Jake discusses how we can begin the process of healing from habitual sin as well as how to understand and consider what’s truly at the root of these struggles, so that we can heal from these and move closer to Christ.
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Printable Study Guide PDF
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Reflective Study Guide Questions
“[Y]ou should put away the old self of your former way of life, corrupted through deceitful desires, and be renewed in the spirit of your minds,”Eph. 4:22-23
- Jake explains that people need certain things in order to thrive, according to their nature: physical sustenance, emotional fulfillment, and spiritual nourishment. Which of these categories of needs do you tend to focus on most in your daily life? How can you increase your focus on your spiritual needs?
- One of the first things we must do to begin healing from habitual sin is to accept reality. In what areas of sin might you need to grow most in honesty and acceptance of reality?
- In order to heal from habitual sin, we also need grace. We can gain grace by asking God for it and through the sacraments, especially Mass and Confession. What can you do to gain more grace in your life on a regular basis?
- Habitual sin can often be caused by past experiences in our lives that have led us to believe and feel that we cannot trust God to make us happy. What wounds in your past might be contributing to how much you trust God and to sin stemming from a lack of trust in God?
Text: Healing from Habitual Sin
Hi, my name is Jake Khym. Thanks for being with me here as we dive in a little bit on the healing of habitual sin. Let’s pray.
In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen. Come Holy Spirit, we need you. Holy Spirit, these are intense areas. These can be scary areas. These are areas where there’s so much shame and fear, and there’s a lot that’s usually going on deeper in our hearts. And so we need you to lead and guide us and to be our counselor, our comforter, our strength, our guide. So please be with us and bless us and lead our hearts where you want us to go as we reflect on how to heal from habitual sin. Jesus, in your name, we pray. Amen. The name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
We Need a Spiritual Life
I can’t interact with you, although I wish I could, but let’s play a little game together. We’re going to play, “Are you Smarter Than a Fifth Grader?” Okay. So we’re going to take a tree and I’m going to ask you some basic things. Let’s see how many answers you can get. What does a tree need to thrive? A tree. Just the average tree. What does a tree need to thrive? Maybe you said sunlight. Okay. I’m hearing some people maybe say water. Okay. Maybe there’s somebody who just said dirt. Yep. Anything else? Nutrients may be in the soil, right? Okay. Yeah. There’re some basic things that a tree needs to survive.
Now, what if I just come along and I go, you know what? Trees are so picky. Like, come on trees, get over yourself. It doesn’t really matter if you have water or not. Like, I have a whole bunch of leftover, like sulfuric acid. Sorry, I’m a chemist. And I don’t really like keeping it. So, I mean, it looks the same as water. Like it just looks the same on the outside. Like what’s the difference? Just don’t be so picky trees like, okay, you’re probably going one either.
That was a weird story. Or maybe you’re thinking, huh, that’s true. It doesn’t work. And so what’s the point I’m getting here? Here’s the simple point. Trees have a nature. Nature, basically, is what something is. And if you don’t respond to the nature of something, it won’t thrive. That’s just how it works. Like it’s nothing personal. It’s not like, you know, not being nice to me. It’s just the way that it is. Like if you’re trying to learn Spanish as a language, Spanish doesn’t apologize to you if it’s hard to learn. It’s just the nature of the language. You either get it or you don’t. And it’s not about upsetting anybody. And if you don’t learn the actual language, you won’t speak it well. It’s just the reality. It’s just the nature of the thing.
We, as people have natures as well, and we need certain things to really thrive. Now, some of the obvious ones are like, if I don’t have food and water shelter, et cetera, I’ll likely die. That’s very true. Some people might think, if I don’t have my emotional life or healthy relationships, I won’t survive. You’re right. You’re right. It’s very true.
