The more we know about temptation the better

| Father Michael Schmitz | May 7, 2015 | 0 Comments

[In this column from April 9], we looked at one source of temptation many people encounter: the world. We read that the world can often be a source of real temptation. This is obvious to anyone who is paying attention.

We also read that there are, historically, two other sources of temptation: the fallen self and the devil.

Before we look at these sources of temptation, it is worth remembering that encountering a temptation is not at all the same as giving in to a temptation. A person can experience temptation all day and not choose to sin. Please let me reiterate: Temptation is not sin, it is just a temptation.

In addition, feelings or thoughts that we experience are not, in and of themselves, sins. It is only when we freely choose to embrace or encourage certain feelings or thoughts that they can become sins.

As we move forward, there is at least one very important skill that we need to develop. When we encounter unwanted thoughts or feelings, we need to learn how to identify the “voice” that is speaking. As Christians, we need to learn to identify the voice of the Good Shepherd (John 10:27). We do this by spending time listening to the voice of God.

Take time to reflect on Scripture or enter into the Mass and learn what Jesus’ voice sounds like. Learning Christ’s voice is the best way to be able to quickly and surely identify the voice of the enemy (the devil). He can often sound convincing, but he always twists the truth of God in a way that condemns a person and strips them of hope.

A good rule of thumb for distinguishing the voice of God from the voice of the devil is this: The Holy Spirit convicts us of sin while Satan merely accuses us. The distinction is that, when the Holy Spirit convicts us, he always leads us to repentance and hope. Satan accuses us and leads us to mere sadness and discouragement. The Holy Spirit’s voice leads us to action, while Satan’s voice leads us to paralysis.

Something similar is true about the fallen self. I often meet with people who struggle to believe the truth about themselves. They will listen to a “voice” that accuses them and condemns them. I will often ask them whose voice they hear when they hear those words. Many times, they are able to say, “That sounds like my dad when he got drunk” or “It sounds like my mom when she was miserable and took it out on us.”

This is not to say that a person has to have parents who abused them in order to have self-accusing thoughts, but it is to say that the “voice” can often be identified as false or accusing by paying attention to who it sounds like.

Denial is unhelpful

One helpful strategy for dealing with these thoughts is called “wise mind.” The idea is that I need to acknowledge how I am thinking or feeling and at the same time remind myself of the truth that comes from God.

For example, if a person is facing a self-destructive temptation, they would acknowledge that they do indeed feel this way, as well as the fact that they are made for more. It doesn’t help a person to deny that they are struggling or to try to tell themselves that they shouldn’t be feeling a certain way. It helps them to stay in their “wise mind” and accept their current situation with wisdom.

This might look like, “I feel disgusting and worthless, and I know that God knows me and loves me.” Or it could look like, “I have been hurt and devastated by another’s actions towards me, and I am called to love them in this.”

A man from the early Church named Origen once wrote, “There is a certain usefulness to temptation.” When we face (or flee) temptation, we are strengthened in ways we would not be without it. Temptations, resisted or run from, develop a depth of character.

Even if temptation defeats a person, if it is identified and handed over to Christ, it can refine the person. Think of people who acknowledge their woundedness and need for grace. They grow in humility. They have hopefully grown in wisdom and courage. They have hopefully been made aware of their selfishness and brokenness.

This is essential. Too often, we are content to try to survive on our own strength. We don’t learn to lean on God.

Scott Hahn once pointed out that all of God’s “favorites” had to endure temptation or trials. Even Jesus himself endured temptation.

In the midst of temptation, it is a great time to remind yourself of what you truly want, to remind yourself of what you are truly made for. Remember who you are: You are a son or daughter of God, and you are made for truth, and true love, and joy, not the false imitations that we often trade in for the real thing.

Father Schmitz is director of youth and young adult ministry for the Diocese of Duluth and chaplain of the Newman Center at the University of Minnesota Duluth. Reach him at fathermikeschmitz@gmail.com.

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Category: Ask Father Mike