If you’re anything like me, you struggle with sinful thoughts and behavior on a daily basis. Those with an addiction or some strong habitual sin can especially relate. It is easy to feel depressed or overwhelmed. I spent many years of my life afraid of God because I felt He was either mad or very disappointed in me. Spiritually and emotionally, I crawled through life wondering when the next lightning strike would hit me.
A habitual sin is like a rut in the road in which a wagon wheel easily enters and struggles to leave. In Orthodoxy and scripture, these sins are called “passions,” and are the result of entertaining a thought that may have begun with something seemingly neutral. There’s often a bit of guilty pleasure in entertaining these thoughts.
Mad-Eye Moody frequently shouts the above phrase regarding the need to always be prepared for the onslaught of our mortal enemies. While we do not fear dark wizards and witches, we certainly have a very real enemy that seeks nothing except our destruction. Like the Death Eaters, the demons literally want to isolate and destroy us, and bring down everyone around us.
St Maximos the Confessor writes,
“When you see your intellect is occupied with thoughts of sin, and you do not check it, you may be sure that before very long your body, too, will fall into those sins.”
Both scripture and the writings of the fathers speak of constant vigilance. The Greek word is “nepsis,” which essentially means that we place a guard over our thoughts. It appears in 1st Peter, “Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.” And devour he will.
Advancing in the spiritual life is impossible without monitoring and guarding our thoughts. It is where every sin begins to take root. With the blessing of your father confessor, I would challenge you to take one day in which you ponder the reasons behind your sinful thoughts as they enter into your mind. Ask yourself questions such as, have I placed myself in a situation where I am easily tempted? Why have I allowed this thought into my mind? Why is it that this appeals to me? What is it that I feel I am lacking? Where should I be turning to find fulfillment for that need? This can help identify the root cause driving us to sin.
When a thought of sin, even a hint of it shows up, cast it away through prayer. I believe it was Elder Porphyrios who said we should not attempt to tackle our passions head-on. Rather, we should focus on prayer, such as the Jesus Prayer (Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me), spiritual songs and hymns, and whatever else glorifies God. In fact, those things should be our continual focus. An idle mind is a playground for demons.
ONE MORE TIME
The first sermon Jesus preached is the same sermon of John the Forerunner: Repent!
As mentioned in a previous blog, repentance is turning away from death (sin) towards life (God). The church fathers have said, “the only unforgiven sin is the unconfessed one.” The number of times that we fall down does not matter so much as the number of times we get back up. We should just make certain that in the end we stand back up one more time than we fall.
Man’s wickedness is great. But God’s mercy is greater. Thinking that our sinful life is too great for God’s grace is like thinking that a sand castle can stop a tsunami. God’s love and grace are infinitely greater than our ability to sin. All that is required of us is that we turn to Him one more time.
Always one more time.