By Marie C. Celano, LCPC, Director of Grace Counseling
“Change is good yea, but it’s not easy” – Rafiki, The Lion King
When we think of “habitual sin,” we often think of addiction. We see the addiction or habit itself as the problem. But what we don’t recognize is that we use addiction or habit to solve another problem that we might not be aware of… In other words, we use it to cope.
On Sunday, Mitchel and Dave talked about how our past impacts us today and how our habitual sins (coping mechanisms) come from that. What might some of those things be in your life?
Many women I talk to have trouble being honest with others. They worry that what they say will hurt someone’s feelings. So instead, they get angry at themselves for not being forgiving enough, tolerant enough, etc. But what happens to her marriage or her parenting when she needs to speak up and call someone out on their behavior? She can’t. It’s a trigger as Dave said, something from the past. Perhaps in her family of origin no one actually talked about hard things. Instead it was swept under the rug. Or like my family, they talked “about” each other not “to” each other. We didn’t learn to talk directly, because when we did there were consequences. Staying silent helped us cope.
Or maybe you grew up in a family where when you did something wrong, even typical childish behavior, you were punished or shamed. What happens now that you’re a parent? Do you yell at your kids and demand obedience? Or do you overlook all of their behavior because you don’t want them to feel the way you did as a kid? This is how you have coped.
So the question is, why do we keep going back to these behaviors that make us feel stuck; the things we swear we will stop doing? Yes, they have reduced pain and helped us to cope. We turn to silence, avoidance, alcohol, binge eating, porn, [fill in the blank with your sin] for comfort. But ultimately that cure wears off and we’re left with a lot of self-contempt. And we know that contempt leads to shame (see my previous blog on shame).
In his book “Unwanted,” Jay Stringer says that perhaps self-contempt is not just the result of our habitual sin but the aim of it. When we experience trauma, criticism, or harshness in our early relationships, we will often recreate dysfunctional patterns relating to our present-day relationships that mirror unresolved issues from the past. In other words, we recreate dysfunctional patterns of relating whether or not they prove successful or healthy.
This is where we need to take a moral inventory of our lives. You might say you’ve already done that… but I would ask, with what lens? Do you take a moral inventory of your life to accuse and find sin? Or is your investigation filled with grace and kindness? We need to break the bond we have to judgment and contempt. Instead, imagine Christ beside you as your friend helping you to look at your life; He’s holding your hand. He’s not trying to find fault or blame; He wants to show you a better way.
And as we start this internal work and start understanding where our habitual sins originate, we may start getting a glimpse of freedom from sin that is promised to us through the blood of Christ.
The work is challenging, and for many it will require accountability and community. If you’re struggling with unhealthy habits or an addiction, there is hope for you… please reach out. (firstname.lastname@example.org is always a good place to start)