You know how it goes.
You might be sitting up late one night, wallowing in your own self pity and the computer beacons to you. You might be dealing with the twentieth dirty diaper of the day with a screaming kid hanging off your back, and rage steals under your defences. You might over hear a conversation in the cubicle next to you, and the phone next to you seems to leap into your hand so you can share the juicy news. You might walk past the overflowing garbage can for the twelfth time, and resentment begins to creep into your soul.
We all have them, and we all know we have them.
We tend to try to ignore them, however, or justify them as ‘natural’.
Resisting temptation has got to be one of the hardest thing for a Christian to learn. It certainly is the hardest thing for me to do in my Christian life. The temptations sound so good, so easy, so right. I begin to argue with myself and with the Spirit, that it cannot be as bad as it seems. Surely there is some reason I should give in to the temptation.
After all, someone else drove me to it. If only these kids were not so exhausting. If only my spouse would actually work around the house. If only people would talk a little quieter.
If only God would give me more strength.
Sometimes I end up blaming my failures on God.
“God,” I say, “I prayed that you would help me resist this temptation, that you would take the desire away, that you would prevent me from hearing juicy gossip, that … , but you did not and now I have fallen again.
“Thanks for nothing.”
I guess it seems easier this way. It seems easier to place the blame on others. It seems easier to blame my failures on God. After all, is he not supposed to be living in me?
Temptation, says Thomas a Kempis in the Imitation of Christ, is an inevitable part of life.
So long as we live in this world we cannot escape suffering and temptation.
Whence it is written in Job: “The life of man upon the earth is a warfare.”
But it is only through temptation that we become hardened and strengthened people. We do not overcome temptations by running from them. We overcome them by slowly rooting them out of our souls.
Little by little, in patience and long-suffering you will overcome them, by the help of God rather than severity and your own rash ways. … The beginning of all temptation lies in a wavering mind and little trust in God, for as a rudderless ship is driven hither and yon by waves, so a careless and irresolute man is tempted in many ways.
Often we do not know what we can stand, but temptation shows us what we are.
This last line is really hard for me to take. I prefer to think that giving in to temptation is a fluke, it is a break of my character. I prefer to think that I am all the good things in my life. But Thomas a Kempis says this is not the case. A chain is only as good as its weakest link.
We are no better than our weakest point.
In temptations and trials the progress of a man is measured; in them opportunity for merit and virtue is made more manifest. When a man is not troubled it is not hard for him to be fervent and devout, but if he bears up patiently in time of adversity, there is hope for great progress.
May we recognise that we see ourselves most clearly in our time of temptation. May we, at that point, give ourselves most fully over to God.