It happens to every penitent who frequently seeks forgiveness in the Sacrament of Penance. We trudge, once more, to the confessional door and upon our entry, lament to the priest that we are once again confessing the same sins. It’s been a week, a month, a year, and it’s the same sins. We are tired of confessing the same sins over and over again with little or no perceived progress. Those of us who write a list down during our examination of conscience, fight the temptation to keep it for next week or the following week’s Confession, since we know the sins will be the same. This would be wrong, however, since we are absolved of those sins and forgiven by Our Lord. Rip that piece of paper up or throw it in the fireplace! Progress in the spiritual life is slow going and it can feel more like back-sliding than steps up the mountain.
One of the great struggles in the spiritual life is coming to understand why we commit certain sins over and over again. There are the theological answers: pride, we are Fallen, we flee from God, we don’t trust in God’s goodness and love, we violate our own nature, weakness, etc. These are all true, but one of the greatest struggles we face as human beings is the reality that we do not truly know or understand ourselves. We are great at self-deception. We do not fully understand our motives. Many of us have been deeply wounded since childhood, which means we’ve developed habitual sins in the face of suffering. A good many of us never make the effort to try to understand why we sin in certain ways.
There are certain sins we tend to commit when we are suffering, hurt, or are under tremendous stress. Psychology is filled with explanations for why some people eat and drink to excess, turn to pornography, lose themselves in video games or social media, watch copious amounts of television, or recklessly spend money. Many of the points made by modern psychology are helpful, but what are some of the spiritual answers for why we engage in these behaviors when we hurt?
Where do some of our sins come from?
One of the biggest reasons we turn to material solutions when we are in pain is because of past, present, or perceived rejection. Some people have spent their entire lives battling rejection. It may be that they were rejected by family, friends, classmates, co-workers, brothers and sisters in Christ, the Church, or others. This rejection has become so deeply imbedded that it is no longer understood by the person on a conscious level. Instead, they just respond with certain sins when rejection rears its ugly head. Yes, in the case of habitual sin, there can be debate as to culpability in certain cases, but that is for another discussion.
Since human beings share the same nature and are united to one another as God’s creatures, rejection violates the very nature of the human person. Human beings are meant to love one another and dwell in communion, but the Fall has ruptured this reality and brought about great dysfunction in the human family. Through the sins of one person, another person is rejected and not given the love they deserve. This pain is especially destructive in the case of abuse and has life-long consequences for the both the victim and the abuser.
This repeated rejection can also mar an individual’s understanding and relationship with God. Since they have been rejected by those closest to them, the wounded individual may come to believe that God will always reject them as well. Rather than resting in the peace and love that can only come from God, many people flee from God. This is especially true when a person commits a sin that results in profound shame. They can convince themselves that they are unforgiveable and the Father of Lies gains a foothold in their lives. It is true that this is a form of pride, but for the individual who suffers from the wound of rejection, there is a great need for healing in order to overcome certain sins and destructive patterns in their relationships with God and others.
Remember that Christ was rejected
First, in confronting rejection, it is helpful to meditate on Our Lord’s rejection. All of the Apostles fled save St. John. Christ was beaten, spat upon, mocked, derided, and given a crown of thorns. The latter was meant to be a crown of shame and mockery, but was really a crown of glory. St. Peter denied Christ three times. He outright rejected Our Lord.
Every single person will experience some form of rejection. Some forms are far more destructive and may need not only spiritual healing, but psychological as well. From the spiritual perspective, in meditating on Christ’s rejection, we can come to realize that the rejection we experience is unjust, but Our Lord knows exactly how we feel. We are not alone in our rejection. In allowing Christ to enter into our rejection with us, we can allow Him to walk beside us. Christ teaches us to persevere in the face of rejection and to forgive those who hurt us. He forgave St. Peter and made him the first pope! It is in this strength given by God that we can begin to heal.
Finding healing in the wounds of Christ
The wound of rejection can be a major driving force in our battle with habitual sin. When we struggle with certain sins and patterns, we must learn to take a step back and pray to God to show us the why of these sins. Why do I binge eat when I hurt? Why do I look at pornography when I am lonely? Why do I go on shopping sprees when I’m at my lowest? Why am I checking out by watching TV, using social media, or playing video games to excess? We cannot hope to overcome these habits if we do not work to understand the root cause. The root may vary from person to person, but in a culture with a loneliness problem, rejection is a major reason for some of these habits and sins.
Once we discover the reason why we commit certain sins, we can turn to Christ for healing. Rejection can be a deep, gaping hole within our souls. It can keep us from living as the person God calls us to be and it can damage our relationships with the people we love the most and others around us. The only way it can be healed is if the Divine Physician is allowed to heal the deepest, most broken places within us. The healing process can be excruciating. We don’t want to have to think about what caused this sense of rejection. We don’t want to re-live abuse, abandonment, loneliness, and pain. It is difficult to walk into the darkest places within us, but we never walk alone.
Christ knows our pain. He seeks to heal us. We must take our woundedness to the foot of the Cross. Look at the wounds of Christ. Mediate upon each wound. Our Lord suffered those wounds for you and for me. We can take our own wounds and unite them to His wounds. We can ask Him to bring us healing by virtue of the wounds He suffered for us.
This is not going to be a quick fix. The spiritual life is a marathon, not a sprint. When the temptation to turn to intemperance, impurity, avarice or other sins strikes—and we know it is coming from a sense of rejection–we must foster the habit of turning to Christ in our woundedness. Yes, the process will be painful at first, but eventually we will develop new habits that will make it easier to battle certain habitual sins born of emotional pain.
We are meant to run to Christ in all of our sorrows and our joys. We cannot do this if we do not confront the root cause of many of our habitual sins. All of us have been rejected at some point in our lives. The question is, for some of us: Is that wound of rejection a driving force behind certain habitual sins we battle daily, weekly, or monthly? Would healing that wound of rejection allow us to gain the strength needed to say “no” when temptation strikes? May Our Lord, by His holy wounds, heal those suffering the wound of rejection.