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I swear I’ve had the following conversation with myself:

Me: I am going to eat all of the [insert food, such as cookies, cake, pie, leftovers]!

Myself: Oh no, don’t do that.

Me: Why not? I MADE IT. So by rights, I should get to eat as much as I want to.

Myself: Think of your husband! Think of your waistline!

Me (Already chewing): Shut up, you goody-good.

Myself: You shut up. And give me some of that pie.

It’s symptomatic of a realization I had recently: We hang on to sins not because we want to be bad, but because we find them somehow comforting. Gluttony feels a lot like self-nurturing. (For some people, starving works the same way.) Lying feels like self-protection. Jealousy strokes one’s own ego. (“You’re right. It isn’t fair that she has money and you don’t. Who does she think she is?”) Wallowing in hatred and surrounding ourselves with like-minded people keeps us from having to face the fact that we might be wrong, or worse, bad people.

In St. Augustine’s Confessions, he makes a startling admission. He sinned because he loved his sins. That sounds shocking, wicked even. But when you think about it, we all love our own sins. Why else would we keep doing them? We all do whatever works for us in order to get through life. A lot of those things are sinful, even self-destructive. But we do them because we don’t know better. Or we don’t trust better. Or we just don’t want to change.

In many ways, we’re all just grown-up toddlers. We feed our inner needs for love, attention, happiness and acceptance in the most basic, crude ways possible. A toddler doesn’t consider long-term ramifications; she wants the cookie, so she steals the cookie. You’d think we’d grow out of that kind of thinking, yet inside of us that “inner toddler,” that child that knows only selfishness, continues to thrive, deep in the most hidden parts of us.

So how do we turn off the insistent voice of our inner toddler? How do we get past sins that feel good on some primal level? I have no authoritative answer. I suppose it involves healing our toddler-selves in ways other than those that are clearly bad for us. I bet it also involves deep self-examination, discerning what our real needs are and how they might be met in more constructive ways.

Or you could go the “cold water in the face” route by remembering this: Jesus made the ultimate sacrifice — His life — for our sins. Not just for the biggies like murder, but the little sins, too. And yes, that includes eating entire pies. Put in those terms, any inner toddler would feel shame. And shame can be a catalyst for change, one of the oldest and most basic of all catalysts, in fact.

Granted, none of us is ever going to achieve sin-free perfection. That cranky inner voice will continue to triumph in ways big and small. But maybe we can rein it in a bit simply by being aware of it. After all, toddler tantrums and crow’s feet don’t exactly go well together. Someone has to be the adult.

Have a Mary Little Christmas

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