I’m not a big fan of the word “sin” – maybe it is my weak spiritual stomach or perhaps it is because I have seen so many instances when someone is willing to use the word as a weapon but utterly incapable of applying it personally. Somewhere along the line I was encouraged to think of sin as “living independently of God” and this simple way of seeing has helped me stomach the “s” word. One of the things I love about this definition is that it frees us from unhealthy arguments over things that Christian people have argued about – quite unattractively – for centuries. Pair that with the work of the 12 steps, which is all about focusing on our side of the street and “doing” things in response to what we find clogging up our gutters and we have a combination that I think really helps us make progress in terms of meaningful change.
This doesn’t make sin irrelevant. This too is reflective in mutual aid societies like A.A., where we learn that our “ism” may be a disease but that doesn’t let us off the hook. Disease is not an excuse, merely part of the story.
A part of any transformational story requires us to think about sin. I thought I’d list some words that pop up in conversations about living independently of God: infidelity in all its forms, arrogance, pride, greed, lust, anger, gluttony, envy, laziness, selfishness, disrespect towards self and others, hate, stealing, cheating, and perhaps overarching all of this suffering – failure to live, truly live, our one precious, wild life (paraphrasing Mary Oliver).
I go to all sorts of lengths to NOT deal with my ways of living independently of God in thought, word and deed. It shows up in defensiveness, justifications, blaming others, and more. One way I avoid seeing “sin” is by dodging my own emotions. So if you’re digging around in the foundation of your soul, maybe you could set aside time to consider how you do – or do not – handle your own emotions. I tend to set mine aside, but I have friends who go the opposite direction with almost identical results. They marinate in their emotions, and some tell me that it has been helpful for them to realize that just because they feel something intensely, it doesn’t mean that the intense feeling is the only data point required in choosing what comes next. Things to look for? Self-pity, anger, negativity, resentment, depression and controlling behaviors. Also, look for fear. In our community we often refer to fear as operating by the law of scarcity — living independently of the beliefs that God wants to bless us and that there is enough to go around. In A.A. they talk about this as “self-centered fear of not getting what we want or of losing what we have.”
All these possibilities are tricky to recognize in ourselves, which is why we suggest that transformation is a journey not a destination. This work will be something we commit to even as we eventually realize that how we do the work may shift and morph over time.
What might be part of your transformational work? Who or what do you need to help you make progress?