Some people get discouraged in their spiritual lives because once they have confessed their sins, they fall into the same pattern not long after. So, what to do?
Don’t get discouraged. Discouragement is one of the tools of the Devil, who delights when we give up and give in to what we know isn’t good for us. God is patient, and His mercy endures forever, so when we fall and no matter how often, we are always given a chance for a new beginning.
Remember that God never tempts us. Instead, it is our desires that can lead us astray (James 1:13). God always gives us the grace necessary not to sin. We don’t always cooperate with His grace because we’re not quite willing or ready to “cut off our hands” or “pluck out our eyes.” Overcoming sin sometimes demands dramatic changes in our lives, and we need to be willing to make them.
So, a few thoughts:
Habitual sins are just that—habits.
They consist of cues, routines and rewards. For example, a person who drinks too much might have a habit of downing a six-pack during every hockey game. Cue: hockey game is on. Routine: open a sixer. Reward: get buzzed (or drunk).
To change a habit, we need to recognize the patterns in our lives and either avoid the cue (near occasion of sin), modify the routine, or seek a different reward.
What I might tell someone in this situation is: “You know that there are going to be more hockey games in your future and the desire to drink will be there, so what are you going to do differently the next time you feel the craving?”
Maybe the person will avoid the cue of watching the games with his buddies for a while, or drink only water or bring a non-alcoholic beverage to watch the game so that the routine is interrupted. He could also seek a different reward of losing weight, feeling good in the morning, etc. Drinking a six-pack is no longer attractive because it is an obstacle to the reward.
We need to ask for the grace to despise sin.
Psalm 97 says, “You who love the Lord, hate evil.” Another translation reads, “The Lord loves those who despise sin.” Sometimes we tolerate sins in our lives, almost like they are like a dessert that we are depriving ourselves of instead of seeing them for the toxic things that they are.
It’s all about the grace, no trouble.
Sometimes the Lord allows us to wrestle with sin so that we don’t become self-righteous or think that we don’t need God’s grace in our lives. St. Paul famously said, “what I want to do I do not do. But what I hate I do”(Romans 7:15). Humility is the starting place of holiness. Whether we are struggling with sin and asking for forgiveness, or currently thankful for being free from sin, it’s all God’s grace at work within us.
Frequent confession holds us accountable and gives us access to the grace to begin again, to realize that God’s love—not our sin— defines us. It enables us to continue the life-long journey of changing our habits from vice to virtue and purifying our hearts until they love as God loves.