I think one that we often miss in the day-to-day life is the spiritual side. That if I don’t get and do spiritual things, I won’t thrive. Or if I do spiritual, emotional, relational, physical things that are contrary to my nature, I won’t thrive. That’s basically what sin is. It’s doing something contrary to your nature hoping that you’ll thrive when it actually doesn’t work. Now, sometimes we can fall into those things and we do them and they have like a short-term emotional payoff or our brain really likes it or whatever. That’s usually where the habitual nature of the sin comes in as we’re getting some short-term payoff, but it’s having detrimental effect on the long-run, on the long-term.
A Thing or a Person
I remember sharing some of these concepts with my kids. You might be like, whoa, you’re an interesting parent. Yeah, that’s probably true. Ask my kids. I’m quite interesting parent. But they were littler and I don’t know, they must’ve been probably six or seven. And I knew how important this question of “what are you” was and whether it’s a thing or a person and the things need things to thrive and the person needs things to thrive.
And so I remember talking to my son about it and we were actually going through this little picture book and saying thing or person. And he was able to start distinguishing, probably at six or seven years old. Oh, rock that’s a thing. What does it need to thrive? And he’s like, well, not really much, just needs to sit there. Okay, yeah. How about a tree? Oh yeah. And it’s a little bit more, right. You got to put it in the sun, daddy, otherwise it doesn’t thrive. Then you point and I go, what’s this. And he would say a person, it’s different, different than the other two. What does it need to thrive? Well, he might come up with, it needs to have, eat the yummy cereal in the morning or it needs to have like something else. And so he was getting it. He was really getting it.
I remember Heather, my wife coming in and saying, “Jake, it’s way past his bedtime. What are you doing?” And I’m like, “but we’re talking about philosophy.” You know, he’s six. And she was like, “what is wrong with you? Like let the poor kid go to bed.” And so, okay. So let him go to bed. And I was like, ah, you know, I hoped and prayed that he actually took that, became a part of him because he was little, but he could get the difference between a thing or a person and what it was.
So, the next morning I had my redeeming moment. The next morning there at breakfast and his little sister, who’s just a year, 18 months younger than him. They were sitting down, and she was seven, and so she’s like five and she’s eating one of her favorite things in the morning, which is peanut butter toast. So she had toasted peanut butter on it and she’s eating it. She’s the dramatic one. She’s the, really, she might be an actor, artist or something someday.
So, she’s eating her peanut butter and toast and Judah’s having his peanut butter toast and they’re eating it. And Eva, my youngest says, “oh, this is so good. I love peanut butter toast.” And without skipping a beat, Judah’s munching on his peanut butter toast. And we’re all behind him, Heather and I are behind him. And he looks over to his sister and goes, “well, technically you can’t love peanut butter toast because it’s a thing and not a person. So, you probably don’t love peanut butter toast. You actually just really like it.” And he just kept eating it. And I wanted to cheer behind him because he was getting something that was really important. He was understanding nature and he was respecting it. And maybe he was, I dunno, maybe not being charitable to his sister, but I thought it was awesome.
Trust God and His Goodness
But in life, why is it that we ask the peanut butter toast or whatever it is to be the thing that satisfies the deepest aches of our hearts, right? I mean, we all have heard the phrase from Saint Augustine, “Our hearts are restless until they rest in you”. But what do we often do? We take forever to realize that and to surrender to that truth. I mean, just think about it. All the different places and areas and things that we go to, trying to find life and happiness. That aren’t God. There are a lot.
I mean, if you ask the question why, I think it comes down to a very fundamental reality. And this is from the catechism paragraph three, 9, 7. I want to read it for you. It says, “Man, tempted by the devil”, so human tempted by the devil, listen, “let his trust in his Creator die in his heart. Let his trust in his Creator, die in his heart and abusing his freedom, disobeyed God’s command”. Was God’s command, live according to your nature. That’s it. Live according to your nature. The tree needs sunlight, you need sunlight. So, thou shall not have sunlight. That’s the command of God, live according to how He designed you. And you’ll thrive.
