Friday, August 10, 2012
When You're Tempted to Tempt Temptation
Must we hear Christ in the garden
Or walk with Him by the sea,
Hear him directly speak our pardon
Or touch His robe to be set free?
Must we sit around the table
And watch Him break the bread,
Or follow the star above the stable
To kiss the newborn’s head?
Must we help Christ climb the hill
And step inside His empty tomb,
Or trace the scars to know they’re real
And touch Him in the upper room?
We never saw the shining star or heard the baby cry,
Or lingered in the garden, or heard the pounding nails.
We couldn’t help Him bear the cross or climb the hill on which He'd die
We never walked the beach or sat beneath the boat's full sails.
When we weep within our garden or in a lonely room
And trace our scars that oh-so-slowly heal,
The Christ who slept in the stable and stepped out from His tomb
Sees the storm-tossed steps we take and knows exactly how we feel.
-- Thom Hunter
I find myself in an odd situation at this point in life: looking for a suitable job. Three years out of “early retirement” from AT&T, with two books behind me and The Guest House established, I am in an odd position that seems best described as between doors. So many have closed behind me to make me realize I was in so many places at one time that it may not have been very clear to anyone who knew me exactly where . . . or even who . . . I was.
Suddenly, it seems, doors are scarce. And, I like work. Not just because I want to continue to eat or be able to read with a working lamp in a cool room, but because I have always liked to work, to change, to reach, to react, to do and be as the result of exertion, to have impact as a result of doing and being.
I began to work in 1963.
I was about nine, and I was a door-to-door donut salesman. My job was to smile sweetly from under my folded paper hat when housewives answered their doors . . . and make a little speech and hold out a bag of chocolate-covered donuts with a "your husband will never even know because you can polish them off before he gets home" look. I would have gone up against any door-to-door vacuum cleaner salesman in a heartbeat. My maple creams against your
I extended temptation and wavering hands wilted.
I don't know, maybe that's where I got the impression that life was just a sugar-covered donut, trapping many of us with an overriding "you can't eat just one" philosophy. Maybe it was also the deep exposure to temptation I received as a child, surrounded by mentors addicted to cigarettes, alcohol, gambling . . . whatever. They appeared to so enjoy their declines into stupor, silliness or senselessness, The general implication was that we really are tempted only towards good things that are stimulating and satisfying. Just ask the Marlboro Man. There was always the caveat that we just need to be careful, because "too much of a good thing" is not a good thing. But . . . it's still good. I was surrounded by people who could “handle their liquor,” “quit anytime I want to,” or “move on from this in a heartbeat.”
Until, of course they were faced with the demand – internal or external -- to do just that – handle it or quit it or move on -- and the grip displayed the reality that it was they. The shadows of temptation had deepened into the darkness of addiction.
Most of the things to which we are tempted are not good and not good for us. And I'm not talking about donuts, as if the solution is as simple as celery. I'm talking, in the context of this blog, about sexual addiction. It's addictive, but rarely in a good way, and much like donuts make you fat, cigarettes hasten death, gambling keeps the baby barefoot and alcohol and drugs deplete the brain cells, sexual addiction -- whether same or opposite, real-time or celluloid -- claims who you were and gives you a disgusting and warped semi-clone in return. Addiction seems to be dependent on perversion, the powder on the donut, so-to-speak.
And it all begins with "T." Temptation. In the time it takes to buy a ticket on the temptation railroad, "don't go there," becomes "been there, done that." Then you find that while you enjoyed the scenery, you forgot to get the t-shirt, so you hop back on and you're halfway 'round the bend before you realize you boarded. Donuts anyone?
Temptation is like an eating disorder of the soul. Want . . . need . . . eat . . . throw up, and wallow in the misery of purging and swear you will never do it again. Wait . . . is that a donut?
Who put that donut out there?
And then . . . who are you to tell me that I cannot have a donut.
And . . . how dare you judge me. All I had was a measly donut. It wasn't even that good.
I deserved a donut. I needed a donut. But I definitely have been satisfied now and I will never ever eat another donut.
Why in the world did I eat another donut?
Then . . . well, it was just a donut. Yes, I should have known better, but this donut was different. Now that I know . . . I won't eat any more donuts.
Wait . . . is that a donut?
Okay . . . I guess I'm just one of those persons who is made to eat donuts. I can't help it. It's just who I am.
No you're not. Yes you can. No, it's not.
No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; He will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, He will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it. -- 1 Corinthians 10:13
Why is it the most familiar verses can be so elusive when we really need them . . . and so easy to find when we have given in to the temptation and are now ready to beat ourselves up for it? Perhaps because guilt is a part of the cycle of temptation . . . it's a road sign to let us know we've just about completed the round-trip and can grab our carry-on bags.
I know that many times temptation sneaks up on us . . . but just as often it is merely presented in response to our open invitation. We put out the breadcrumbs that lead straight to the door and then act surprised when the blackbird appears, wanting more.
What a scenic trip we go on when we give in to temptation. So many stops along the way, so familiar and yet we launch into the trip as though we've never been there before.
Self-pity -- I need, therefore I seek. I want, therefore I take. I lack, so therefore I deserve.
