Dear Carmelite Sisters, how can I deepen my relationship with God when I am stuck in patterns of sin that I can’t seem to break? I’ve asked this question to several people at different times, but I really can’t seem to figure this out or make any progress. I am really grieved over this. Thank you for your help.
It seems … that your grief over patterns of sin is already the beginning of conversion and spiritual growth. Recall the story of the Prodigal Son in Luke 15:18-19 when the son realizing his sinful situation says, “I will arise and go to my father and I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son; treat me as one of your hired servants.’”
Your question obviously indicates that you have good desires and the fact that you are sincere in yearning to deepen your relationship with God presupposes that you have already established a relationship with Him. Our good desires, however, must include self-knowledge and humility.
Self-knowledge opens to us the reality of the mystery and ugliness of sin as well as to the mystery and beauty of grace. Teresa envisioned the human soul as a castle containing many rooms. Outside the castle there was darkness and fearsome reptiles and creatures trying to impede our way into the castle. The key to the entry of the castle is prayer and reflection.
Once inside we become aware of light emanating from the deepest center, that innermost room, where dwells the Glory of God. However, some of these fearsome creatures manage to squeeze in with us, for they are the temptations, the bad habits, the patterns of sin that accompany us and although the Light continues to stream from the center of the castle, we still experience darkness for that which accompanies us into the castle blocks the light trying to reach us.
There is much work to be done in the first room. We wage a daily battle between the person we wish to be, the person we really are and the person God created us to be. To come to self-knowledge we must be very willing to be honest and this requires humility. What am I really like? How do others see me? Do I spend my time trying to be someone I am not? Do I feel guilty being who I am? How much of the false values of the world around me have I absorbed?
The Prodigal Son was lured away from his loved ones by the false promises of happiness. It wasn’t until he had hit rock-bottom that he realized that he had sacrificed an authentic relationship with himself, with others, and with God for fleeting pleasures. Only when he ran out of money and his “friends” deserted him was he able to see the superficiality of his life.
Each of us needs to identify the vipers and poisonous creatures that block our passageway as we seek to move through the castle into the other rooms seeking the One who waits for us at the Center just as the father of the Prodigal Son, in the center of his home, looked longingly for his son’s return day after day until one day he saw him coming in the distance.
- Can I identify the blockages that hinder my movement forward?:
- What external occupations fill my mind causing me to neglect prayer and reflection?
- Am I addicted to noise (e.g. music, television, radio, etc.)?
- Am I afraid of solitude filling the emptiness within me with busy-ness?
- What patterns of sin do I need to break and what concrete measures am I taking to help myself?
- Do I make use of the sacramental graces provided by frequent confession?
- Have I considered the help of a spiritual director to assist me in breaking the pattern of sin and to aid me in practicing virtue?
What elements in my life am I willing to surrender in order to remain in and be attentive to God’s Presence?
It was only when the Prodigal Son made a firm decision to “arise” and go to his father that he began the journey that would take him to the treasure he had not recognized. As the father waited patiently for his son’s return, so also God is even more patient as we move through the rooms leaving behind us the paltry treasures we have accumulated in order to find the Pearl of Great Price at the center. Are we willing to sell all for this Treasure?
Until next time,
Carmelite Sisters of the Most Sacred Heart of Los Angeles
PS: To learn more about the Carmelite Sisters visit our web site: www.carmelitesistersocd.com and for more information please contact the sisters at firstname.lastname@example.org, or 626-289-1353 Ext. 246, 920 East Alhambra Road, Alhambra, California 91801.
Art for this post on how to get out of patterns of sin: Die Rückkehr des verlorenen Sohns (The Return of the Prodigal Son), Otto Mengelberg, 1848, PD-US author’s life plus 70 years or less, Wikimedia Commons.