Back to the catechism quote, “Man, tempted by the devil, let his trust his Creator die in his heart, and abusing his freedom, disobeyed God’s command”. This is what man’s first sin consisted of. All subsequent sin would be disobedient toward God, not living according to our nature that God asked us to. And it says “lack of trust in His goodness”, why do we sin habitually? Because we don’t trust that God will satisfy us. We have very deep beliefs and experiences and all kinds of other things that say, God’s not going to actually make me happy. I have to go somewhere else. And so we abuse our freedom because we’ve let our trust die in our heart. That’s a powerful reality.
And is it more complex than this? You bet it is. You bet it’s absolutely more complex than this, but I’m zooming in on a core reality here. Trust in God and His goodness for Him to satisfy our hearts. That’s what leads to life. A lack of trust in His goodness, a lack of trust that He can satisfy us. That’s what leads to habitual sin and doing things that aren’t according to our nature so that we don’t thrive. I mean, this is your and my life. Boil down to a very simple thing. Do I trust God? Do I trust Him to satisfy me?
Very Important First Steps to Healing
And when we talk about healing, and healing habitual sin, I want to start with a very important first step and what that first step is honesty and acceptance of reality. I’m paint this picture for you because I’m inviting you to see reality as it is. And to be honest about it, we’ll never work through habitual sin if we’re not able to be honest about what’s actually going on in our hearts and in our lives. If we’re not honest about the reality, we’ll never grow because we’re not living in the reality.
If we’re not willing to see that the leaves on the tree are dying and we make up some other reason for it, we’ll never actually get to the source of the problem so that the tree can thrive again. It’s really hard. And usually why it’s hard right there is because somewhere in our hearts, we have a belief about God. And so part of the renewal of our hearts from habitual sin goes by way of the renewal of our mind that St. Paul talks about. We’ll get there in a second.
So, honesty and acceptance. That’s a critical part of the healing that needs to come. And if you’re struggle, to be honest, it’s usually because we’re afraid. We’re afraid of the truth of facing it. I’ve had a lot of experience in working with addicts who are, I’m a clinical counselor. So, I have a lot of experience working with addicts. And this is one of the hardest steps. I mean, it’s one of the basic things about any of the anonymous groups. What’s the first thing that you walk in as you say your name, and you say that you’re an addict. Why the people do that? It’s not a shaming exercise. The point of doing it is so that we’re actually starting to be honest about the reality because you can’t move forward and taking the honest and admit that you’re in habitual sin. But once the honesty comes, what next? Okay.
We need to be in positions and do things where grace can come in. Grace is the gift of God. It’s the help of God. It’s the life of God that comes in and makes things new. It can heal lies, it can restore broken physical problems, it can do anything. It’s the life of God come into us. And there’s particular ways that we get grace. You can ask, you can get gracious by praying for it, but there’s some other ways that are really important. And this is a really important part of the healing of habitual sin. As our nature, one of the things our nature needs in the spiritual realm, like physical, relational, spiritual, and the spiritual realm. We have to have grace. It’s like water for a tree, grace for our soul. If you don’t have it, you’re not going to do well. Now God’s extremely generous with grace, but there are certain ways that we can get it where it’s like supercharged. It’s like miracle growth for the tree. And that’s desperately needed as much as possible. We want to get it.
And so transformation happens when I do things, actually the right things that allow me to receive grace so that I can open myself to what God is doing and receive His capacity within me, like mass and confession are two of the most important ones. Attending those and doing those as frequent as possible. I mean, some of the holiest people that you and I know did those two every day. And I’m thinking, how in the world did Mother Teresa need to go to confession every day? Is because she’d realized how desperately she needed grace and how quick she was to distrust God’s heart. It’s just the reality of the situation.
We have this weird leaning where we lean away from God. That’s one of the effects of original sin. We’re kind of leaning in the wrong direction most of the time. And so we need regular grace to put us back in the right direction. So honesty and acceptance of the reality. And we need grace. Okay?
