I recently learned that a medical condition (that I have suffered from for most of my life) might be greatly improved or even completely healed via a major diet overhaul. Although I may one day be able to reintroduce some foods back into my diet, it is difficult for me to face giving up many of my favorite foods for several months, years, or even forever.
On reflecting and praying about my reluctance and fear about this daunting task, I realized that my personal struggle with my physical health is analogous to the human soul’s struggle with concupiscence and sinfulness. My body has been growing progressively sicker over nearly two decades, with symptoms that none of my previous doctors had been able to explain. But I have been so sick for so long that there were times (usually in between the worst flare ups) that I convinced myself everything was manageable, or even that it was all totally fine and normal. But during the worst flare ups—whose pain or duration I could never anticipate and for which I never had any warning—I would be in so much pain that I could sometimes barely function.
In a similar way, mankind clings to sin. Why do we hesitate to put aside the things that keep us from God? Why is it so hard for us to simply reject our sins and turn to a deeper relationship with our loving Creator? Like me with my medical condition, I think we can become so used to our vices—to how it feels for our souls to be sick from repetitive sins—that we convince ourselves that turning back to God and casting aside our sinful habits is too difficult and would not make us any more joyful or free.
Choosing the healthier or holier life is difficult. Establishing good habits always seems to take more effort than establishing or sliding back into bad ones. Of course, it does not help that temptations abound in the temporal world; inflammatory foods are the easiest and cheapest things at the grocery store and are laced throughout restaurant menus. Likewise with temptations to sin: the ubiquity of screens and social media, which can create barriers to personal relationships and wipe out our daily prayer times; the constant push to place religious devotion with devotion to ‘things’, the pressure to ignore the natural moral order in favor of the self and the self’s pleasures.
Because we are a fallen race, we often seem incapable of rejecting short-term pleasure in favor of long-term gain. I know my health will drastically improve if I permanently remove the inflammation-triggering causes from my life, but somehow the very process—the sacrifice itself and the initial withdrawal I will surely feel as I miss that old diet—seems like too much to bear. How can I ever survive without donuts after Mass sometimes? How can I possibly stop eating cheese? Maybe I can just take a pill instead and keep on living my life how I want to. It’s like this with our vices, too: How can I give up this behavior or this selfishness that is rooted in my heart? I know I should put down my phone and pray, but I’ll do that in five minutes (or thirty, or sixty). There isn’t really any need to change my lifestyle to be a stronger follower of Christ, is there? And besides, wouldn’t my hundreds of Instagram followers miss me if I stop posting photos five times a day?
Entering into a deeper relationship with God demands radical changes of us. I eventually realized that my physical health is also tied to my spiritual health. God gave me this unique body, fearfully and wonderfully made in His own image, and it is my responsibility to care for that gift by treating it well—by seeking to heal it in the ways that are available to me and to which God has slowly led me over the past ten years. If I know that my soul is sick—and that more stuff, more screen time, and more licentiousness are not going to heal me—should I not put my sinfulness or woundedness into the hands of the God who will heal me?
Maybe it will take years for my body to heal. Maybe there are some things that I will never eat again, while others I will be able to tolerate on occasion or even fully reincorporate into my daily diet. But, in physical as well as spiritual health, I won’t ever find out what it feels like to be healed unless I commit to getting rid of the things that are holding me back.