The apostle Paul in Romans 7: 13 says, “I don’t understand what I do – for I don’t do the things I want to do, but rather the things I hate.” Been there, done that. In fact, I’d be willing to bet we all have. We’ve snapped at our loved ones, we’ve gossiped behind someone’s back, we’ve wasted time at work, we haven’t helped the needy, we haven’t reached out to a friend in distress, we’ve cheated on our diets, we’ve drank too much, we’ve not been truthful, we haven’t followed through on a promise, etc. But, why?
Some people answer this question by saying, “The devil made me do it,” thereby resulting in the proverbial angel on one shoulder and the devil on the other each vying for control.
Paul believed that there was a power, a proclivity, a predisposition in him that he named “Sin”. It was this Sin within him that caused him to do things that he didn’t want to do. In contrast, Paul talks over and over again in his writings about being “in Christ”. He says we can have new life “in Christ” and freedom “in Christ”, then we are no longer captive to the “law of sin.” All of this boils down to living in the presence of God as Jesus lived in the presence of God. And when we do this we die to our old nature (with the power of sin in it) and we have a new creation within ourselves.
For the great theologian and philosopher, Augustine, the human heart was innately perverse thanks to the sin of Adam and Eve. Augustine coined the phrase “original sin” and humanity has been burdened by the concept ever since.
My issue with these theories on why we do things we don’t want to do, is that each of them puts the blame outside of ourselves and our control. They divorce us of responsibility over our own actions. In the vernacular of our own time, I believe we would answer this question by discussing the tension between ego and spirit.
Our ego is sort of like our body-guard in that it wants to make sure we are safe and so it tries to always be in control. Ego wants to make sure we look good to the world and if we don’t it gets defensive, critical, and judgmental, and makes excuses to put us on equal footing. We say to ourselves, look, I’m not so bad… they’re worse! Our ego fears being hurt and exposed, and so when it feels like that might be the case it backs off, isolates, shuts down.
It’s not that the ego isn’t useful, it is, but if it overpowers our connection to spirit then we end up doing more and more things that we know aren’t good, and find more and more excuses to do them.
Mary Allen, life coach and author of “Spirit Versus Ego” offers some helpful advice on distinguishing ego from spirit and living more in spirit. These are, in my opinion, some of the hardest choices we have to make in life. But the more we make them the easier they become.
- Get present. Ego wants to drag us into the drama of the past or the fear of the future.
- Choose higher vibrations – consciously choosing peace, joy, love appreciation, generosity and other good feelings strengthens the connection to Spirit.
- Take responsibility – ego likes to be the victim and lead you to believe you have no choice or are not powerful. What do you need to ask for? Who could help you? What do you need to let go of?
- Practice humility – ego is about being right. Stepping into humility and admitting critical, judging behavior liberates us from ego and brings us back to spirit.
- Remember that ego’s voice is almost always associated with angst, resistance, doubt, fear, guilt and confusion. Spirit’s voice is clear, wise, knowing, and brings peace.
Living more consciously about our own behaviors and actions is a huge part of the spiritual journey. We’re not going to be perfect overnight, but that doesn’t mean we stop trying to live more out of spirit than ego. The peace we find with that spirit connection is well worth the effort.