By Mags Blackie

Pause for a moment and consider what you think you hear the word temptation.

The best way to begin this piece is to start by stating unequivocally that to find ourselves in a position where we are tempted, is not in itself either sinful or even particularly problematic. The fact that we are tempted is a part of what it is to be human. Jesus Himself was tempted.

So, what is a temptation? A temptation is always something that holds some attraction, but is rather like a baited hook. We really like the look of the bait, we want the bait, but this particular bait will trap us in some way or another if we grab it.

When we look at the temptations of Jesus we see how this works.

The first temptation – ‘If you are the Son of God command this stone to become bread’ (Matt 4:3). Notice there are two elements here. Jesus has been fasting and He is clearly hungry. At this moment, this is going to be a point of weakness. But the second element should not be overlooked. This statement comes after Christ’s baptism, where Jesus heard the voice from heaven say ‘You are my beloved Son, in You I am well pleased’ (Matt 3:17).

He has heard this voice, but that was some time before, can He really trust His deepest sense of Himself? The temptation isn’t really about the bread, there is a deeper question beneath the surface. If we examine the other temptations of Jesus there are similar underlying themes. For Jesus, the temptations are around His identity and how He is going to have influence.

Oftentimes, in my own life, the thing which appears to be the temptation is simply a mask for a deeper insecurity. It is easier to binge-watch television series than it is to face loneliness. It is easier to use the temporary satisfaction of food than to face pain. It is easier to become obsessed with exercise than to face struggles at work.

So, how do we spot temptation? Often temptation does not appear to be inherently bad or obviously problematic (what’s the harm in eating bread when you have been fasting? Jesus certainly ate bread again at some point!).

We know what our favourite temptations are – so every time we find ourselves desiring that thing, pause.

In the pause, ask, “What is driving me? Do I feel good right now? Or am I are struggling a little?”

If we are feeling good, ask this: is this a good way to sustain and savor that sense? The answer may well be yes. The glass of wine I enjoy in celebration with others can be a real joy. It has quite a different feel to the glass I drink alone to numb the feeling of isolation. The action is the same, but the driving force is very different. The former is not a temptation, but the latter clearly is.

If we are struggling a little, ask this: is this just going to delay having to deal with the thing that I am finding challenging? If so, it’s probably not a good choice to make. I will end up feeling worse than I do right now, even though the activity itself may be pleasurable.

That pause is simply an opportunity to check-in with myself. It’ll take a bit of practice to figure out what questions we each need to ask ourselves. Perhaps making a note of what we are struggling with. Over time check out whether there are particular circumstances which seem more troublesome, is there an invitation there?

Our temptations, once we begin to dialogue a little with them, can give begin to give us insight into what we really struggle with; where our points of greatest tenderness and vulnerability lie. Once we begin to see that, we can begin to pray for the grace we need. It is well worth remembering that St Paul is most grateful for his own weaknesses and vulnerabilities because it is these that bring him to see that God can be trusted. It is also these that teach us that we need others; that we truly need community to thrive.

Temptations are not something to be feared, or even avoided. When they come they can give us great insight into who we are, and what we might need most. We just need to courage to look them in the eye and say, ‘Who are you really?’

 


MagsAbout the Author:

 

Mags Blackie

Mags Blackie is the author of ‘Rooted in Love: integrating Ignatian spirituality into daily life’. By day she is an academic in the Department of Chemistry and Polymer Science at Stellenbosch University. In her spare time she gives spiritual direction. She blogs at magsblackie.com