Bitterness -- I sought, I took, I got . . . and I am so mad. But, hey . . . that's what life is, isn't it? A string of fight-till-you-fall moments? A little tease and then a tryst with temptation? Show me someone standing and I'll show you someone lying.
Denial -- I don't know how I fell for that again. I don't know what I was thinking. I'm usually so strong. It was just a minor slip anyway . . . and I'm getting better all the time. Besides, it didn't really hurt anyone. No one was affected. I mean . . . hardly anyone even knows.
Anger -- Why do these things keep happening to me? It's not fair. It's not worth it, trying to be right in this evil world. Forget it. If God really doesn't want me to fall, then why does He let all these traps get set. He could stop it. He's all-powerful. He's always there. He already knows everything. I've got a serious issue with this omniscient and omnipotent thing.
Jealousy -- Everyone else has what they need. Everyone else is satisfied. Everyone else is happy. Everyone else's needs and wants are satisfied. Why can't I be like everyone else?
Hate -- Where's a bridge when I really need it? And I'm talking about one to jump off of. I'm the stupidest, weakest, most worthless human being ever so-called-created in the image of God. He hates me. I hate me. Everyone hates me. (This can be a convenient u-turn spot back to self-pity to keep us in the cycle, or we can move on to . . .)
Remorse -- Oh, God . . . please, please, please forgive me one more time. I have hurt myself and others . . . and most of all You. You love me so much and I turn away from You. I feel so horrible. How can You even look at me now? I have been so ungrateful, so unfaithful, so ignorant. I was created in Your image . . . and I have dragged You through the mud.
Frustration -- I have been doing everything I know to do, God. I pray. I confess. I build those hedges. I block everything I can. I have accountability. I . . . give up.
Judgmentalism -- I see those people around me all the time, thinking they're so good . . . and they sin. They just do it in such a way that no one ever knows . . . or they think their petty little sins are nothing, while mine are said to be deep plunges and long wallowing. Well . . . if they could see themselves like I see them, they'd know that it's as much their fault as mine that I sin. They're so caught up in themselves, they don't have the time to care about, love or walk with . . . oooh . . . a "sinner" like me.
Self-reliance -- I'm sorry, God. I see what I did wrong now . . . and I know just how it happened. It won't happen again. I promise. I can do this. I have a plan.
Hmmm . . . is that . . . yes, it is . . . a donut.
Of course, one of the temptations we need also to resist is the temptation to just turn it all over to someone else . . . or a group of someone elses . . a committee. They'll lay out a plan, produce a list, mull over some milestones . . . and, oh yes, . . . hold your feet to the fire. Certainly being transparent to trusted souls who truly source the Bible and are really committed to walking with you in truth and compassion (God with skin on) is an important part of accountability . . . but transparency alone is not a solution; it's just part of one. It may feel good and safe to be surrounded by armor bearers, but they can't ban the powdered sugar from your life.
Reliance on anything or anyone or any plan can not take the place of reliance on God.
Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has gone through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are -- yet was without sin. Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need. -- Hebrews 4:14-16
Jesus Christ is the ultimate "been there-done that." Done as in "being tempted," not as in giving in. He knows. He sympathizes. He's been through the heavens and He sits on the throne . . . of grace. And . . . he says we can approach with confidence. That means we have no reason --none at all -- to doubt that He will give us the mercy and the grace we need . . . to put down the donut and back out of the bakery.
I had a dream a while back that stuck with me and for which I am thankful. I'm not a professional dream interpreter, but I am a pretty proficient ponderer.
In my dream, I was a toddler. I didn't look like me, but I knew it was me. I never spoke in the dream, but I was very happy and I kept pointing and fidgeting, trying to climb out of the arms and onto the shoulders of the person who was carrying me, which I thought at first was my dad.
The person carrying me on his hip with one strong arm wrapped around me was carrying in his other hand a huge stack of papers, hundreds of pages of writing, unstapled, unbound, piled one on the other in perfect balance as we walked into an old building. In my dream I had an understanding it was his life story he carried, but I could not read it.
He slid the papers onto the corner of a desk and sat me on the floor. I began to run around the room, spinning in circles, jumping up and down, climbing on furniture, tripping and falling until I finally ran into the corner of the desk, sending the papers flying all over the room like pigeons released for a race.
I stopped and stared at the papers as they scattered . . . and at Him. My happiness was gone and I lowered my head to look at the floor. There was no way . . . in the world . . . that those papers could ever be put back together.
He . . . not my dad at all, but, yes, the Holy "He" . . . walked around the room and re-assembled all the papers and set them back on the corner of the desk. Nothing was missing, not one single sheet. It was all restored. Suddenly, I realized in the dream that this now-reassembled scattering was not His story, but mine.
I know that the God of all creation can restore everything, even the pieces of us we have left like breadcrumbs along the trail of temptation along which we learn to travel with such ease. Because of His love.
Anyone or anything that stands between you and God instead of directing you directly to God -- whether in a misguided attempt to save your soul or in a well-planned effort to claim it -- is just a donut vendor standing at your door like a cute little boy in a pointed hat with a crisp white bag full of feel-goods.
He’s just working. Working you.
Just say, "not today" . . . and close the door. In time, he may not stop by anymore.