I think a lot of the time we tend to think of sin in terms of how they hurt others. Depending on the person, they may think about how sin offends God and others may think about how our sins hurt other people. And of course this is true. Many of our sins hurt others and all of our sins are an affront to God.
But too often we overlook how our sins hurt ourselves. Even the sins that hurt others, hurt ourselves. But then there’s a whole class of sins that mostly just hurt ourselves.
I’m an over-weight man. I eat too much. I’m a habitual glutton. There’s no getting around it. And it hurts me constantly. I love backpacking and hiking. I love to sail. I love to ride my road bike around the region. But my ability to do those activities has been limited a bit in the last year because I put on a fair amount of weight. It’s been really disappointing to me because I had lost a lot of weight in the prior couple of years, but now I’ve gained all of it back.
But the specifics of my sins and struggles is not the point I’m trying to make. The bigger point I’m trying to discuss is how our sins enslave us. Every time we give in to them, we have less freedom, less control over our lives.
I think that’s one of the reasons Lent is so important. Lent is an opportunity for us to exercise control over temptations. At some level I don’t think it even matters if the temptations we master during Lent are the ones that most torture us. In fact, I could argue it is best if we don’t try to tackle our most difficult temptations.
Think about it. If you want accomplish something huge, you don’t start with the huge thing. No, that’s a recipe for failure. Instead we have to start small, with something we’re capable of. Then over time we can build up to what we have set our sights on.
So when we give up chocolate or soda for Lent, we’re making a first step towards mastery over our temptations. It may not be a big step, but it is something. And once we’ve built that skill (or re-established that skill), then later we will be more ready to tackle that larger thing in our life.
My overall point, and I’m saying this to myself just as much as to my readers, is don’t give up on mastery of your temptations. If you’ve failed at your larger Lenten disciplines, at your desire to turn your back on the worst of your temptations and bad habits, don’t give up! Perhaps what is needed right now is to return to something simple. Go back to chocolate or soda. Or if even that’s too much, find something even smaller. Something that you think you can stick to for the rest of Lent.
Then, after this Lent, perhaps you’ll be ready to take the next step.