Housekeeping A Converted Heart
We’ve finally broken free from our shackles of shame and sorrow to run home to our Heavenly Father, who loves us beyond compare. Like St. Augustine, we now know that our hearts are restless until they rest in Him, and that true happiness can only come from living in intimate, daily communion with God.
But coming home to Christ presents its own set of challenges. That initial burst of repentant fervour may fizzle out quickly amidst the pressures of daily life. Our friends might even urge us to go back to bad old habits – like hard drinking or promiscuous living – which made us “fun” to be around. After all, no one likes being mocked as a goody-two-shoes!
How then are we to sustain a conversion of heart? Or, as St. Paul wrote to the Ephesians, to “put off your old nature which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful lusts, and be renewed in the spirit of your minds“? (Eph 4:22-23) Here are several tips from Holy Scripture:
Fill The Void
“When the unclean spirit has gone out of a man, he passes through waterless places seeking rest, but he finds none. Then he says, ‘I will return to my house…’ And when he comes he finds it empty, swept, and put in order. Then he brings with him seven other spirits… and the last state of that man becomes worse than the first.” (Mt 12:43-45)
It is never enough just to give up vice: an “empty” heart is prone to all sorts of other worldly distractions. Cultivating virtuous habits will keep us too busy to fall back into our bad old ways. “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” (Rom 12:21). Discerning the root “deadly sin” behind your most serious faults – eg., pride, greed or lust – can show you the virtue that will help you overcome it. For example, those struggling with greed could start by committing to two or three acts of generosity every week.
And if you need to make a decisive break with friends who keep suggesting the temptations of your past life, find new ones! Bonding with a new community, particularly a Christian one, can make it easier – and more fun – to pursue the virtuous life. This is why St. Paul told Timothy, “Shun youthful passions and aim at righteousness, faith, love, and peace, along with those who call upon the Lord from a pure heart.” (2 Tim 2:22)
Prayer and Intercession
“The prayer of a righteous man has great power in its effects.” (James 5:16)
There is no better way to sink roots into our Father’s house than to check in daily to praise Him and discern what He is doing in your life. This is why Our Lord told his friends that “when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret… Do not [heap up empty phrases], for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.” (Mt 6:6-8) Prayer does not need to be long or wordy, but it should be heartfelt.
Our Father wants you to seek Him out in good times and in bad – to learn the humility of relying on His grace for “our daily bread”. One good way to do this is to pray, not just for our own needs, but for the needs of others. Similarly, do not hesitate to ask your fellow Christians to pray for you – for you are all “parts of one body” (1 Cor 12:12). Seeing God at work in your community strengthens the Faith of every member.
“If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just, and will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (1 Jn 1:9)
The Sacrament of Reconciliation absolves us of sin and lets sanctifying grace flow freely into our hearts once more. Examining our conscience and making a good Confession every month or so is like being the wise housekeeper who sweeps away dust before it builds up in the corners and stains the carpet. This house will be truly beautiful and welcoming – a home fit for God to enter and dwell in (Jn 14:23).
Although the archdiocese organises large-scale Penitential Services during Lent and Advent, it is spiritually more beneficial to go to the same priest for regular Confessions. As he gets to know you better, he will be able to pinpoint the areas where you tend to sin, and provide more specific counsel if you appear to be backsliding.
“Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow; but woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up.” (Ecc 4:9-10)
Humans are social creatures, and a shared burden is more easily borne. Whether you are trying to break a sinful habit or adopt a good one, it helps to enlist a trusted person to check in with you regularly and hold you accountable for the goals you have set for yourself. This dedicated companion can also be your constant prayer warrior who would lift you up in prayer, especially in your specific areas of sin.
If you and your accountability buddy struggle with similar vices, you have the comfort of knowing that the other person fully empathises with your struggle – and is cheering you on nonetheless. As St. Paul told the Hebrews, “let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works… encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day [of Judgement] drawing near.” (Heb 10:24-25)
If you lack a suitable buddy, a journal or habit tracker can help you set personal goals and keep track of improvements over time.
Live In The Light
“Once you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord; walk as children of light… Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them… when anything is exposed by the light it becomes visible..” (Eph 5:8-13)
Since we tend to indulge our sinful tendencies in secret, deny them a chance to flourish by living “in the open”, making our deeds visible to others. For example, a pornography addict could move his computer out of his bedroom to the living area. Similarly, an unmarried couple wrestling with sexual temptation should restrict their dates to public areas, avoiding hotel rooms and dimly-lit nightspots.
We can remind ourselves to live with integrity by remembering that there is no point trying to hide any sin or weakness from God – “For nothing is hidden that shall not be made manifest, nor anything secret that shall not be known and come to light.” (Lk 8:17) But He is not a distant judge who only wants to condemn and punish us. Rather, He is our loving Father who encourages us in every small step that we take to keep our homes clean for Him.
So let us do our best to maintain order in our homes that now have been made new by the Father. Our efforts, accompanied by His grace, will allow us a deeper encounter of His love that for now we but have a foretaste of. Let us dive deeper and deeper into this journey of discovering His unfathomable love for us so that in so doing, we may be more fully the sons and daughters that He made us to be and become effective witnesses of His great love to others.
Written by Ms Estella Young, OP