Struggling...

I’ve seen another poster also struggle with this, and I believe my issue is very similar.

For me, it is very easy to not act upon my sexual sin (aka: sexual infidelity, masturbation, contraception, etc. – the physical acts). Of course, I wasn’t always that way, but after serious praying and work and grace, I was able to overcome those things. And all of my sins that I have acted on, I’ve confessed.

What bothers me is that I feel that I in a constant state of mortal sin because my mind is not strong. Sure it’s easy not to sleep with another woman, but when attractive woman walk into view, my thoughts, without my brain even wanting them to, turn to sex. Or my brain/mind might simply say, yum, or she has nice “FITB” (fill in the blank), or it will without my consent think about her naked, or just think about “sex” in the general sense, not specifically with that woman, but sort of just the act itself. And I try to not have this happen, but it does. I am married, so many times I just try to replace that thought with thoughts about my wife, but I’m too weak to do this all the time.

Of course, I’ve prayed and prayed and not gotten any better.

I’ve spoken with a priest and he did not help, or at least provide the advice or comfort I was seeking. I mentioned the part about the bible where if your hand causes you to sin, you should cut it off, if your eye causes you to sin, you should cut it out. Now of course, I am not going to physically cut my eyes out, because my brain would still think about women in a sexual nature, so even not seeing them wouldn’t help. What he told me when I said it would just be best for me to go to some secluded place where there was no women ever, so I wouldn’t be tempted or get into this “state” of mind. He said, oh wouldn’t that be nice. Unfortunately, that wasn’t helpful.

I’ve posted on this before because I’m still struggling with this, whether I’m mortally sinning or just having human emotions. I don’t know the LINE where sexual desire or attraction turns to lust. Everyone says when you entertain it. That doesn’t really help me either. My mind ends up thinking about it even if I don’t want it to. Sort of like if you tell someone not to think about an elephant, you think about an elephant.

I never know if my mind is truly “entertaining” it or not. If I see an attractive woman and look away b/c she is wearing attractive clothing (say at the gym, and is curvy and in good shape) and then I look again to admire her, I feel that I’ve committed mortal sin. But how do I NEVER be anywhere woman are? How would I stop that?

I seriously need a better definition of lust other than “entertaining” the thought or what is provided in the Catechism.

Not every thought like that that you have is sinful. If you are not even willing the thoughts, they are definitely not sinful and if you are only willing them because it’s so hard not to, then their not sinful either.

I have coined a word called “pre-thinking”. It is from a Greek word normally translated as “forethought” or “provision”. From Paul in Romans 13: “make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires” or “do not take forethought for the flesh to [fulfil its] lusts.”

My translation of the Greek is : “Do not do the flesh’s pre-thinking in (your) desires”.

Basically, it plays together with what James says in his first chapter about how we are tested. James says to count it all joy when we are tested. And then he defines it. We are tested, given the opportunity to turn to God for all good in the presence of “desires”. There are two avenues when desires appear (desires are part of our human nature, created by God, and therefore Good). The first choice is to ask God to provide for us. If you persevere in doing this, you are becoming steadfast and perfect in your faith.

The second avenue is that your instinct as an animal kicks in, and you begin to visualize and imagine the fulfilling of your desire yourself. All kinds of things can appear in your thoughts, from seeing yourself approach what you desire and being successful in your approach, or imagining a conversation of what you would say to make the desire come true, or visualizing the acts of the desire. Then, if this pre-thinking continues without stopping it, suddenly you actually begin doing the things you were pre-thinking. In the end, when you think you have satisfied your desire, you come to your senses, and real thinking begins, where there is regret or shame or anger that you fell prey to it.

This is how James phrases it (my translation): “Each man is tested by his own desire [count this part joy]; Being lured and being enticed, the desire then being conceived [the pre-thinking] gives birth to sin [the physical movement to act out the pre-thinking] and sin when complete brings death [self-understanding of failure].”

The Testing (desire) can be counted joy if you recognize desire and tell God your desire, that you are hungry for (whatever). That is the first avenue. There you are acting like a human, in that you are not looking at the object of desire, but looking at the desire itself and at God who promises to provide all to us, and stopping automatic animal planning.

Lust is the second avenue, where you react like an animal to what you see that triggers a desire, and like an animal imagine the chase to get the prey, then pounce at the opportune moment, which is the actual sin (of not relying on God for your desire’s fulfillment).

