For centuries people have known about the Seven Deadly Sins. It’s believed the list was first compiled by a 4th century Catholic monk, so they include many of Christ’s teachings. Later they were endorsed by other Christian leaders and we find them in artwork, plays, movies, and in the writings of Dante, Chaucer, Horace, and many more.
They live on today because they are so universal and timeless. As our eyes scan the list of Envy, Pride, Gluttony, Lust, Greed, Sloth, and Wrath, we may recognize our own weaknesses there. Perhaps we have repented of some, perhaps we still struggle with others. Let’s take a brief overview, and learn how to conquer these challenges once and for all:
Envy: This is a fixation on having what someone else has. It could be wealth, prestige, or any number of Facebook or Instagram photos that make you sigh and feel sorry for yourself as you compare your lacking life with the abundance of someone else’s.
Truly this is a sin of our day, with social media occupying so much of our time. Its twin is self-pity, which keeps us from being truly content. And it blocks our ability to be happy for others.
Envy can pull us from the path of righteousness as we shift our goals and choose to compete with the world for the item we’ve set our sights on. We may find ourselves sacrificing what’s truly important in a jealous quest to show others up.
Envy can even make us mean, designing snares to bring down those we’re now treating as enemies. It can make us glad when someone has misfortune. In Proverbs 14:30 we’re told that “envy is rottenness to the bones.”
The solution? Loving kindness. Not just doing kind deeds resentfully (we’ve all been there), but changing our hearts so that we feel genuine love for others. Instead of wanting to get more, have more, be more, we focus on building up those around us. We rejoice in the success of others, and we know our value to God is independent of mortal honors.
Pride: Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf calls pride “a deadly cancer.” We are warned of it dozens of times in scripture. In our faith, we study the cycle of pride and how entire civilizations are brought down because it puts self above God, makes us feel superior to others, and paves the way to apostasy.
The great and spacious building represents the pride of the world, and repeatedly we are told not to be lifted up in pride (Jacob 2:13), but to be stripped of pride (Alma 5:28).
The corresponding virtue here that can cure it, is humility. We must guard against boasting, being self-aggrandizing, snobbish, or dismissive. Seeing our fellowmen as siblings and serving them are two great ways to keep pride in check.
Gluttony: Next to pride, this may be the sin most frequently tripping us up. Who among us hasn’t experienced it? We’ve all regretted giving in to our appetites and over-indulging. We even feel heavy, stuffed, and uncomfortable, which you’d think would teach us not to repeat such a miserable experience.
The virtue we need here is temperance. We need to make a conscious decision that we’re not going to make life about excess anymore. The Word of Wisdom gives great counsel and should be read frequently. When we discipline ourselves to eat moderately instead of extravagantly, we take better care of our health. We then become better vessels, better tools for God to use in helping others.
Lust: Passion for one’s spouse is wonderful. Passion unbridled, the kind that leads to immorality, immodesty, disease, unwed pregnancy, and promiscuity destroys not only our bodies but our souls. Lust can fuel a pornography addiction. It can break up marriages. It can thwart spiritual growth. It can rob children of innocence. It can preoccupy God’s children and keep them in bondage, unable to work righteousness and build the kingdom.
President Russell M. Nelson once said, “Mental turmoil that trails in the wake of weakness from lust has evoked many a tear from innocent loved ones. Without repentance, tumult within self does not quit either.”
Worldly messages would have us believe lust is perfectly natural and thus acceptable. Shame, we are told, is an old-fashioned contrivance. But, as with poison, no amount of lust is safe and we should guard against it by employing the virtue that conquers it: Chastity. Self-control is an ennobling and liberating trait that can bring us closer to our Heavenly Father, and farther from Satan’s control.
Greed: Notice how many of these deadly sins involve excess? Greed is the excessive pursuit of material things. It overtakes our hearts and becomes our purpose in life. We all know people who idolize wealth, who cannot seem to accumulate enough. They live in a constant state of discontent. President Monson once said, “We need to separate greed from need.”
The cure for greed is charity. By imparting of our means to help others we learn that true joy comes from giving, not getting. The anxiousness of competing to have the bigger house, the fancier car all evaporate when we realize how wonderful it feels to be free from measuring our worth in this shallow way. Instead, we find true satisfaction in generous philanthropy and service.
Sloth: Every older generation thinks the new one is more slothful. An old fashioned work ethic is dear to many of us, and we feel grateful that we grew up knowing how to work hard. But some miss that lesson. Excessive laziness tugs hard at them, procrastination rules the day, and goals get postponed. Sometimes they sleep much more than is necessary. In addition, the precious talents God gave us don’t get developed. Yes, it’s good to rest and rejuvenate, but not permanently. Life is meant to be lived as we joyfully serve others, discover and grow our abilities, and follow promptings from the Holy Ghost.
The cure for sloth is diligence. Persistence, tenacity, dependability, determination—these traits all yield great feelings of accomplishment and a reputation for reliability. When we’ve worked hard and done great things we end our day in a state of bliss. We’re more interesting people, too.
If slothfulness is a problem for you, a good way to begin turning this around is to set one small goal every day, and do what it takes to reach it. Prove to yourself that you can follow through and be pleased with your efforts.
Wrath: Call it fury, unchecked anger, or hate. It consumes our personality and becomes our dominant trait. And it’s never good. As President David O. McKay once said, “Anger itself does more harm than the condition which aroused anger.”
Yes, there are injustices that call for righteous anger which motivates us to change laws, let’s say, for the better. But wrath strikes out at an individual. People with anger issues sometimes need professional help so they can live happier lives, maintain their relationships, and stay employed.
Belittling others, screaming, spewing venom—none of these things serve you well. God has told us to let vengeance be His. If you’ve found yourself out of control in this arena, take action to calm your short fuse. You’ll be happier and so will everyone around you. The key here is patience. If you feel yourself about to bubble over, take a walk. Get some air. Count to ten. Don’t make excuses; fix it. Anger is a choice.
Some say it’s unhealthy to hold anger in, or that their whole family flares up easily. These are excuses. As President Gordon B. Hinckley stated to boys years ago, “You may think it is the macho thing to flare up in anger and swear and profane the name of the Lord. It is not the macho thing. It is an indication of weakness. Anger is not an expression of strength. It is an indication of one’s inability to control his thoughts, words, his emotions. Of course it is easy to get angry. When the weakness of anger takes over, the strength of reason leaves. Cultivate within yourselves the mighty power of self-discipline.”
You’ve no doubt noticed that with enough love for our Maker, and for our fellowman, we can make huge progress in overcoming or entirely avoiding these sins. And by making a deliberate study of loving kindness, humility, temperance, chastity, charity, diligence, and patience, we can become not only better disciples, but happier ones.
Hilton’s books, humor blog, and Youtube Mom videos can be found on her website. She currently serves as an Inter-Faith Specialist for Church Communications.