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Confessions: The loss of Lamentable Happiness

Now, in contrast, I pity more the man who enjoys himself in indecency than the one who endures hardships in the curtailment of an indulgence that destroys him, and in the loss of his lamentable “happiness.”—Saint Augustine, Confessions 3.3

Imagine for second two people. The first is composed but completely submitted to their sin. The second is disheveled by fighting against their sin. Who do we pity more? Or rather, who do we feel sorry for?

The sins of the soul are often perceived as confidence on the surface. The proud seem trustworthy and assertive. The lustful seem sexual and strong. The gluttons seem shameless and comfortable in their own skin. The liars seem crafty and clever. Angry persons seem like defenders. And on it goes.

However, anyone who has ever wrestled with their sin knows how difficult the task is on the mind. Swallowing your pride, denying your lust, coming to terms with your lifestyle choices, telling the truth, and holding your temper is torture to the soul that is not disciplined.

It is a paradox that the one who submits to his poison is admired while the one who seeks to treat it is tortured.

Who is to be pitied then? Saint Augustine tells us that it is the former. But why? Because fighting against our sin is a form of self-respect. As Abraham Heschel said, “Self-respect is the root of discipline: The sense of dignity grows with the ability to say no to oneself.” Fighting against our sin is the harder path that reaps the greatest reward (in fact the only path that does reward). What good is it to be happy if we have not developed any disciplines that demand us to respect ourselves? As Ellen White says, “The deepest poverty, the greatest self-denial, with His approval, is better than riches, honors, ease, and friendship without it.”[1]

Trust in the Lord, and do good;

dwell in the land and befriend faithfulness.

Delight yourself in the Lord,

and he will give you the desires of your heart.

—Psalm 37:3-4

Lord, strengthen my battle. be my joy as I sacrifice my happiness for a holier life.

[1] White, Ellen; The Great Controversy, 622

Note: These are my daily reflections as I go through Saint Agustine's Confessions. Unless otherwise noted, I am using Sarah Ruden's translation of the original text, and the NIV.


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