Endorsing My Sins
Do you talk about your sins?
I think the gut reaction is, “of course not!” At least, that’s what the gut reaction is for me. But my gut reaction…might have been wrong.
I thought that I was fairly clear-cut about sin. Sins were these evil things I wrestled with in the privacy of my own heart and in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Private, tucked away. I would never talk about my sins to others, right?
But then, humility struck (man that pesky litany of humility really does change your life!). This year, I’m guiding children and their families in preparation for First Reconciliation. It’s made me hyperaware about how I view and talk about sin.
As I endeavor to communicate the concept of sin to second graders, I’ve started to notice something. I’m talking about my sins a lot more than I thought.
“This is totally gossiping, but…”
“Take one more picture. I know, I’m vain.”
“Maybe it’s gluttonous, but these chocolates are SO good.”
“I know I shouldn’t be complaining about my husband, but…”
“Oh my goodness, back in college, I used to do [insert all the bad tendencies I had before my recommitment to the faith] all the time!”
Each moment was like a pinprick. Was I really just openly acknowledging my sins and temptations? And, on top of that, was I really basically acknowledging and endorsing them?
What’s the tone?
Let me get this straight: I’m not saying that we shouldn’t ever talk about our sins. There is humility in being able to acknowledge when we’ve fallen short of the glory of God.
Part of what’s so wonderful about the Sacrament of Reconciliation is the ability to admit out loud the brokenness on our hearts. What’s more, within our relationships and communities it is important to be honest about our shortcomings.
But I do think that sometimes we need to ask ourselves: what is the tone that we convey when we’re talking about sin?
When I mention a sin I’m struggling with, is it to ask for advice and to be held accountable? Or is it to laugh about it and normalize it?
When I talk about my sins in the past, is it to reveal the glory of God that has worked through my life? Or is it to glorify all of the “cool” or “interesting” or “rebellious” things I did in the past?
The Devil is constantly working to downplay the impact of our sins. How we talk about our sins can be very revelatory of the work he is doing in this regard. Do we make our sins sound interesting, fun, or just a part of day-to-day life?
What’s more, our sins are places of brokenness. There are places in which we are in desperate need of healing. We don’t go to the doctor celebrating the malignant tumor threatening our lives. We celebrate the doctor who works to heal us, and our efforts to aid the doctor in this task. In the same way, we don’t celebrate the fact we were sinners.
When it comes to the Saints, we obsess over conversion stories. And rightly so! It is incredible to see the grace of God work in everyone’s life, in all lives.
But we need to be careful that our emphasis isn’t on the sinner, as much as the salvation.
Why is St. Paul’s story compelling? It’s because he preached the Gospel all across the Roman Empire, and was an enduring witness to the Faith. There might be a temptation to relish in his dramatic turn from murderer of Christians to evangelizer. But St. Paul underscores what’s most important: “But God proves his love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8) Christ’s victory is the focus, not our sins.
Why is St. Augustine’s story compelling? Because he wrote incredible books that are so foundational to our understanding of our Faith. Yes, his back-story reads like a tabloid. But throughout his Confessions, his finger isn’t pointing at his sin – its God’s work shining through his life. He states in his Confessions: “‘For what am I to myself without You, but a guide to my own downfall?” God is the source of goodness, God our savior is the focus.
Why, on the other hand, do I have students who constantly complain that St. Therese’s story is “boring?” She was an incredible witness to God’s love, and man, she’s a doctor of the Church with her incredible writings on love, simplicity, trust, devotion. Honestly, she needs more attention.
A Change in Phrasing
So, with the inspiration of the Saints, instead of normalizing my sin, I can say:
“There were a lot of bad things I did in college, but Christ worked through the people around me to help me through it.”
“Let me know if it seems like I’m gossiping. I need to work on that.”
“Can I share a struggle I’m having? I want to work through it.
And by sharing this, in the right context, with humility, I pray that God will have the triumph in my life.