Put Your Face in the Dirt and Start Struggling

Any Christian who can’t think of a fistful of sins he or she is struggling against is probably not in a good place.

In the war against hell in our hearts, there exists a continuum of three possibilities: our defeat, our struggle, or our perfection. We lazily assume perfection is our default disposition. Subconsciously, we believe we have two or three things we’re struggling with, but the rest of the seven deadlies or the ten commandments are probably in good shape in our souls.

Rarely does the modern Christian challenge herself with the possibility that the areas of temptation with which she struggles are the areas in which salvation is being enacted. This is working out salvation with fear and trembling. This is sanctification.

Kneeling down at bedside with hands clasped in prayer, we will confess those little things or big things, once again or for the first time. We label pride each time, if we’re honest. We say anger or despair or this or that. And, we ask God to deliver us.

If we believe that the fight against sin is worthwhile, we might lean in a little further and ask an uncomfortable question at this point in our prayer. Instead of only telling God our sins, we might add a request that God tell us some of our sins, too.

That suggestion terrifies me, of course. After all, there’s a great, unexplored chasm between the sublime glory of my God and the festering evil of my heart. I am not virtuous enough to summon the faith necessary to save me from the despair of really, truly seeing the state of my soul in entirety. There may be things I’m not ready to start struggling against. God in His mercy veils even myself from myself, disclosing a little bit at a time. By breaking it into manageable chunks, He helps us build the faith necessary to avoid unbearable sorrow as the next little cloudy wisp of evil floats out of our hearts.

So goes the lesson. So goes the movement from bored defeat to struggling toward perfection. The little temptations against which I am not struggling are likely to be the areas of my soul which bear the fewest of God’s fingerprints.

The areas of our soul that seem bright and shiny are suspect. The areas that seem noxious attest to God’s presence in our lives, because without God we could not have identified their rankness. A moment of pause and numbness or a day in which one can remember no wrong action smells less of perfection than stagnation.

This is because perfection, sadly, is not our default disposition. We live in a state of perpetual stumbling, and the height of Christ is the most visible to the man who knows his face is flat on the ground. All men’s faces are, of course, flat on the ground from our stumbling. But, it is only the ones who realize it that can cast their eyes upward and perceive the great bridge of the cross and the lowest of the heights of heaven. (These men are the happiest.)

These men are capable of realizing the lowness of their state and their utter need for God. And, from there, they can see the first roots of temptation. They can immediately call on the Holy Spirit to rip the sin away. And, who with the knowledge of his position, with the view of God’s glory, could possibly hesitate to cry for help at the instant of temptation’s onset? Who can be proud with his unworthy face in the dirt and his loving, glorious, all-powerful God stooping down to lift him up?

  • http://imperfectfornow.blogspot.com/ Mackman

    Why isn’t there a “Like” button for those who don’t feel they have anything to add, but still want to express their appreciation for an incredible post?

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  • jamesfarnold

    There’s a “Like” button. It is in the sharing menu. You’d “like” it on FB and share it there.

    Which, you know, you could do.

  • Shaya

    My thought too. I always enjoy your articles, Alicia. Thanks for another great post!

  • Alicia

    Thanks you! I appreciate the encouragement immensely and I’m honored you liked the post.

  • Rick

    I think that what you have said about the struggle against sin is spot on. I’ve been wondering though, what might be the best or most appropriate or most effective way /arena to steadily and or consistently do this? That is to say, within the various Christian traditions, what approach works best? Is it a commitment to a small group where transparency is valued? Is it a commitment to the sacramental life where the confessional is emphasized? Is it in one on one relationships where our deepest secrets are shared? I know the answer to the question is probably found in a combination of them all but I would have to say that the Christian struggle without relationships with others is a lonely effort and a failed one at that. For me I would have to admit that face down in the dirt triggers change in me more when there are others face down in the dirt on either side of me.

  • Alicia

    Excellent point, Rick. Different traditions emphasize such different ways of doing it, as you pointed out. For myself as an Orthodox Christian, the form this takes is going to a priest for confession and spiritual counsel, an inexpressibly valuable practice. At the same time, there is a lot to be said for talking to peers and dear friends about struggles as well, both for their prayers and their love. Love – whether from a priest or a peer – is so transformative and necessary to the struggle against sin.