How To Handle Habitual Sin
Not long ago, we decided it was time for our son to completely give up his pacifier. It was time. Since then, though, he has occasionally found one tucked behind a couch cushion or dropped and forgotten under the crib in the nursery. A couple of weeks ago, I caught him with one in his mouth. When he realized I had seen him with it, he took one long deep suck on it, knowing he would soon have to forfeit it. One last hit. I had to laugh at my little addict.
And then I saw myself in him.
Hiding from the kids, checking Twitter. Lingering too long in front of my computer. Obsessively checking for Facebook notifications. A little escape when I feel desperate. A little hit of approval.
Conviction set in, though not for the first time. I've known this was a problem for a while. I’ve wanted to change, but I’ve found myself saying with Paul, “I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing that I hate…I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out” (Romans 7:15b &18). I haven’t been able to pull myself up by my bootstraps on this one.
Oh, I've set boundaries. Bible first! Only during naptime! Phone on the counter! Computer closed, Bible on top of it! Once a day! Only!
I've done "tech free" days and Twitter fasts. I've deleted the social media apps from my phone and put a "Be Present" wallpaper on the lock screen.
Every time I've tried to change, I've failed miserably. I've felt discouraged and confused and tired of trying.
Thing is, all my outward actions have done nothing to combat the inward heart issues that are perpetuating the outward behavior. Even though I've recognized this sin as a problem, there's a part of me that still enjoys it at its root. I desire comfort and control in my often chaotic circumstances. I long for the approval of other people, what the Bible calls “fear of man.”
I've been skipping a step in the process of repentance. The Lord has changed my mind about my sin. I know it's a problem. I want to change. Even so, I haven't addressed the sin that underlies my behavior. I haven't dealt with my heart.
In the end, all of the external changes I've attempted haven’t stuck because the desires that were driving my sin are still there. For my actions to change, my heart has to change.
I'm sure I will make some boundaries for myself around my internet usage and find practical ways to flee temptation. But for those attempts to be successful or meaningful, I need to engage my heart. So this time, I'm starting here:
C.S. Lewis likened flirting with sin to a child playing in the mud when he could have a holiday at the sea. He concluded that "we are far too easily pleased." I've been too easily pleased with momentary comforts and the praise of people. In order to put my sin to death, I must seek new and better pleasures in Christ. I must cultivate a love for Him that outweighs my love of comfort and approval. And I must believe that He is better than anything the world offers me.
Attacking the sin at its root.
I find myself going to the internet when my circumstances are difficult or out of control, rather than casting my cares upon the Lord. I go to social media for approval because I enjoy other people's praise. If I don't deal with these roots of sin, my repentance will be incomplete. Even if my behavior changed (and I doubt that it would), it would be worthless.
Asking for God's help.
I'm humbled to think how little I've submitted this area of my life to God in prayer. I know all too well that I can't change my own heart. When my thoughts and emotions drift toward anxiety or a desire for approval, I need to repent and throw myself before the throne of grace. I need to ask the Holy Spirit to help me hate my sin. 2 Corinthians 10:13 promises that God is faithful as we face temptation, providing a way out. I need to call upon that faithfulness continually. The only way I know to do that is to be constant in prayer (Romans 12:12).
I expect this to be a long process for me. Habitual sin requires habitual repentance. Thankfully, the Lord is not in the habit of allowing his children to pacify themselves with lesser pleasures. He faithfully pours out his refining and transformative grace upon us, until we are satisfied only in Him.