You're likely a pretty good person. You go about your life doing the right thing every day. You have responsibilities to your wife and your family, and you do them admirably. You're an above average husband and a dedicated father. This is the image the that World sees, and it's the one that you hope you're presenting. Your interior life, your spiritual life, is probably somewhere around average, though it does have one thing weighing it down. It's a common struggle that we all share. We have a vice, a singular sin is holding us back, but we can't seem to shake it. I call it our "principal sin."
We've grown pretty comfortable with sin. It's almost as if we have a certain level of tolerance for it and as long as we're within that tolerance, we let things slide. We accept a certain level of uncharity, a certain level of laziness in our prayer life, and a certain level of whatever else our particular character deems ok. We're comfortable, and it's incredibly dangerous. Sin presents a real and present danger in your life. Small sin takes root, grabs hold of you, and branches out. Realistically, we will all have some sin in our lives as perfection isn't possible in this life. Yet, our goal needs to be getting our sin portfolio, if you will, to contain only the smallest and innocuous sins imaginable. Don't let sin ruin you.
This path to perfection, wherein we remove serious sins from our portfolio, is a lifelong journey. We're talking about changing thoughts, attitudes, and behaviors that we may have had for decades. The time required is intensive because it requires our sole focus. You simply can’t take on all of your sin at the same time. Instead, you have to focus on one at a time, a process that may take months. Yet, it's focus that'll win this battle. It's focus and attention that will get you to a place that you didn't think was possible.
There's something incredibly freeing about living the life that you've always wanted. A life free of the burden of temptation towards your principal sin. Surely, as you work through this process, the name of your principal sin will change, but the importance of rooting it out of your life is unchanging. Your life is significantly impacted by your current principal sin in ways that you can't recognize, because you've been stuck for so long. It takes courage to challenge something you may now consider to be unbeatable. It takes tremendous courage if you've been entrenched for years.
We all loathe the habitual nature of our principal sin. In the back of our minds in the Confession line, the thought creeps up that we can't beat it. We're frustrated that we're back in this line, for the same reason. It makes us feel weak. It makes us feel powerless. Yet, when we start beating back our principal sin, we get a glimpse into the true power of God. When we cooperate with His power, doing something that's His Will, things happen.
The truth is, we aren't fond of our principal sin, but there is something alluring about it still. While we're trapped, we also acknowledge that it isn't worth it. Why run the slightest risk of losing what you've got? Why run the slightest risk of missing out on a life of happiness?
The question becomes, where do I start? In the vast array of our spiritual life, how do we know where to start chipping away? Identify the habitual sins that you commit, and from that list, identify the most serious. Serious is a relative term, because you could be trapped in sin that right now is incredibly destructive, or you could be trapped in a gateway sin that, based on your personality or history, is a fast track to destructive sin. Once you've identified the most serious, you've found your principal sin. Understand everything about that sin. Why do you do it? What are your triggers? How did it start? Why does it continue? Do other people face it? How have they been successful? Ask these questions and more. Then, devise a plan, build in accountability, and focus. Track the number of days that you've been able to beat it. Pray constantly and specifically. Go to Daily Mass or stop by Adoration. Go crazy attacking, beating it down, and cooperating with God's power.
After some wins and losses, some victories and setbacks, with enough grit and determination, you'll beat your principal sin. You'll finally know freedom and have the strength of character, self control, and depth of interior life to keep it subdued. Then, it's time to identify your new principal sin.
Beating sin in your life is a lifelong process, one filled with difficulty, joy, sadness, and awe at God's willingness to be so active in your life. And yet, it's the lifelong process of a saint.