In a recent video by Fr. Mike Schmitz, The Price of Forgiveness, he calls a distinction between saying “Sorry” and asking for forgiveness. When reflecting on this, the oddest thought popped into my head: the game of whack-a-mole, only instead of moles, it was our sins.
Originally created in Japan in the 1970’s, the whack-a-mole game typically features a number of holes from where moles randomly pop up and the player uses a mallet to strike the mole back into the hole. The timing of the moles popping up increases with play until the time limit is reached, usually well beyond a person’s ability to correctly see and strike the mole when it pops up.
In trying to live a life of faith and avoid sin, we can end up in a pattern similar to the game. When we seriously approach the sacrament of reconciliation, we commit to avoiding sinning in the same way again. While thankfully God does not limit how many times we can be forgiven for the same sin, we are still obliged to try avoiding it. Sometimes we pick one sin to focus on, investigating the whys and hows in order to determine what we need to do to elude the sin again. Then when we feel confident, we pick another sin to focus on, only to realize we’ve relapsed into the sin we thought we conquered. It can be incredibly frustrating, just like a game of whack-a-mole, where our sins keep popping up despite all of our efforts.
Perhaps the whack-a-mole effect is when we say “Sorry” to God, even being contrite, but feeling that the habitual sin is too strong to avoid. If we take the weight of that sin into our spiritual hands and own it, as Fr. Mike describes, could we dig deeper into that sin and allow God’s grace to penetrate and slowly heal us? Can we imagine our lives without committing that sin? Or, is it like a nicely worn pair of slippers that we insist on wearing, simply because they are comfortable? Perhaps we are convinced that we are solely responsible for changing ourselves and we are trying to prove to God that we can change. Or just maybe, we see the sin as a challenge and enjoy playing the game, flirting with the sin despite its tendency to frustrate us.
The objection could be raised as St. Paul said in his second letter to the Corinthians that “a thorn was given me in the flesh, as messenger of Satan, to harass me, to keep me from being too elated.” Even after begging God to remove it, God replied, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” (2 Cor 12: 7-9) God can certainly use our sin patterns to teach us compassion for others, compassion for ourselves, and to bring us closer to Him. However, most of us are not like Paul, nor do we enjoy the same type of relationship with God he did. I think the most important take-away from Paul’s statement, is that he, too, was a sinner even after he converted to follow Jesus Christ. We should use this as a tool to deflect discouragement when we find ourselves repeating the same sin, but not use it as an excuse to continue sinning and taking God’s mercy for granted.
I don’t want to play games with God’s mercy. The price Jesus willingly paid for my sins and the relationship I strive to have with Him requires me to seek His forgiveness, His mercy, and His help. Eternal life with Him is too precious to risk in an endeavor that has no winner.