Yesterday a lot of people around the world celebrated Ash Wednesday – the beginning of the 40-day period in the Catholic Church known as Lent. This is the reason why some people you may know are giving up things like candy, or alcohol, or even television until Easter. It’s not that these things are evil in themselves, but Catholics believe that choosing to deny yourself certain earthly attachments is a way to honor God and to teach ourselves discipline in learning how to control our passions and desires.
I say all of that as a way of getting to what I really wanted to talk about, which is the struggle of giving up something you are attached to. Catholic or not, all of us, at some point or another, will be faced with having to give up something we have an unhealthy attachment to.
Take an extreme case of a drug addict. This person may realize they have a problem, hit rock bottom and resolve absolutely to change for good. This time, they think to themselves, I am really going to stop. Nothing is worth this. I will never use drugs again. That is great! Unfortunately though, if no further steps are taken beyond the rock-bottom resolution, this person will likely have a 99.9% chance of using again. This is the ugly face of addiction.
We may not have a substance abuse problem, but all of us have things that are not good for us that we are “addicted” to. It could be a television show, the number of hours we spend on Facebook, certain foods, or even a relationship. If we know something is bad for us and yet we can’t help but continue to do it anyway, then we have an addiction (no shame in admitting it. It is the first step, after all ).
We can make all the resolutions we want, but if that’s all we do, we’re going to be like the drug addict with an extremely high probability of failing. Why? Because it does a person no good simply to promise NOT to do something. There is no action propelling us forward when we make a resolution not to do something; there is only blank space and unoccupied time.
The solution to a bad habit must be to replace it with a good one. That way, we are promising to do something. We are able to focus on action as opposed to inaction. By occupying ourselves with things that build us up into better people, we are free to leave behind those addictions that destroy us.