Whether it’s Krispy Kreme donuts or online porn, all of us are addicted to something.
An addiction is any repetitive pattern of behavior that is hard to break.
I can stop exercising without difficulty. But sugar? Not so much. Temptation to give into an addiction or to do something wrong comes to us all. Some temptations are sinful. Others aren’t. If I’m tempted to watch a mindless action movie instead of reading the newspaper, big deal. No harm, no foul. But if I’m tempted to go on a sugar binge and I’m diabetic, BIG deal: BIG harm, BIG foul.
We don’t take temptation very seriously because we’ve trivialized sin: “Don’t smoke. Don’t drink. Don’t chew. And don’t go with boys who do.” That mostly sums up our attitude toward temptation and sin. They are harmless infractions of irrelevant rules.
But another group that meets in this church sees temptation and sin very differently. Go to a recovery meeting and you’ll discover that temptation is NOT trivial. It’s as serious as a heart attack – and even more deadly.
So, how do you avoid a harmful craving that is definitely not in your best interest in terms of your health – physically, emotionally, or spiritually?
Thirty years ago I began praying a daily resolve with this phrase: “I will try this day to live a simple, sincere, and serene life, repelling promptly every thought of discontent, anxiety, discouragement, impurity, and self-seeking…” For decades that’s what I’ve tried to do: Repel promptly any and all temptations. A good roof repels water, but, for me, at least, water kept coming in through my basement.
Maybe you can banish a bad thought, but how do you rid yourself of an emotion? As a person who takes a daily anti-depressant, there are times when despair just wells up within me. Trying to repel depression is like trying to repel humidity during an Indiana summer. How do you do that? It’s in the very air you breathe. Bottom line: Repelling hasn’t worked that well for me.
But I recently found some wonderful guidance from the spiritual writer Richard Rohr, who helpfully pointed out that repelling temptation or avoiding trials really doesn’t work. Instead, he says we should put our trials, testings, and temptations; our addictions, distractions, and other spiritual Achilles’ heels to good use: “We should use them to look over our shoulders for God: Any persistent distraction or temptation can actually have the effect of steadying your gaze, deepening your decision, increasing your freedom, your choice, and your desire for God and for grace.”
He continues: “The shoulders of the distraction almost become your necessary vantage point. They create the crosshairs of your seeing. Who knew? It’s an ideal example of how God uses everything to bring us to God. I wasted years trying to deny, repress, or avoid distractions and dirty thoughts, which never worked very well. It is for this reason many give up on prayer and the spiritual life.”
“It is not the avoidance of problems that brings you closer to God, but a daily holding of the problem, straight on – while not letting it hold onto you – and finding a resolution in the much deeper and more spacious ‘peace of Christ, which will guard your heart and mind’ (Philippians 4:7).”
Our passage promises us that as testing comes our way, God will provide the way out. I always thought the way out was through my own strength to push the temptation out or banish the problem for good. But what if the way out is simply over? What if the goal is to not push the problem out, but to simply use the problem to focus more on God; thereby connecting us more with grace?
Try that the next time a test, problem, crisis, temptation, or trial comes your way: instead of trying by your own will to push it away, use it instead to connect you more deeply to God.
Instead of trying to repress a bad desire or avoid a painful situation simply acknowledge its presence and look over its shoulder for a Greater Presence. Let the problem focus you on the Presence in your life of the One who is here is to save, bless, and love you.
Who knew the way out was over? Over and out. Looking over the shoulder of a problem to get you out of its power by focusing you on the God of Power, Peace, and Love. Because when you are connected to God, you’re connected with the Source of Salvation. Or as Rohr puts it: “When you look over the shoulders of your trials and temptations to focus instead on your God, you are living your life from a place of Divine Intimacy. You’re finally safe. You’re finally home.”