Maybe you’re hooked on some bad habit, caught by some vice, sunk in some addiction — whether small or large — maybe venial sin, maybe mortal sin. But if it’s something you just can’t break away from, and stay broken away from, here’s how to get free once and for all. Here’s a lifesaving little program made up of three simple steps:
(1.) Talk — Step One is you talking to God.
(2.) Break — Step Two is you breaking down the old you.
(3.) Build — Step Three is you building up the new you.
(1.) Talk — Talking to God — prayer — is the first and most important move you must make in this little program. Talking to God, though, does not mean just mechanically reciting prayers, not even a perfect prayer like the Our Father. We both know it’s so easy to recite an Our Father (for some of us, maybe even a whole rosary) without ever thinking of what we’re saying, much less Who we’re saying it to. Just rattling off, “Arfarhooartinhevn,hollobeethynaim” — like a parrot, is pretty much useless if we intend on breaking an old, deeply ingrained bad habit. No, Talking to God means, primarily, you speaking freely and honestly to the One Who loves you. And it’s you talking about what you’re really thinking and what you’re really feeling. It’s friend talking to Friend. It’s telling Him what you want; it’s explaining to Him what you’re worried about ; it’s letting Him know what you’re about to do ; and it’s promising Him what you mean to stop doing — sinning, especially that particular habitual sin — and to stop doing today. One thing to remember with this Talk Step: Keep your prayers brief — really, really short. Like, how short? Well, how much time does it take you to pray, “Help!”? or to pray, “Sorry”? or to cry out, “I‘m being tempted.”? or “Thank you, Jesus.”? or “Save me, I feel like giving in !”? The Fathers of the Church called these quick little prayers javelins, because we hurl them up to Heaven in a hurry, especially when we’re under attack. If you manage to toss up a hundred of them in a busy day, that might take up two or three minutes of your precious time.
(2.) Break — Breaking down the old you — destroying your vice — is you doing some little negative action (And, yes, this kind of negative is good, very good.) that begins to eliminate the ugly, sinful, unhealthy, destructive, and self-destructive behavior that has warped your character (See? This is good: you’re negating the negative, destroying the destructive–that’s you growing in spiritual health.) But what kind of negative little action do you have to do? Any kind–as long as it’s against something you like, something that’s fun, pleasant, delightful–against anything that gives you pleasure. For one moment, you’ll refrain from enjoying that nice thing (No dessert tonight.), or taking less of it (Only half a piece of pie.), or putting it off (I’m going to my watch my show, but I’m gonna miss the first two minutes.). Remember though, you have to actually do something–not intend, not sorta plan; you must do. Nothing changes if nothing changes. What’s that mean? That means that God’s Grace is always there for you, and always has been, but so far it hasn’t changed you very much in some sick and evil area of your life (lust, impatience, laziness, anger, overeating, lukewarm devotion, drinking, drugs, envy, judging others, shopaholism, no prayer life, lying, selfishness — whatever vice or combination of vices you’re dealing with right now). And if you haven’t changed much, perhaps it’s because you’re not seriously cooperating. Grace isn’t magic. You must work with God. This Break Step is the negative work you do that gradually fills up that evil little groove you fall into so easily, so that you can then climb up to the high road of virtue and spiritual health. Each and every day, do two or three little actions that say Less, No, or Wait — not to sin, not to your vice, not to temptation — but to the things that make your life fun. Now, what exactly is the point of saying Less, No, or Wait to a piece of pie, of skipping two minutes of a show, or waiting one minute before you Google something? The point is, these little self-limiting choices begin to break your tendency to act on impulse. And if you can keep from acting on impulse with apple pie, TV, the Net, a hobby, your magazine, you’ll soon be able to do it with impatience, gossip, masturbation, lying, attachment to things, or any other impulsive behavior that’s got its hooks in you.
(3.) Build — As the old you, the bad you, is being broken down by the javelins, the many little prayers that keep you in touch with God, and these being supported by a few daily little acts of self-restraint and self-denial, you begin replacing the rotten stuff with good stuff — virtue. This is the positive work, the Build Step. Each and every day, you come out of yourself to do a few little acts of kindness, of generosity; you pay some attention to others; you give a bit of yourself to make someone else happy. Little acts — but exactly how little? Well, how long does it take to wave to a neighbor you usually ignore–three seconds? How long to turn a surly, off-putting face into an open, pleasant face — two seconds? To hold the door for someone — four seconds? And, please never despise any act of giving, of serving, for being too small, too inconsequential. Serious Christians know the little things in life are The Big Things, because life is made up of many, many little things. Even the most astonishing heroics are arrived at by lots of tiny, mostly unnoticed, acts of garden-variety bravery. Any little choice you make — a choice that takes you out of you, that, for Jesus’ sake, helps, blesses, or gives to someone else — that’s love, that’s real love. Those little choices put distance between the new you and the old, addicted-to-sin you. Those little acts, of God’s Grace and your free will, build up a wall of light that keep the Devil, with his dark plans, from capturing you again.
This little 3-step program — Talk, Break, Build — is guaranteed to work. Not for some people, not some of the time — but for everyone, all the time. It is guaranteed to work for you — if you work it! It’s not thinking about the program, admiring it, intending it, but doing it, living the three steps, every day (and once you begin, you never take a day off ; you work the steps daily till you’re in Heaven). That’s what turns the old, vicious, miserable you into the new, virtuous Christ-like you — happy, and with peace of mind. A handful of minutes of effort a day, and you get to be the you you really want to be.