Overcoming Habitual Sin
Number three. In my work with people and in my own life, I have seen that so often, to experience healing from habitual sin, we have to get below the surface of what’s going on. It’s like getting into the root systems of the tree instead of just dealing with the leaves and the branches and the fruit. I mean, think about it. For example, let’s say that the tree is like you and I, and the fruit is the habitual sin. And let’s say we go to confession and we pluck the fruit off and it’s a bad fruit ’cause that’s the habitual sin we keep doing. And we throw it and confession takes it away. What happens a little bit later? Well, if the tree doesn’t change, the apple, the bad fruit comes right back. And so we pluck it again and that’s necessary. You’ve got to do the plucking, that’s essential, but we also have to do other things which means get below the surface. What’s going on inside the tree? What’s going on in the root systems. Where did this come from? Get below the surface.
The phrase is, we go from the fruits, which is the bad fruit, back to the roots. “Fruits to roots.” The roots are often where we can start to explain why the habitual sin is there. And what I mean by that is usually there are things that have happened in our lives that led us to believe things and feel things, conclude things, where we say there’s no way that I can trust God. So, I’ve got to take matters into my own hands and find happiness elsewhere.
Now it might sound like a generalization and a little bit that it is, but that’s the story of the human heart is our walking away from God and asking something or someone else to satisfy our hearts and us being perpetually disappointed and trying harder the next time, because we’re not getting down below the surface to ask the question, where does this distorted desire come from?
Here’s an example. I was just talking to somebody the other day about this. Let’s go from the fruit to the root. They were struggling with sexual habitual sin, sexual addiction over and over and over again. And when we started to look at that and we started to look at what was going on and tell me a bit about what’s happened in your sexual past. Tell me a bit about your relationships. Come to find out this individual had been sexually abused at 11 years old.
You bet you that’s going to have an impact on what’s going on the surface, above the surface. Well, we dug a bit deeper and what did we find underneath that? A very early wound in their life where they were abandoned by their caregiver. So, abandonment caused this wound in them. And this wound in them led them to the conclusion of like, I’m not safe with people. People will hurt me. And so then from the wound that they had, they then were acting out and doing, looking for ways to find love, like that song, “Looking for Love in All the Wrong Places” that looking for love is the right part, wrong places. That’s the sin part. So, the desire isn’t the problem, but the energy for it, the gasoline and that engine, the stuff that was compelling it was all coming from woundedness.
And so, the only way it seemed possible for this person to actually find any kind of intimacy was through a sexual devious way because authentic intimacy never seem possible, or it was always skewed and always twisted up. And so, God satisfying just didn’t make any sense because authority figures hurt. That was the belief. Makes sense. So, the habitual sin was coming really being fueled by something below the surface. So how do I heal from habitual sin? I’ve got to get below the surface and to other areas that are going on.
Renewal of Our Mind
Now, I promised that I would return back to this idea of renewal of our mind. And so, I want to walk through a scripture with you. Ephesians 4:17-25. And I’m just going to read it for you, ’cause I want you to go and pray with it later. But I just want you to hear how many references there are to mind or thought or understanding when it talks about renewal in Christ. So just hear this, renewal in Christ, is what I was talking about. So this is what the scripture says.
“So I declare and testify in the Lord, you must no longer live as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds, darkened in understanding, alienated from their life of God because of their ignorance, because of their hardness of heart, they’ve become callous and have handed themselves over the licentiousness for the practice of every kind of impurity to access.”
Why is the habitual sin going on according to Paul’s letter to the Ephesians? Mind stuff, ignorance, hardness of heart, lack of understanding. He goes on to say, “That is not how you learned Christ, assuming that you have heard of Him and were taught with Him as truth as in Jesus, that you should put away the old self”. The old self is basically a reference to a whole way of assuming the life that was former. That was the old way. It’s what the wounds taught you about how to do. We’ve got to put that away. We’ve got to address that. “Your former way of life corrupted through deceitful,” deceitful means tricking new desires, “and be renewed by the spirit of your minds. Therefore, putting away all falsehood. Speak the truth”.
