I’m a cradle Catholic and could never imagine ever leaving the Church. I have absolutely no problem with any of the Church’s teachings, except one. Unfortunately it’s the single most important tenet of Christian faith (of any denomination). I don’t trust God. I don’t believe He actually cares about me as an individual.
Ever since I was a teenager I have been addicted to a particular mortal sin (technically it’s a set of sequential mortal sins). I’ve tried many different ways to overcome my addiction, but they’ve all failed within 2-3 weeks.
I accepted the saying I learned in elementary school, “God helps those who help themselves.” So I spent years trying to simply stop on my own. I tried going cold turkey. I tried weaning myself off it. Both were utter failures.
Realizing I couldn’t do it on my own, I started praying for the strength to resist the temptation. Once again this worked for about 2 weeks and then the temptation consumed me and I failed. I believed the problem was my own weakness and had nothing to do with any infidelity on God’s part. So I tried praying for years, always with the same result: 2 weeks respite then utter failure. I tried changing the prayer so that I no longer asked for strength, but instead thanked and praised Jesus for making me weak so that I could learn to trust in His strength. I managed to hold out for 3 weeks, towards the end of which time I was exposed to the temptation multiple times a day, every day, to the point that the addiction consumed me and I gave in.
I tried getting more involved in the Church. I thought that if I combined serving others, not just myself, with prayer that had to work, right? I taught Religious Education for two years. I became an EMHC while I was in the Army. I got involved in the local pro-life groups. I started praying the rosary every Friday outside the local abortion clinic, and privately at lunch sometimes on other days. I went to Confession weekly. I listened exclusively to Catholic radio. I joined the Catholic Answers forums and participated multiple times a day. I joined the Knights of Columbus. I joined the local Catholic Professional and Business Group. I bought and read numerous books on Catholic theology and spirituality. Now, apart from a handful of CA forum posts in the last few years, I do none of these things because I’m too ashamed. Why? Because none of these things, alone or collectively, did anything to change the outcome: 2 weeks of resistance then dismal failure.
In my shame and feelings of being abandoned by God I gave up praying, going to the Sacraments, or even going to Mass entirely for two years. I believed that God had said, “no” to helping me resist a sin that condemned me to an eternity in Hell every time I committed it. Why should I praise and worship someone who’d tossed me aside? But my commitment to the Church wouldn’t let me give up for good.
So I went to my Parish Priest for help. He told me the problem was that I was trying to do it all myself. Even with prayer I was asking to be able to stop on my own. But, he said, most addictions cannot be conquered on your own. That’s why God calls people to be his arms and legs so He can act through them to help His children. The Priest gave me a pamphlet for a group that’s supposed to help people with my addiction. Feeling full of renewed hope I went to the meeting only find that they’re purpose wasn’t to help me stop altogether, only that I did it an “appropriate” amount to be determined by me. In other words, if gave up trying to quit and decided that every two weeks was good enough for me, then that was okay by them. Seeing that this was a perfect recipe for making no improvement whatsoever I gave up on it after that one meeting.
I stopped going to Mass again and gave up on the Sacraments. I figured what’s the point? I’m just going to fail in two weeks anyway. It’s not like giving up smoking, where failure only hurts your health. My failure entirely severs my relationship with God and condemns me to everlasting damnation. Besides, I still manage to hold out for 2 weeks even without asking God for help.
Every time I’ve tried prayer and start to feel less ashamed of myself because I begin to believe I might finally be overcoming the addiction, the temptation crops up and practically slaps me in the face when I’m least expecting it. I know it’s not God who’s tempting me to sin, but why does He keep leading me into temptations He knows I cannot resist, temptations I keep asking Him to help me avoid? Why does it seem like the Devil is fighting harder for my soul than God is?
I know that part of the current problem is my job, where I’m constantly exposed to temptation. Even though I’ve been fighting this for years, the real feelings of isolation and futility began when I started working here. Every day I feel like God wants me to leave this place. But I cannot afford to quit this job, especially in this bad economy. I know I should trust that God will see to my family’s well-being if I follow the direction I think he wants me to go. But how can I trust God with my family’s material needs when I can’t even trust Him to help me with my spiritual needs? I ask my Father for bread and he gives me a stone.
So now I’m left alone and lost. I have my wife and children, but the complete loneliness of which I speak is the kind which only those completely devoid of God in their lives can know. I’m torn because I have no hope for my own salvation, but I do hope that my wife and children have a chance, that God hasn’t given up on them. I want to go to Mass to set a good example for my kids. I want them to receive and value the Sacraments. I want them to lead good, devout, Catholic lives. But it’s too painful going into Mass, hearing the Good News, participating in the prayers and hymns, seeing others going to the Eucharist, and all the while knowing that none of it has any bearing on the fact that I’m going to Hell when I die.