Sunday, February 10, 2008

The Upside of Temptation

Today is the first Sunday of Lent and the themes of temptation present themselves. In Matthew’s gospel, Jesus heads into the wilderness after his baptism to wrestle with his call. Satan appears offering Jesus’ several opportunities almost too good to pass up––

1. Turn these stones into bread. Wouldn’t he crave fresh bread steaming from the oven, some comfort food after 40 days of locusts and honey, or the wilderness roughage diet? I see this as the temptation of More. Satisfying my every desire will bring happiness. I know it won’t, and I just put myself on the waiting list for a Kindle, so perhaps it’s hypocritical for me to blog about resisting temptation.

2. Throw yourself off the temple spire. Cause a scene, grab some attention, force God to swoop to the rescue. I call this the temptation of Rescue. I throw myself into a precarious situation either, or I’m not paying attention and I fall, or am pushed, and instead of taking care of my mess, doing my healing work, I yell, “Hey God!” (Feel free to substitute your chosen savior or enabler for God, e.g. spouse, parent), “Save me!” usually from my actions and myself.

3. Choose the easy path and you’ll get fame, glory and political power. Head rush galore. I name this the temptation of Influence, or It’s all about me! Secretly, or not so secretly, I want to be worshipped and adored. I want everyone to agree with me, and the world to cooperate and operate according to my agenda.

Jesus doesn’t cave to temptation the way I do frequently. He remains firm in his discernment of God’s desires for his life work. He’s famished but he’s not starving to death, he doesn’t need to use his power to satisfy a whim, he values relationship with God more. And, he won’t hesitate later, though to feed the crowds when they’re hungry. Think a few loaves, a handful of fish, thousands of people, a real need for food. Jesus won’t jump into folly, off the temple or any place else, he’s going to look before he leaps, and leap into something meaningful and deep (let’s hope a body of water, hah!). He’s not going to pursue worship and adoration through power, political or economic. He’s going to do his job, which requires every once of his life force, but he’s doing it for the greater good, not personal gain.

It all happens so fast on paper, but the way I think, temptation isn’t temptation, unless the opportunities and things dangled before you are something you really want––food after a fast, someone to rescue you from your reckless behavior––or provide an out to avoid your biggest fears or terrifyingly hard work. In my experience temptation isn’t a “no thanks” you give to a telemarketer, hang up and go about your day. Temptation rears it’s wooly head when I’m most vulnerable—emotionally, physically, spiritually. Sometimes I can keep my perspective and ask myself, will I be able to live with the consequences if I give into this temptation? No. Will my actions harm other people? Yes. When that happens, I can muster up the strength to say, “Away with you Satan.” But other times I act on impulse and have to muck through the consequences.

In temptation we run smack into the full extent of our humanity. Jesus was successful in his desert dance with the devil. Many of us are not. Although Jesus’ life doesn’t show us an example of temptation as a catalyst to turn our lives around, we can see it in the stories of some of the people he healed, “Go and sin no more,” and transformation is all around us. In my valley a former drug addict and self-described gang banger, met Jesus in jail and now ministers to troubled youth, helping them get off meth and out of gangs. My story is less dramatic, a mid-life crisis, “Who am I apart from my roles and wife and mother,” led to following God’s call to write.

The upside of temptation? Opportunities to examine our motives, our resolve, our deepest selves and our relationship with God and those close to us. Tests, that we can take again and again, unlimited chances to improve our grades. I always liked school, even tests; especially blue book essays…Get out the pen and write.

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