So the New Year has long been underway. How are your resolutions panning out? You mean you’re not completely different from the “you” of December 31, 2013? What!? What happened? Something must have gone terribly wrong.
Well, not really. True transformation rarely happens in a day, or a month, or sometimes even a year. Why? Because it is painful. Even if we desperately want it, we unconsciously avoid the cost. While certain holy choices come naturally to us and flow with ease, others seem as difficult as lifting up the hind quarters of a sitting elephant.
Oh, so you’re not completely deterred? You’d still like to make some headway into holiness this year? Great!
Before we begin, here are just a couple tips. Don’t go after all your bad habits at once. This could cause you to go postal. And note that we tend make unholy choices in the areas of our souls where we’ve sinned, been wounded, or our character is weak.
Are you ready? Now apply these 6 steps to personal transformation:
We can’t change what we’re not aware of. Ask God to reveal your less than holy traits and behaviors. We are often blind to some of our ways, until another person, or God, points them out. Pray and ask the Lord to show you one thing, that sin or bad habit, which He’d like you to work on.
A movement of the heart to desire holiness, which always involves change, must be present. If you do not have any desire to change something you know you should, pray for that desire.
The heart must feel sorrow and contrition—or at least enough frustration, discouragement, pain, or fear in order to effect transformation. Allow your feelings to surface.
In the Sacrament of Reconciliation, not only are we forgiven for every transgression or sin of omission confessed, but we receive strength and healing in our weakness, and our character defects lessen. When we confess to a priest, we are absolved by Jesus Himself, and we receive a waterfall of grace, the spiritual help need to truly transform. Without this heavenly gift, change is much more difficult.
Transforming sin into success, vice into virtue, is more than just a matter of the will. When we confess bad habits and earnestly seek to turn away from them, a void is left within the soul where sin had taken up its residence. Ask the Holy Spirit to fill the space within you and work actively to replace any sinful tendencies with holy ones. It is dangerous to leave your soul empty—devoid of prayer, the sacraments, good habits, and good works.
As Jesus said: “When an unclean spirit goes out of a person it roams through arid regions searching for rest but finds none. Then it says, ‘I will return to my home from which I came.’ But upon returning, it finds it empty, swept clean, and put in order. Then it goes and brings back with itself seven other spirits more evil than itself, and they move in and dwell there; and the last condition of that person is worse than the first.” — Matthew 12:43-45a
It takes a few weeks for a new habit to become part of us and “stick.” Prayerful effort in replacing bad habits with good ones and getting up again after we fall are key. Slow and steady wins the race.
If the change you’d like to see in yourself isn’t a holy choice, in other words, if it isn’t something God is asking you to do—like being more sexy, or having only popular friends, or driving a Lamborghini—then these categories do not apply, and grace will not assist you in your endeavor. You’re, well . . . on your own.
If you find yourself stuck in any one area of the list of six stages of transformation, ask for God’s help in taking that next step. This is where grace comes in, the only fuel that can get things to move. The Lord will answer your prayer, and through His Almighty power, through circumstance or holy fire, He will move those stubborn wheels towards your destination of holiness. Towards Him.
To tackle our faults and sins, we need gargantuan amounts of patience with ourselves, just as we do with others.
Copyright 2014, Christine Watkins