a good thing. I did not hate this sin.
To make my point plainly, I will announce to the world, or more precisely, my 7 faithful readers, my recurring venial sin: I lose my patience with my kids—a lot. Up until recently, I considered it a necessary part of the job as a mother. I casually dismissed my lack of mercy when responding to my children’s negligence or absent-mindedness. I don’t mean that they don’t deserve just punishments when they disobey my husband and me, but sometimes my wrath exceeds the gravity of the crime. I lash out in anger—not the righteous anger that is necessary when facing the evils of the world—I mean screaming like a wild woman to “put your shoes away NOW!!!!!!!!!” Or flipping out when I find missing chips of paint in the wall because someone thought it a good idea to affix duct tape to the recently painted walls. I lose control. My anger takes over. I know it’s sinful because almost immediately after my outburst I feel awful. “What kind of mother loses it on her kids? A bad mom. If this were captured on nanny cam I’d be a viral sensation.” It often devolves into a mini self-loathing negativity/ shame spiral which makes it doubly hard to remain charitable towards my kids. Later, I laugh it off with a friend or my husband and normalize the sin in an attempt to make myself feel better. “Those crazy kids! They sent me into DEFCON 5. (har-har)” It is a well-worn pattern in my life. What I’m beginning to realize is, if I don’t properly hate sin, I won’t bar the door to it the next time it comes a-knocking. The Third Person of the Trinity pointed out that he could drive a tank through my open door.
Here’s the shocking salad moment where I uncover all the hidden pitfalls of my venial sin… in being dismissive, I was hating myself and consequently heaping on MORE unhealthy bad stuff. By giving sin a free pass, I was causing harm to my heart by eroding my self worth and confidence as a mother, making it a lot tougher to do my job with any semblance of joy. However, if my hate is directed at the right target, the sin, I am less likely to succumb to despair and defeat. If I truly hate the sin and not myself, I am better prepared to fight it. Hate this!—SIN. Not that!—ME.
Sinful tendencies are tough to manage. But our possibility for success is a lot better when we name the sin and hate it with everything we have in us, even the pesky venial ones. It’s good to HATE sin! When exposed to Christ’s light, sin’s power over us is arrested. By cooperating with His grace we make better choices. Conversely making light of sin is what satan desires. He teases us with the “insignificance” of our sinful actions. Then shame sets in which causes spiritual paralysis. It’s a lot harder to make the right choices when one feels like a loser. So we repeat it again and again. Sin becomes palatable.
I still struggle with angry outbursts. I pray I get better. But there’s undoubtedly hope on the horizon. I feel better equipped to battle it. It’s no longer a hidden trap waiting to deaden my heart. I’ve zeroed in on the real troublemaker. We must know and recognize the Enemy. Fighting sin requires vigilance. It requires real hate. But I must remember to hate this! Not that!
CUT TO ANCHOR VOICEOVER: When we return after the break, meet an expert who can help you pinpoint the hidden deadly dangers living in your family’s garbage disposal. You’re not gonna believe what we found! (Cue cheesy music and fade to black.)