Lent Reflection day 17
Some years ago, a young woman came to my office who was drowning in debt. We looked at the situation. She had multiple credit cards with balances, and she was struggling just to pay the minimums. I told her to stop. I suggested she put all of her money into the card with the highest interest rate. All of it. No eating out, no new shoes, pay everything with cash. And get ready to get complaints from the other creditors. Within six months, she had paid off the worst one. OK, I told her, on to the next. Within a couple of years, she was debt free, one foe at a time.
This illustrates a truth of the spiritual life. If we try to attack all of our foes, all of our sins, at the same time, we will fail. There are too many. The better plan, which is the only plan that will be successful, is to single out one of our sins for concentrated attention. Then, all effort must be put on the goal of overcoming that one sin. Now it’s certainly not the case that we treat this exactly the same as the credit card illustration – we don’t totally neglect our other sins when we’re assailing one of them with our best efforts. We can’t say: I had a great time of prayer this morning, so I’ve earned the right to be judgmental throughout the day. However, the singling out of one sin for our concentrated efforts is a good Lenten practice, and this is the subject of Unseen Warfare’s seventeenth chapter (which I will quote in its entirety):
It would be very useful for you, my brother, to know well the order in which you should fight your passions, so as to do this work as it should be done, instead of simply haphazardly, as some people do, without great success, and at times even with harm to themselves. The order in which it is necessary to fight your enemies and struggle with your bad desires and passions is the following: enter with attention into the heart and examine carefully with what thoughts, dispositions and passionate attachments it is specially occupied, and which passion is most predominant and tyrannically rules there. Then against this passion first of all take up arms and struggle to overcome it. On this one concentrate all your attention and care, except only at the times when some other passion happens to arise in you. In that case you should deal with this one without delay and drive it away, after which you must once more turn your weapons against your chief passion, which constantly manifests its presence and power. For as in every kind of warfare, so in our unseen battle, we must fight first what is actually attacking us at the present moment.
The word “passion” bears some need of explanation. In the writings of the church fathers, “passion” describes a sinful habit. So when Unseen Warfare says which passion most predominant and tyrannically rules in our hearts, it can also be said, which sinful habit most predominant and tyrannically rules in our hearts. To the church fathers, a passion is a sin that has become such a cherished part of our lives that the demons no longer need to tempt us toward this sin, but we gladly and without hesitation practice it.
What passions rule over you, and which one is the most tyrannical? Lent is the perfect time to concentrate all your energies toward overcoming it, and proclaiming freedom from slavery to it.
Today we come to the seventeenth day of our Lenten journey, brothers and sisters. The practicality of Unseen Warfare gives us much to consider as we prepare our hearts for the celebration of the resurrection of our Lord.