Image by Nheyob, CC BY-SA 3.0, from Wikimedia Commons
By Amber Kinloch (with gratitude to Rose Leigh and Vir Christi for their thoughtful feedback)
Lust is a brutal sin to combat. Once yielded to, it has a way of seizing hold of us and sinking in deep roots. At times, the struggle against it can seem overwhelming.
There is good news, though: there are many practical steps we can take to say “No!” to this sin and “Yes!” to God. Consider the following.
Begin with Prayer and the Sacraments
If we’re going to combat this sin, we need to pray, i.e., talk with and listen to God. I know that sounds obvious, but too often we think, “I got this.” No! We do not have what it takes. If we did, we wouldn’t be falling into sin in the first place. We need God. Period. Without Him, we will have no desire, no motivation, much less any strength for the fight.
Schedule regular periods of prayer throughout the day and abide by them. Pray on the go and especially when tempted. Go to Mass and Confession often and devoutly. Take advantage of every channel of grace God offers. We need these.
Establish Clear Boundaries for Yourself
In one sense, it’s easy enough to ask for God’s forgiveness. But what steps are you going to take to show you’re truly contrite? How are you going to avoid near occasions of sin?
Don’t avoid or ignore the issue. Be honest. What leads you into this sin? Where do you commit it? When? With whom? Why?
Do you view pornography on your phone or computer? Block inappropriate sites and use technology only in a public setting where others can see your screen. If you view it at night or in the early morning, see that you are busy at those hours.
Do so-called “friends” lead you into sin? Cut off your relationships with them. Do you find yourself habitually tempted towards lust when you go out on dates? Take a break from the dating scene for the sake of yourself and others. Are movies, books, and other forms of entertainment a problem? Expel them from your life.
Realize that you might not be able to handle things that others can. Something that’s a near occasion of sin for a young person might pose no problem for a mature adult. Similarly, men and women are not tempted in the same ways. Identify the boundary lines for yourself and resist the temptation to compare yourself to others and to worry about what they might say. It is not a weakness to say, “I can’t watch this movie that everyone else is viewing.” It is a strength.
Seek Help and Guidance
The shame associated with the sin of lust tends to isolate us from others. Pornography is viewed anonymously from a phone or computer. Reading material is kept hidden away. Immoral sex takes place in a bedroom or some dark corner of a night club. People cut themselves off from family and friends who express disapproval of their sinful lifestyle or their relationships.
Chastity, by contrast, is lived out in the light. We are not afraid of someone coming along and looking at our computer screen. We read books and magazines in the open, and eagerly tell others about that date we went out on the other night. Weddings are celebrated publicly before family and friends.
Resist the temptation to isolate yourself from others or to think you’re the only one actively fighting to root this sin out of your life. You are not. There are lots of other people around you who are struggling to overcome this sin. Think of them when you’re tempted and offer up your suffering for them.
Likewise, pray for and search for someone to confide in, seek guidance from, and be accountable to if needed. A priest whom you regularly go to Confession with is a natural choice. Simply saying aloud, “Father, I’m struggling with ___. What do you advise?” can lift an immense burden from your soul. If you are married or dating, enlist your spouse or partner’s help. A close friend or mentor figure can also assist you. They can offer you daily “in the moment” support that a priest typically can’t. Online courses, counseling, and programs that monitor your browsing history might prove of benefit too.
And of course we have the saints, most especially Mary and Joseph, the perfect models of chastity. St. Maria Goretti is another natural choice. How about a saint who has struggled to be chaste, like St. Ignatius of Loyola, St. Augustine, St. Mary of Egypt, or St. Mary Magdalene? Let their stories of conversion inspire you and give you strength.
Don’t forget about your Guardian Angel! You have no more faithful companion. Ask him to help you be on your guard and to aid you when you’re tempted.
Nurture Yourself with True Beauty
Lust warps our view of the human person. It erodes our ability to appreciate the beauty and dignity of the whole human person. Instead of seeing someone, we see something (their body). Combating lust, therefore, involves retraining ourselves to perceive true beauty. How?
Spending time outside in nature is a good start. Go for a walk alone, sans any technology, and absorb all that’s present around you. Feel the breeze and the sunshine on your face. Listen to the brook gurgling in the woods. See the depth of blue in the sky above. Smell the smoke from a neighbor’s evening fire.
Take time to appreciate artwork, especially religious pieces. Listen to beautiful music. Watch good movies. Read and meditate on the dignity of the human person. It’s not enough to expel evil things from your heart. You need to fill the hollow space left behind with the true, the good, and the beautiful. You need, in short, to fill it with God.
Likewise, we can learn to see the beauty in others by seeking to go outside of ourselves in our interactions with them. Spend time with people of both sexes in non-romantic contexts. Listen more than you speak. Actively look for ways to serve your neighbors. See other people’s souls and their dignity first and foremost.
Train Your Body in Positive Ways
The human creature is a union of body and soul. Therefore, sin affects not only our souls, but also our bodies. Lust, in particular, manifests this connection in a clear way. That’s the bad news. The good news is that we can fight lust by using our bodies in positive ways.
One thing we can do is fast. Denying ourselves food and drink will build up a spirit of discipline in us and make it easier to resist immoral sexual desires. Likewise, fasting can make us more alert mentally once we get past the initial pangs of hunger and the drowsiness a lack of food tends to induce.
Another suggestion: exercise. Go for a walk, run, or bike ride. Lift weights. Play a sport. Push yourself, even if it’s just a little. You build up discipline and, as I’ve discovered, come to find pleasure in moving your body.
Never Give Up
Sin is not rooted out of our lives overnight. We will struggle. At times, the battle will be intense and we might stumble.
Brace yourself. Do not stop fighting. A half-step forward is still progress. And if you fall, get up and keep moving, learning from what happened.
Take heart from the words of Michelle Duppong, a FOCUS missionary being considered for sainthood: “You were made to be a saint. Do you believe that? Do you think you can do it? I want to remind you that there’s no doubt in God’s mind that you CAN do it!”
Amber writes from the bunker of her living room. There she hunkers down with her laptop and a blanket while keeping an eye and ear tuned in to the activity of family life. Music set on loop keeps her energy flowing as she muses on the deeper happenings of ordinary life and what food to restock the fridge with.
Wow, this is excellent, Amber (& consulting friends.) Thank you. I am sure I will use this in my ministry. God Bless you. Deacon Tom
Cold showers as a form of mortification help a lot. The only problem is that it may be difficult to sustain that and it may be that health problems associated with frequent exposure to cold water will occur.
I read a Catholic book that said that it was necessary to distrust oneself to begin to grow in virtue. I combined this apparent truth with Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and came up with the self-talk sentence (worthy of repetition) of “I distrust myself,” and I have had a great deal of success with regards to being chaste. It is likely very helpful to add to the preceding, “I trust in God alone.”
I speculate that a spiritual trust in oneself is how we resist grace. I have even managed to on at least one occasion to cause myself to “automatically” avoid a remote occasion of immodesty (e.g. sinful glances) with the above self-talk method.
An excellent article, Amber, with many wonderful suggestions and not a wasted word! I would add: many, many prayers to St. Michael the Archangel in times of temptation. Satan likes to attack our weak spots and he goes after those souls that are valued by God. Keep up your good work.
50 years dirty, 14 year fight, 1 year free. Yes prayer & sacraments. All your suggestions are good. I would add a suggestion I read, if the temptation is from a demon the prayer (Precious Blood of Jesus Wash Over Me) will make it go away so fast you may laugh out loud, I did!