I have a tendency for falling in love. Take Cookie Butter, for instance. Just writing the word cookie butter makes the back of my throat ache. We had such a love affair, me and cookie butter. I thought we'd last forever. Alas, cookie butter was the slippery slope that led me into overeating for a whole year. I guess you could say it was a one-sided love affair. I loved Cookie Butter but I didn't love what Cookie Butter did to my hips and thighs. This is my problem, see. I don't just fall in love with things. I fall HEAD OVER HEELS in love with things.
Something sparks my intrigue and suddenly, I'm gripped by the illusion that This New Manifestation of Love is going to be My Everything (it never, never, never is). I've chased everything from friendships to scrapbooking to sewing to margaritas. And also, Cookie Butter.
Still, the only way I can quit my obsession is seeing it for what it is. Then, I don't want it anymore. I mean, I want it. But I don't waaaaaant it. With Cookie Butter, I finally stepped on the scale and Shakira is right: hips don't lie. I broke up with Cookie Butter that very day.
I wonder if this is how sin works, too. As one of the old saints once said: When sin ceases being pleasurable, people stop sinning.
I love this perspective because so often I forget why I sin in the first place: not because I'm a bad, horrible, inherently evil person. I sin because sin is pleasurable. Because sin feels good.
Sin is pleasurable in the way Cookie Butter is pleasurable. It is instant gratification. By contrast, virtue looks like a plate of raw kale.
Which is to say, all the abstract threats of Hell and judgment dim in comparison to the immediate rush of pleasure from a very real, very now sin.
I think this is why parents seek to scare their kids away from sin by talking about how IT WILL RUIN YOUR LIFE FOREVER. We use these hyper-scary threats in an attempt to protect them from certain heartbreak, destroyed health or financial ruin. And, I mean, these scary things are often true. Drugs can ruin your life. Promiscuous sex can permanently damage relationships. Gambling can result in bankruptcy. Overeating can result in ruined health.
But even when we know the right thing to do, why don't we do it? I think it's because shame is not a longterm catalyst for change. We can shame and threaten people but that will only result in possible short term, behavioral modification.
We forget that fear and shame do not effect longterm positive change.
We forget the importance of beauty and inspiration. We forget that falling in love is good--we just need to fall in love with the right things. We forget--or perhaps have never tasted--the true joys of Heaven.
When the joys of Heaven seem far removed, not real and not here--sin only grows in its appeal. When we haven't tasted of Heaven while here on earth--sin is more appetizing.
The key to breaking free of sin is not more self-denial, more shame and more thou shalt-nots but rather an experience of Heaven while here on earth.
Scripture tells us, "Oh taste and see that the Lord is good." Surely, we aren't supposed to wait until we're dead to taste and see! No, tasting and seeing is for the living. It's for us mortals. It's for now.
The prophet Jeremiah says: "Thy words were found and I did eat them and they were to me the joy and rejoicing of my soul."
Once we taste real food--The Word--we no longer crave leftovers. Once we've dined on a home-cooked meal, drive-thru food is suddenly second-best. Once we've tasted and seen that the Lord is good, our desires change. We want Him more than we want our sin.
The key to breaking free from sin is not fasting from pleasure but rather feasting on better pleasure.
And what is the best pleasure?
Jesus, in love poured out for us. Jesus, in the delighted laughter of children. Jesus, in the brilliant colors of a summer sunset. Jesus in the shared community of friends. Jesus very real, very present and very NOW in the Eucharist.
But if I've never tasted that pleasure, if I've never tasted and seen that the Lord is good and if I still believe that I'm a bad, horrible person undeserving of love--then I will always grab comfort from whatever is closest: a fast food restaurant, a local dive bar, online porn, the 24 hr. donut shop, Internet gambling, compulsive shopping, casual sex...
Sin will always hold allure as long as I live from a place of scarcity. Sin will always grip me in its vice-hold when I have never "tasted and seen" that the Lord is good.
It's only when I am captured by a more beautiful vision and filled with the true food from Heaven that I will easily lay aside my cheap thrills and comforts.
It's only when I've been fully sated by the love of Jesus that I will desire nothing else but more of Him.