The Sin We Did Not Choose Is Still Sin: A Reflection on Disorder

Editor’s note: The following comes from an anonymous contributor.

I am a middle-aged woman with an attachment disorder.* Due to the death of my mother shortly after my birth and a series of misguided actions on the part of well meaning relatives, I have found it extremely hard to bond with people. In particular, I have little innate sense of what fatherhood and motherhood entail. Even today, “family” is a combination of challenging ties that often suffocate more than console. And yet, broken as I am, God loves me.

Given my rough beginning, my life entailed a series of choices based on imitation rather than authenticity. I have married a marvelous man, raised a bundle of reasonably well adjusted children, and participated readily in parish life despite a long series of moves. The diagnosis, discovered nearly two decades ago, was a relief to me, since previously I had believed my short-comings to be moral failings rather than what they truly were: an entirely casebook set of  responses to constantly shifting caregivers in those early years. Despite this, I am still obliged to answer the call to love.

The reason I offer this brief personal testimony is because it is essential for those who cling to Christ and His Church to truly understand sin and redemption. If we look at sin as a privation, we understand that each deficiency can inhibit a thing from reaching its potential. In this regard, a wobbly stool or a horse with a pebble in its shoe is difficult to work with because a person can neither sit comfortably on the one nor ride effectively the other. They simply cannot do what they’re meant to do, although the material in one case and the disposition in the other may be sound. And yet, deformed as they are, they still serve the plan of God.

When it comes to the human condition, sin exists whenever we are inhibited in our ability to do what we are made to do, which is to love God, obey Him, and achieve heaven. Sin – at its core a deficiency – is thereby also anything that involves a disordered use of means. Pinocchio, who squandered his resources on the way to school, certainly sinned, but the man born with a deformed hand is also touched by sin. Regardless, he (and Pinocchio) must do what they can with their situations.

What the Incarnation and Passion of Christ revealed to the world is that creation – broken as it is – is still loved by God, so much so that it was worth redeeming by His own Blood. In particular, our faith shows us that what is dark and deficient can still serve as a path to God, with the essential distinction being made between sin and grace, the latter being God’s own life present to the world. There is nothing darker than the torture and death of Jesus, and yet the salvation of the world sprang from that epic sin. Indeed, through the worst of evils comes the outpouring of a goodness that knows no limit. Nails pounded into human flesh epitomize horror, and yet God humbly receiving that horror showered life.

So where does this leave my diagnosis? It constitutes sin – insofar as it was launched by an untimely death, compounded by deficient choices, and absorbed into the fallen nature of a confused child. From this confused state itself, I have learned what it means to be an adopted child of God, how important a healthy family life is for each newborn child, how the marvelous gift of a blood tie with Christ changes chaos into kinship, and how many of my peers suffer from divorce, promiscuity, myriad dysfunctions, alienation, and disorientation from their earliest years. Woe to those who scandalize the little ones (cf. Mark 9:42). With dogged determination, I have clung to the understanding of the fatherhood of God and the motherhood of the Church as revealed by Christ so I could piece together what was deficient in my life.  My understanding of these things may still be more academic than heartfelt, but I know them to be true. I take nothing for granted.

This brings me to the challenging lie of our day: the insistence that our deficiencies are not sinful, but gifts in themselves, creating an entirely new prism through which to understand God. We are now being told that different psychological diagnoses and physical impairments are not to be seen as impairments or privations, but that they are entirely normal, even good! This means that revelation – and the faith attendant to it – must be adjusted to the disorders we inherit, rather than offering grace to bring those disorders into conformity with truth. This is a compelling assertion, but wrong.

There is no doubt that the deficiencies and obstacles we face are opportunities for growth in virtue. A rocky field must be cleared; otherwise, it cannot grow grain or provide pasture. Indeed, the man required to provide the labor will be strengthened in the process. Likewise, a blind man may develop keen hearing, a paraplegic may become a successful artist, and one who suffers tuberculosis may eventually exhibit heroic forbearance – but none of these virtues could bring us to consider blindness, paralysis, and tuberculosis good things. They can be understood as gifts only in the Christian sense, whereby deficiencies are transformed by grace into channels of grace. Such is the Crucifixion, which transformed the greatest of evils into the greatest of goods.

If we accept the deficiencies as gifts, it is only with the caveat that they are not what God intended, but they are not insurmountable. If the blind man weeps all day, the paraplegic lies wrapped in a bitter fog, and the tubercular patient rails at God until his final breath, the deficiencies – the sin – prevail. But if each turns to God and asks that the sins be transformed by His very Blood, only then can the grace take hold and the sin be overcome. The key is to reconcile the deficiency to the plan of God in light of the proper end of man, and the right use of creation, which is ordered to that end.

With a proper Christian view, I know that my childhood was not what it should have been, but also that the obstacles have not precluded God from acting amidst the chaos. My deficiencies have filtered down to my children in different ways, but even so, salvation is not beyond their grasp. The only brick wall that can ultimately impede one’s path to God is an obdurate misunderstanding of what constitutes sin.

Woe to you that call evil good, and good evil: that put darkness for life, and light for darkness: that put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter. –Isaiah 5:20

If we allow others to recalibrate our society – and even our understanding of faith – to identify dysfunction as health and disorder as normal, then we jettison our ability to transform through grace the deficiencies into gifts. Imagine how the idealization of indifferent motherhood, absent fatherhood, or shattered families would affect the next generation of children! To accept such abnormalities as virtuous blurs our proper relationship with God and masks the trajectory that our lives must take if we are to achieve our proper end. That said, it is even worse to identify ourselves with our disorders, as though they define our being rather than simply impact what ideally should be otherwise. We have seen this before: “And they changed their glory into the likeness of a calf that eateth grass” (Psalm 106:20). Such a degradation is beyond tragic.

Let us not revisit that barren wilderness. Let us distinguish good from evil along the lines of unwavering Church teaching. We are called to love despite our frailty, our deficiencies, and the impediments all around is. “All things work together unto good for those who trust God” (Romans 8:28), and loving God requires that we accept key distinctions. The path of holiness is clear, and broken as we are, we must embark up on it – trusting that His grace will be sufficient.

* A great deal of information was learned about attachment disorders from the plethora of eastern European orphans adopted in the 1990s, most of whom exhibited great difficulties in adjusting properly to their new families. This article highlights those difficulties. From a faith perspective, the work of Drs. Conrad Baars and Anna Terruwe is excellent, found here.

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