How does that sound to you? Pre-thinking is not just about sensual sins, but any - Jesus warned his disciples about it in their apostleship, where they would encounter persecution: In Matthew 10 he cautions them: "When they deliver you over, do not be anxious how you are to speak or what you are to say, for what you are to say will be given to you in that hour. " People often pre-think their defenses when they are worried about what someone might say to them or about them, visualizing impressive soliloquies with their accusers. But they are imagining an unreal world. If they do make their imagined speeches of defense, they do not fit the real world, because their accusers are real people and not the pretend people of their pre-thinking, and the accusations are actually different than the imagined ones. They end of making fools of themselves rather than successfully speaking to their adversaries because they do not actually know their real adversaries but only figments of pre-thinking. Jesus did not want his disciples to “fix their own fears” but to trust God to provide for them when they met the real people accusing them.

I tend to go on and on about this; hope it finds a spot in your situation.

I think the most important thing when a desire comes upon you is to just be honest with yourself and with God and say “God, I find her attractive, thank you.” Anything else is being dishonest in some way, either to God or to yourself, or to others. If you place too much emphasis on the desire, even to try to purge it from your mind, then you’re kind of turning your back and saying “Never mind, God, don’t look, you didn’t see me think that… pay no attention to that…” and that kind of thinking breeds a subtle turning away from God that usually (at least in my case) results in falling into lust anyways. God didn’t make us to be angels without desires. He made us to be saints with desires. As long as we are purely human, we’re going to want things, and we are going to want things that won’t fulfill us. The wanting is not sinful, it’s the pursuit of those unfulfilling things that is sinful, and that usually begins in the mind saying “I will pursue it.” Instead, it’s better to just admit to yourself and to God, in humility, that you want it, and to thank God that God has allowed it to exist. “God, I find her attractive. Thank you Lord, source of all beauty.”

I always try to picture my interactions in the spiritual life as being those of child to a loving parent. Let’s say a child desires ice cream. Does the parent hate that the child desires ice cream? No. In fact, given the circumstances, they may find it cute, even if they can’t have it. The parent say “oh typical kids” but they still love the fact that their kid has such a desire and they can understand it. What the parent hates is when the child fixates on either getting this treat to the point of retaliating against the parent, or (after the parent buys it for the kid) takes it and throws it in the mud and says “I don’t want it anymore!” Those kind of displays are what the parent hates. But a good child who comes to the parent and says “I want that” and then lets the parent decide whether they can have it or not, that behavior is what the parent loves. I don’t see how it should be any different with God, and perhaps even more so because God is infinitely more giving and more loving than even the most loving parents.

So I suppose what needs to be done is to just accept that one desires things, and just go to God and say “I like that, thank you God.” And just leave it at that, especially if you’re married. Perhaps use it as an opportunity to remind yourself of how God has given you that “treat” that your desire points to in your spouse.

This is one of the best, if not the best, phrasing of the difference between desire and sin, attraction and lust, that I’ve ever seen.

Don’t worry about what temptation comes. God knows everything…he is right there and knows. It really isn’t about the temptation because temptation isn’t a sin. A million a day does not make one sin. A million a day if ignored turns a person to God and into Jesus. A temptation is the way to show your loyalty to Jesus. He isn’t offended by your being tempted. And he is very pleased when you turn away from that and offer your resistance of it to him.

I would go so far as to thank him from the trust he puts in you. It is a great way to grow closer to him.

Try to nurture the divine indwelling within you. Frequently turn to him dwelling in you and tell him you love him, praise him, and thank him. Do this as often as you possibly can. This is one way to squeeze out temptation and replace our mundane thoughts with his thoughts. He will reward you for this. Ask his help.

May God our Father give you grace and peace.

Thanks to those who have responded. I have to figure out whether or not what is happening to me is just temptation or lust. I honestly don’t know. It does seem though that the more I try to fight it the more I end up going the wrong direction. The more I say that it is okay to look at something that is attractive, the less I seem to “desire” it. Not too sure how to explain it. But then I worry that if I do get careless in my being okay with it, it will be much easier to slip into sin.

One thing that I have noticed is that if I can just talk to the woman in question, it helps me put a person to the body and I seem to stop thinking those thoughts, because she becomes a person. But our culture is so saturated with sex, everywhere, all the time. I love to workout and of course there are women all over who are dressed so poorly that it won’t matter what direction I look in, it would be impossible to avoid it, other than closing my eyes the entire time. The television, even good and decent shows, like educational shows, which I love, like “How it’s made”, etc. have commercials that sell sex.

I suppose I can just be honest and say that I really don’t like being tempted. Dang it, I’m trying to be good and all of these temptations, I mean everywhere and all the time, keep bombarding me. It is difficult to do anything, other than stay home and sit alone in a dark room. JK.

Personally, I know a lot of it has to do with the residual effect of who I used to be for a long long time. Thinking the way I did and doing the things I did. I guess that doesn’t go away quickly. And those thoughts want to keep coming back and I*'m never sure if I crossed the line*.

