I am a man of many sins. But a couple of my most serious flaws in life have been an overindulgence in drugs (coffee, yes, but especially alcohol and tobacco, and in my youth, even hard drugs); and a tendency to view women instrumentally (that is as instruments to be used to fulfill my own desires, rather than as human beings in their own right).
Of both sins I am still guilty. Though I am happy to say it is much, much less severe than it used to be, on both counts. Still, I have a long, long way to go towards healing myself when it comes to undoing the damage I did to the integrity of my own soul. And I still have tendencies to worsen the damage now and again, even though I now know better.
It’s a truism that the sins we hate most in ourselves are the same ones that irritate us so greatly in others. When I hate the presumptuousness of another person, it’s often because I am somehow being presumptuous myself (and I can see clearly the other person’s presumptuousness, but consider my own thoughts and opinions to be totally clear-headed and objectively true). When the nitpicking of another irritates me, I’m usually nitpicking by even noticing it. Usually they aren’t even being that bad!
So it’s eye-opening for me to spend time around someone who has my same weaknesses (drink, and not women but “girls”) and who seems to have completely given up trying to fight them.
[Incidentally there is a sort of bon-vivant way that many people portray this kind of embrace of sin. I certainly fell for it, and was very good at propagating it. A cheery sort of wallowing that proclaims (loudly, so all can hear) that this is living. It is, of course, just a way to drown out the pit-of-the-stomach sensation of emptiness and desperation. (Or at least, with me it was.)]
I’ve recently ended up spending extended amounts of time (because of extenuating circumstances, not by choice) with a man who loves to drink, to smoke, and to talk about prostitutes and cheap women.
Did I say “love”? I take it back. He clearly has forfeited all choice and indeed all love when it comes to drinking, smoking, and “girls.” They are compulsions. He needs them, but he no longer seems to even enjoy them. (I’ve seen only the compulsive smoking and drinking. Thank god I haven’t had to witness any purchasing of sex … only have been made to grit my teeth through his excruciating “flirtation” with whatever females are before him.
It’s instructional for someone like me. I realize this sounds hopelessly condescending, and I must remind myself that it is not for me to sit in judgment of this other man’s soul. Nevertheless, I’d be a fool not to contemplate the natural disgust and revulsion I have for this rag-souled person, this pathetic “bon vivant” with the empty eyes of a pack-less hyena.
It’s like my own sins are a book I have been trying to read… I wrote the book myself, and in my horrible chicken scratch handwriting, and the lights are low, and my vision is blurry. I can’t quite seem to make out what the words say.
Then someone comes along and puts the text into neat print, feeds it into a projector, and blasts it right across the wall for all to see in bold letters.
It’s not something to be grateful for, in the usual sense of that word. But it is something to be taken advantage of. Rather than dwelling on this other man’s weakness, rather than muttering contempt behind his back to other people (who I am sure agree with me), I can look calmly at his manifest blackness and see the corresponding blackness in my own heart. I can let it spur me to greater love, greater discipline, and greater contemplation.