The Greek myth of the Sirens has stuck with me. The famous warrior Odysseus is making his way home from war when his ship must pass by the Sirens: half-women, half-birds who sing a song that is achingly beautiful, and until then, had led to the death of all who heard it. Whenever sailors followed their melody, their boats were dashed against the rocks. So before encountering the Sirens, Odysseus had his men block their ears with beeswax so they wouldn’t be tempted to succumb to their song. But Odysseus, now he was sure he was better than that. He wanted to hear the beauty of this legendary song, so no beeswax for him. Instead, he had his crew tie him to the mast of the boat and swear not to untie him no matter how much he pleaded.
Of course, when they passed by, Odysseus frantically fought to get free and begged his men to untie him. Fortunately, his crew ignored his cries, and he survived. But what I find interesting is that although both Odysseus and his men survived, they both saw the Sirens completely differently. “To Odysseus, who [was] bewitched by the song, the Sirens look[ed] as beautiful as Helen of Troy. To his crew, made deaf with beeswax, the Sirens seem[ed] like hungry monsters with vicious, crooked claws.” Whereas his crew saw the Sirens for the murderers they truly were, Odysseus saw them as beautiful, even worth giving his life for. Although he survived, instead of passing through peacefully like his men, he writhed through the struggle, pining for something that looked beautiful, but was actually deadly.
The Lord has convicted me this weekend that I’m just like Odysseus.
There are some ugly sins in my life that, until recently, I hadn’t fully realized were truly sins. In fact, I had romanticized these sins and tricked myself into thinking that they were actually beautiful.
Isaiah 40:18-19 says “To whom, then, will you compare God? What image will you compare him to? As for an idol, a craftsman casts it, and a goldsmith overlays it with gold and fashions silver chains for it.” What strikes me here is how intentionally the Israelites sought to beautify their idols, idols which were ugly and inanimate and powerless. And they stared at that silver and gold for so long that they actually started to believe that it could compare to God.
This idea of romanticizing sin may sound strange, so I’ll give some examples. My definition of romanticizing sin is any time I cast in a noble light thoughts and actions that take my eyes off God and set them on myself and my own glory. It could be:
Perfectionism: saying that you are working your tail off for the Lord, but really doing it to prove your own worth.
Playing the martyr: giving and serving to the point of exhaustion without asking for anything in return, but secretly resenting how much people take you for granted.
An unrequited love complex: painting yourself as the victim of a tragic love story when the object of your affection doesn’t see you as you want to be seen, then obsessively ruminating on just what it was about you that wasn’t “good enough.”
The common denominator between these three examples is a focus on self. In these sins, we are the stars of our own movies. And seeing through fleshly eyes, being the leading lady seems like it would be full of beauty, adventure, and meaning. But in reality, the Siren call of these old thought patterns wants to dash me against the rocks. I’m convinced that any beauty I find in these sins stems from the same problem Odysseus had: he chose to listen to what he knew sought to destroy him.
It. Was. A. Choice.
As a follower of Jesus, I know the truth. I know that the song He is writing in this epic story of love and redemption makes the Siren song of self sound brassy and weak. I know that to choose to listen to lies over truth is to pace back and forth in a prison cell that he opened for me long ago.
Romans 7 and 8 juxtapose the struggle with sin in our current bodies and the victory we have through the Holy Spirit’s work. It’s clear in Scripture that sin will be a struggle while we’re on earth, but at the same time, there is another, greater reality at play:
“You, however, are controlled not by the sinful nature but by the Spirit, if the Spirit of God lives in you….if Christ is in you, your body is dead because of sin, yet your spirit is alive because of righteousness. And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit, who lives in you.” (Romans 8:9a, 10-11)
And this power of the Holy Spirit is exactly what I’ve experienced this weekend, His convicting me firmly, yet gently of these sins that come to me as easy as breathing but want to suffocate my joy.
“This is the start of a new chapter, one of freedom,” I hear Him say. “This is the start of a new chapter, if you will step into it, daughter.”
Odysseus survived, but he chose torment when his passage could have been peaceful.
And I have a choice too. I have a choice to listen to the Sirens’ songs and live frantic and melancholy, or I can fully embrace my identity as a child of God and follow His song, a song that is steady and true. A song whose words are the Word made flesh, the love of Christ that sounds sweeter and sweeter with time.