John, I’ve read your comments about “pre-thinking” multiple times and while I’m not certain, it could illustrate my situation. I feel like I do sometimes let my mind maybe go too far and then all of a sudden I think, whoa, hey, I better stop. Then I feel bad, ashamed, guilty, etc. In that case, was I sinning per your description? Because, that happens to me more than enough, because I am just not strong enough to stop it ALL the time. I’m weak, and I sometimes can’t take all the bombardment I spoke about above. That’s why I feel like sometimes it is better to go sit in the middle of the desert to live out my life. Less temptation.

I don’t think I’m doing the second part of what you said, which is thinking about the chase, getting the prey and then acting on it. I do a lot of trying to turn to God and say, God, she is hot, I’ll turn away now (of course, with the woman’s image still in my head). Sometimes more mulling on the image of beauty and nakedness, then I try to get rid of it. Like I stated, it is almost automatic. 1) see woman, 2) think about how attractive she is 3) think generic sexual thoughts… all of this within a split second. <-- I wish THAT could stop…

Here is how I look at it - imagining I am one of the disciples with Jesus early in the morning.
Jesus gets up early to go off and pray - when he gets back, he will want to head down the road to Capernaum.
Judas is a light sleeper and starts pre-thinking: “Jesus is off to pray, I will go over there alone.” And he starts visualizing counting the money in the common purse, and starts wondering how much would be safe to take out so that no one would miss it. He then puts the pre-thinking into action, getting up quietly and stealing off to a private place and starts counting the money.
Peter then gets up, and realizes Jesus has gone off to pray, and thinks, “He always wants to go right away when he returns from prayer, so I cannot afford to not be ready.” And he gets up, puts some fish on the fire for everyone.

I look at it in this way: Jesus wants me available at a moment’s notice, so I always have to be ready and cannot entertain ideas or imaginings or actions that require me to hide.

Jesus came back, the disciples went with him (all but Judas), and Jesus began to explain forgiveness to them. Judas did not hear this from Jesus, and so on the night he betrayed Jesus he went and hung himself. Peter was ready to go with Jesus, so on the night he denied Jesus 3 times he wept bitterly, but he also ran to the tomb on the third day. I cannot afford not to always be ready to move and hear Jesus. So I work at giving up thinking about things that make me have to hide or be alone.

This has helped me, still does help me. I don’t try to be strong, I try to be available to Jesus.

When you find you are saying, “Whoa, I better stop.” That is not the time to feel bad, but to smile - in that moment your spirit has caught hold of your flesh, and you suddenly did a truly human thing - you actively moderated your thoughts rather than passively letting instinct assemble your thoughts. I don’t feel guilt when I catch myself pre-thinking and saying “Whoa”. I literally smile and ask God, “What are you doing to me, that you give me this success at catching myself before I go off an sin? Thank you.”

You are right that pre-thinking can be lightning fast, but so can God’s inspiration be faster in time to remind you what is happening before you sin.

I have not read your entire post, but I can tell you for sure that you must not take a second look at women who are dressed immodestly, lest you put yourself in the near occasion of mortal sin. Putting oneself in the near occasion of committing a mortal sin is a mortal sin, though I believe hardly any Catholics today know this. Based on your past sins of impurity, you are more vulnerable than others to sin against purity, you need to be sure to practice custody of your eyes and of your other senses. God bless you.

Ah, “ready”, that is what I am afraid of. Putting myself in a near spot of mortal sin is a mortal sin, which now finds me back at the depressed spot I was prior to reading John’s comments. If I must not put myself in a state of near mortal sin, I will never be able to work, vacation, go to the gym, the store, the… outside…

So you see the conundrum? I go right back into reading literally into passages that say it is better for me to not do this and go to heaven than to do otherwise. (Sorry, still working on reading the bible to be able to quote it directly).

There are women everywhere who dress immodestly, and there are women who dress normally, by today’s standards. Would a woman who dresses without showing skin, and not in tight clothing, but still showing a figure, could trigger “thoughts”.

I’m not getting a good sense that God would put woman on earth and find many men to be in a situation of always being in near mortal sin because the human race would die out immediately and no one could ever go anywhere or do anything for fear of running into a woman that might be tempting. How then would we ever be attracted to a woman and create children?

According to that, I should simply dig a hole, close my eyes and never leave, which is what I felt like I should do in the first place, b/c that is all that could be done. Sorry, I’m angry, or at least it is coming off that way. I KNOW that salvation is the most important thing for our eternal soul and we should do whatever it takes to get it (can’t be earned, but to love Jesus, ask forgiveness, etc.), but is this what Jesus would really want us to do? I would need to abandon my family, my life, and basically doing ANY good ever, anymore b/c I would always be in a state of near mortal sin b/c woman are alive and around me.

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