It’s just riddled throughout the entire scripture. What’s going on? Our minds have a lot to do with what’s going on. The thoughts banging around in our head, like we need the renewal of our minds. And so the question I can simply ask you is when you’re struggling or when we all struggle with habitual sinners what are we thinking about? And what have we pondered, what have our mind been going to all the way along? I mean, maybe you didn’t know this, but it’s very normal for the devil, the enemy and his minions, demons to put thoughts in our minds. That is what temptation has called. Temptation is a thought from the enemy coming into our mind. That is very possible. And if we don’t actually address the thoughts of our minds and mind renewal, the dynamics that are going on in our heart, our beliefs, habitual sin just keeps perpetuating because we’re not addressing that’s kind of more of the source. Like renewal of a mind’s a bit below the surface, wounds and certain struggles that we have, or even deeper, but they all interplay. They’re all below the surface. If we don’t address it, you keep getting the bad fruit.
Healing Happens From Truth
So why is it that my habitual sin won’t change? A lot of it has to do with what you believe. Do we trust that God is good and can satisfy me? If my heart goes, no, I don’t. Well, let’s look into why. Where did that come from? That distrust became a part of your story. Another reason, our emotions are all over the place. Why? Usually because of something that happened that cause us to be afraid a lot of the time or guarded, or I have to take care of myself. Those are all beliefs that now I feel unsafe. I feel the need to do something and we don’t even know how to navigate our emotions. So beliefs, emotions. Well not addressing the wounds. Okay?
Another one, why am I not dealing with this habitual sin getting better? Because I’m alone. I’m trying to do it all alone, but why am I alone? Usually because I don’t feel safe. That comes from a wound and a belief. You can see how it all starts to funnel back into these core dynamics. I’m inviting you to see these things and to engage in a process of renewal of your mind.
And so, I want to end with just a simple, here is the reality of how renewal can happen is you have to get into truth. That’s one of the key ways, and get underneath the surface. So some very practicals. A friend of mine, Dr. Bob Schuchts has a great book called, “Be Healed” and a bunch of other books with similar titles, like “Be Transformed”, et cetera. I would highly recommend that you read those books as a way to get deeper into this topic of addressing habitual sin. Secondly, I’d invite you to check out a podcast that Bob and I have called “Restore the Glory”, where we break down these dynamics about getting under the surface and healing these habitual dynamics. It’s just a starting point of what we’re doing today. And I hope that this can tweak and peak your interest to be able to dive in more. But let me conclude in a prayer.
In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen. Holy Spirit, all the things that have been stirred up right now, we surrender them to you. And I pray that any memories that may have gotten triggered or any beliefs that have gotten triggered, we surrender them to you and ask that your life and your love would come in. So come Holy Spirit. Bring your healing. We love you. We choose to trust you. Please heal our hearts. Jesus in your name, we pray. Amen.
About Jake Khym
Jake Khym has a Masters Degree in Counseling Psychology and a Bachelor of Arts in Theology with a concentration in Catechetics. Jake has worked in various pastoral ministries for over 22 years including adult faith formation, seminarian and priestly formation, diocesan evangelization, catechesis, RCIA, and retreat ministry. Jake has also run a counselling practice for over 11 years.
Currently, Jake continues to see clients (mostly Church leaders) in his counselling practice and he teaches at the Seminary of Christ the King in Mission, BC, Canada offering human and pastoral formation to the seminarians studying there. Jake also offers priest and seminarian formation retreats, is a consultant to various (Arch)Dioceses and ministries, offers an annual Men’s Retreat in British Columbia and accompanies male leaders on their journey of faith.
Jake also has two podcasts, Way of the Heart Podcast and Restore the Glory Podcast. Way of the Heart is offered by Jake and his friend Brett Powell and is a podcast primarily for men to help them navigate life with a heart that’s fully alive. Restore the Glory Podcast, featuring Jake and his friend Dr. Bob Schuchts, offers the wisdom both have learned personally and professionally on the healing journey.
Jake lives in Abbotsford, BC with his wife Heather and their three children.