A New Diagnosis of my Root Sin…
I was back in my home state and surprised to get the call. I couldn’t imagine what it would be about. I was in the Texas emergency room one week earlier after air travel triggered debilitating imbalance so severe that I couldn’t even walk on my own. The doctor discovered something in the x-ray of my brain when I was in the emergency room. “You need a more in-depth review of this situation” she said. So, I began the long and incredibly stressful journey to learn about the out-of-place stuff in the middle of my head.
This sounds like a traumatic event, and it was. But, after suffering from inexplicable symptoms for so many years, it brought me a measure of relief. If we could determine the root cause of my suffering, there was at least some hope of a remedy. So, though some would see news like this as tragic, for me it was a blessing, the beginning of healing.
Parallel with the basic elements of this experience, I recently had a revelation about my root sin. Years prior, I had, with my spiritual director, diagnosed it as sensuality. This was primarily due to specific struggles or symptoms I was experiencing because of severe health challenges. At that time, most of my battle with sin had some connection to my physical suffering. Constant pain and other symptoms revealed much in me that was far less than Christ-like. By God’s mercy, the pain and other suffering has decreased dramatically and I have moved back into a more tolerable state of health.
Since that time I ended up working on a project with a holy and insightful priest. One day during a personal conversation I revealed my root sin to him and he replied, “I would have never guessed that sensuality is your root sin.” I was surprised because he had come to know me very well. I asked him, with some measure of discomfort, “How would you diagnose my root sin? “Pride” he said. My heart sank. “Pride” I thought, “this is an ugly sin.” “This can’t be my sin.” “I am far too reasonable and open to feedback.” “I am far too aware of my own sin and spiritual frailty.” I smiled at the foolishness of my reaction and I suspected that he was right.
So, I went back the the drawing board. I decided to dig in to see if he was right. I talked to my spiritual director and then I went back over the symptoms of each of the root sins. For about a week I took notes every time I acted in a manner that did not seem in keeping with the fruits of the Holy Spirit (love, joy, peace, patience, etc.). As you might guess, to my dismay, I discovered he was right.
Though this was a painful discovery, it was also a powerful one. My root sin had not changed, but circumstances forced me to focus elsewhere for a time. This was not a bad thing in any way. The pursuit of holiness, even in this sideways manner, is always good. I was able to overcome, by God’s help, some behavior patterns that should not have been present in me, even when suffering. Now, I had to reboot my perspective, rework my program of life, and dig in again.
Sometimes we misdiagnose our root sins based on delusion and sometimes because of circumstances. In my case, being painfully honest, it was both. It was easy to focus on sins related to my illness, but, I also did not want to believe that my root sin was pride. In fact, I took some pride in my ability to overcome my illness in the way had! My struggles and ability to overcome challenges in this area seemed far more noble than a battle against other sins (pride, pride, pride). Interestingly enough, pride was the initial diagnosis of my first spiritual director. I rejected that diagnosis for many reasons. In summary, I was simply deluded and distracted.
The good news is that we don’t have to obsess over whether or not we have achieved a perfect diagnosis of our root sin. What we need to do is make an approximate determination and aggressively move forward in the battle against anything that keeps us from fully loving and serving God and neighbor. It is a painful and inexact process. However, the Holy Spirit will, in due time, always reveal what we need to know and when we need to know it as long as we seek and are open his leading.
As Saint Paul said in his letter to the Philippians, “I am confident that He who began a good work in you, will be faithful to complete it until the day of Jesus Christ.”
Blessings to you and yours from the halls of the interior castle,
Art for this post on a new diagnosis of my root sin: Detail of Saint-Cloud, Eugène Atget, 1924, author’s life plus 80 years or less, Wikimedia Commons.