The theme of dying to self and giving up bad habits is a persistent one in the spiritual traditions and certainly in Christianity. The persistence of this theme consequently leads one to wonder if dying to bad habits is not the key of human and Christian wholeness. The journey of life seems to be a journey of letting go and is a quest for transformation. The danger however in our life is that sometimes we do not have the right conception of dying only to our bad habits to an extent that we end up giving up even our good habits. One may rightly ask; what should we give up in our daily life? From the onset, we need to set the foundation that, the concept of giving up habits means that we should give up only our unreconstructed selves. We should give up our compulsive energies, which propel us to keep seeking for wrong things in which we block the advent of true life.
We should give up our addictions, which chastise and lead us to catastrophic situations. Bad addictions keep us busy and often block us towards enlightenment and wholeness. This process of giving up and dying to our bad inclinations works as much in the spiritual arena in which we have to give up our misunderstanding of God. For example, one can crave for money just as one can crave for God in a wrong way. One can use money and in the same way, a person may want to use God and not worship Him. We have to give up even such wrong notions of God. The giving up of our wrong notions usually comes with a sense of defeat. However, defeat is not always negative. At times, a sense of defeat brings freedom and trust in God. Defeat may as well help us to ask questions about what is really meaningful and important in human life. A great theologian, Schillebeeckx understood the reality of defeat well when he said; “failure leads us to question about what is truly valuable in human living, about our desiring, and about the mystery of the person. Failure also leads us to question about where we are going and what we need to let go.” Defeat and giving up can lead us to the rebirth of hope.
The moment we think of giving up our bad habits, fear envelops us and enters into the cycle of human existence. This is the case because we all have things, which please us and give us security and giving up such things that we like, leaves us without security and this is the reason why most of us resist change. We fear the unknown. We fear what life will be like, if we give up the things that we like. However, the truth of the matter is that if we want to succeed in the process of giving up bad habits, we need to trust that we will not collapse if we make movements towards loosening our compulsions.
We need to have the convictions that we will not go into the black hole of insignificance if we give up bad habits like drunkenness, alcoholism, addictions, bad relationships, bad attachments and several other things. In due course, we will come to discover that there is more to life than surrounding ourselves with things, which only seemingly give us security but in true sense give us pain, frustration and sorrow. There is deep within us, a place where the soul resides. And happiness of life consists in surrounding the soul-territory with joy and not with sadness that accrues from bad habits. The joy that gives peace and tranquillity to the soul is a product of giving up and dying to our selfish attachments and addictions. Once we have peace in our soul, we begin to experience a self-esteem that is native to us. This self esteem and peace comes because we become mature in our life to an extent that we no longer get our joy from what the society says about us but from a true conviction of the necessity of what we do and most importantly because of what we are. The process of life is a movement from living ‘a society-controlled-image’ to an image that flows from within the person as a dignified child of God.
This is the reason why we have people who work endlessly; who do not want to retire or to give room to others. Such people are afraid of giving up and letting things go. However, in the cycle of life; a time comes when one realises that he or she no longer has power to remote-control things, a time when one realises that he or she can no longer be the most popular person on earth and that ultimately one will die. After our death, life will go on without us. It is with this realisation that we can begin to act naturally and to have the courage to begin the process of giving up. Death is the final way of giving up and entering a new realm of life altogether. May the Lord bless us as we try to give up our addictions and attachments!
Fr. Charles is a holder of a Master’s in Bioethics