Temptations are a funny thing. You think you’re doing OK, you think you have everything under control, you think you’re free of them, and then — WHAM! Sometimes you’ll step back, and after some reflection, you’ll notice there are a dozen little temptations beckoning to you where you thought you were safe.
They’re like the wasps in my house: they’re everywhere! (OK, I’m exaggerating –but not much! — about the wasps.) And just like the wasps, they’ll sting you when you least expect it.
It’s hard, at first, to imagine Jesus really struggling with temptation. I mean, he was the Son of God. Didn’t he get special immunity?
As it turns out, no, he didn’t. He was fully human, which means the temptations were very real, very tangible, very, well, tempting. This week, we’ve been reflecting on his time in the desert, and I had to spend a day or two thinking — really thinking hard — about spending 40 days fasting. It’s reminiscent of Lent, which is coming up at the end of February.
I’m not so good at fasting. Whether I’m fasting from some gadget or a food group or some activity, I have a pining time, when I wish for it, long for it, think of it constantly. But fasting has helped me, in the last few years, to become better in my prayer life. They both require discipline, and maybe it’s not fasting that I need help with, but rather discipline.
Lately, I’ve been focusing on discipline by using routine in the context of the rhythm of my life. For example, the discipline of praying first everyday, no matter what, can be worked into the routine of my morning. First, I have to get up at a set time (give or take a half-hour to allow for sleep-deprivation and the very real need that I have — that we all have — for sleep and rest). Then I have to follow through (this is the discipline part) with the routine I’ve established: make coffee, put dishes away while it’s brewing (or putter in the kitchen), sit down at the table and do that praying. Discipline is what makes me sit down and pray even when I’m aware of the other things that need done, that are clamoring for my attention (children notwithstanding), that are, at the heart of it, temptations leading me away from God. Routine is what makes it a habit, something that happens everyday (or enough days so that when it doesn’t happen, I feel it and correct it before the habit lapses). Rhythm is what influences the specifics (i.e. what prayer, how long, whether it can be followed by writing time, etc.).
The reality of my life with its specifics — young children, deadlines, work schedules — points to the benefit of considering discipline and routine in the context of rhythm. At some seasons in my life, like when there’s a new baby or a sick toddler or an insomniac preschooler, the prayer happens in a very simple formula (usually a set of three of the Our Father/Hail Mary/Glory Be/O My Jesus series) while I’m in the shower or puttering around. And that’s OK. Beating myself up about not doing it a specific way is a temptation, a distraction from the goal.
My goal is to pray. When I’m not sure it will happen, I give it to Mary. I’ve been known to just shake my mental fist at her and say, in my most 12-year-old voice, “FINE THEN! YOU make sure I get that quiet prayer time in the morning! GO AHEAD!” And you know what?
I have that time…as much as I need (which isn’t always as much as I want).
Jesus went out into the desert, and he experienced the subtleties of the devil’s snares. He was offered just what he wanted — but it wasn’t what he needed. He preceded this battle with temptation with fasting and he spent a good deal of time praying before (and during, I would guess).
What can I learn from this, as I struggle with the temptations of distraction, pride, selfishness? How can I take Jesus’ experience in the devil — distant though it seemed at first — and tease out the specifics of my own circumstance? When can I lean on him and let him do battle for me?