Ask any golfer (or at least golfers as poor at the sport as I am) what will happen if, when they are getting ready to swing at the ball, they think to themselves, “Don’t hit that tree. Don’t hit that tree.” Unable to hit the tree intentionally on their next twenty swings, that one time they will hit it square in the center.
A spiritual director of mine once said this is due to the body’s inability to hear the word, “Don’t”. In effect, what was being said to the body was, “Hit that tree. Hit that tree.”
Many people try to overcome masturbation in much the same way. Christopher West calls it, “White Knuckling It”. We, especially men, grit out teeth, tense out muscles, and say, “I’m not going to do it. I’m not going to do it.” Anybody who works my side of the confessional screen will tell you that this method does not seem to work well. First of all, the mere fact that you are repeating this line keeps the thought alive, and secondly the body is only perceiving the positive, “I’m * going to do it. I’m * going to do it.”
So let’s say that you visit this sin often and want to stop. The first step is to stop punishing yourself too harshly about it. Be clear, I am not saying that it is not sinful, ripe for regular confession or that we shouldn’t strive to stop it, but that overly punishing yourself will only dig you deeper into it. Because why do people masturbate in the first place? Usually to feel better, to escape, or to relieve tension. What happens when you punish yourself too severely? You feel guilty, shameful, and full of tension. Well, what can you do to relieve these feelings? Ah! The horrible cycle builds on itself. So, take it to confession, keep working to eradicate this cycle from your life, but don’t over react to it – don’t give it too much power over you.
Next, don’t try to quit under your own power. Start trusting God to help you. Give the problem over to Him. Be humble. Ask for His saving help. Admit your weakness and need for assistance. Learn to rely on Him.
A priest once told us boys when we were growing up to run laps or do push ups to help overcome the urge. Well, that works as far as the adage “Idle hands are the Devil’s workshop,” but every little bit helps. And it helps to avoid being hungry, angry, lonely, or tired. But sometimes all these are out of our control.
It helps to treat your body like a temple of the Holy Spirit, treating yourself with respect and adorning your body with modesty. It helps to train yourself to start looking at others as human beings worthy of respect rather than sex objects (including those found in advertisements, television, and movies). That also means being careful what you watch and read also. Don’t place yourself in a near occasion of sin. If you know your weaknesses, avoid putting yourself in a situation that will exploit them as far as possible.
Other acts of self-denial help us learn the discipline needed to be chaste. It also helps to have a regular confessor, spiritual director, as well as a trusted friend so that the two (or more) of you can keep each other challenged and accountable to chastity. Deep prayer, perhaps holy hours, and use of the Sacraments are of course essential.
Saint Augustine once said, “The worse thing about sin is that the body remembers.” Some people have indulged in this sin for many years and the solution to getting out of it does not most usually happen overnight. One has to change his perception of humanity and sexuality. New thinking patterns during idle times or times of stress need to develop. And the start of the process can be painful. It takes time for the wound to heal and to gain your strength.
Why does the Church care about this topic anyway? Because it wants you to enjoy your God given freedom. If you know someone struggling with this issue you know that it is a destroyer of freedom. Like many vices, it is not something that a person chooses freely to do or not to do but feels a compulsion. That is not freedom. And when one is not completely free, that person cannot give him or herself completely to another. Nor can they find complete happiness because as with many such vices, it ultimately fails to satisfy. Our faith wishes to restore us to true freedom, joy, and honest fulfillment. It may be a hard battle to win, but the fight is well worth the effort!
IN OTHER NEWS:
I almost did not post yesterday’s quiz but I am sure glad I did. You guys had me laughing all day! C.O. I think had the best answers but Bob got it right. (I really thought it would be easy!)
The answers to yesterday’s picture quiz: These are different kinds of tans that are traditionally named after various jobs.
Upper left: Priest tan.
Upper right: Trucker tan.
Middle: Farmer’s tan.
Lower left: Man pretending to a nun in full habit.
Lower right: Lifeguard
Thanks for the laughs one and all.