I used to worry deeply about my weakness and inability to stop sinning.
This was especially true in my teenage years, when my family left the United Methodist Church for the evangelical Assembly of God, where there was a huge emphasis on sin. We were constantly reminded of the need to give our lives to Christ and be born again so we could leave our sinful ways in the past.
But it didn't work. No matter how many times I recommitted myself, within days, hours or even minutes, my holiness was gone, it seemed. For a while, I couldn't decide whether I had done it wrong — did I not mean it enough or did I say the wrong prayer? why didn't it take? — or whether I was such a terrible sinner that I could just never be made pure. Eventually, I decided it was the latter, but regardless, I knew it was hellfire and brimstone waiting for me eventually.
These thoughts were not helped at all by the new "prosperity gospel" that was just becoming popular then, which says God rewards the faithful in this life with earthly treasure, of which I had none.
It also didn't help that there were times when I could sin and not even know it, such as when some of the people in our church decided roller-skating was a sin because it was too close to dancing. Good Lord, I had recommitted myself on Sunday and then went roller-skating on Wednesday, only to learn the next Sunday that it was moral failure! I was clearly incorrigible.
When I was considering becoming Catholic — and knew little about the Catholic Church aside from stereotypes — it seemed like it would be a perfect fit: If "Catholic guilt" was a real thing, I already had the guilt part mastered.
But somewhere in the process, I realized it — the church, Christ, faith, the whole thing — wasn't about sin at all. It was about the forgiveness.
Eventually, I learned that God had made me — all of us — weak. We were born to sin. We cannot live sinless lives because it is not in our nature. Only two humans have ever done it; one required divine intervention and the other was himself divine.
And not only did God make me weak, but he did it on purpose. He could have made me sinless, or he could have made be able to stop sinning. But he chose not to. Deliberately.
As one priest explained in a homily, God made us weak so we would depend on him. He did it so we would turn to him and find our strength there instead of trying to find it within ourselves.
That gave me great comfort, but I didn't really understand it. Then I had children.
Especially when they were infants, they were helpless. They could not feed themselves. They would soil themselves and not be able to clean it up and didn't even know they should. But they were supposed to be that way. They were babies. They were not racked with guilt over their weakness. It wasn't a sign of their failures. And when they depended on me for their every need? That was what made me a father.
Even better was when they got older and more independent. There were times when they would try things I knew they could not do, and I would have to either step in or sit and watch while they learned they could not do it and then turn to me for help. Suddenly, I was their father not just out of necessity, but by their choice.
And suddenly, my weakness made more sense.
Just as my children cannot stop striving for more independence and more abilities, I cannot stop trying not to sin. But the more independent my children become, they also seem to recognize that it is because of the strength and abilities I've given them over the years. And their independence doesn't lead them away from me, it brings them closer, and it means more because it is by their choice.
I am still weak, and I won't stop sinning. But I won't stop trying, and I have a new perspective on my guilt. Yeah, I screwed up again, but that is why Christ came to Earth. That's why we're here: so we can be forgiven.
And instead of looking at my life as one of constantly failing, I now look at it as a life gifted beyond measure because God is constantly forgiving me. It's not about me and my sin; it's about God and his forgiveness.
And when my kids had me take them to a roller-skating party with their friends from school? All three of us put on skates and rolled like we hadn't a care in the world.
Remember, links, tips and accounts of the response to any crisis anywhere in the world are always welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Like what you're reading? Sign up for GSR e-newsletters!