Please Don't Let Me Hit the Ground
"Up, down, turn around; please don't let me hit the ground Tonight I think I walk alone to find my soul desire to go home" ~ New Order "Temptation"
Perhaps one of the most insidious aspects of temptation is its ability to get you both coming and going. Initially there is the pull of our desire towards those things that, if not directly sinful already, will lead us into sin. But then there is that moment after, when we look at what we were tempted to do, and are filled with shame for having been weak enough to have even considered it. Those feelings break us down and make us believe that we will eventually find ourselves to be so weak that we will eventually give in. "It's inevitable.", we say to ourselves, "Why even fight it?" And so we are tempted once more and this time we give in. And because this dialogue and the emotions that go with it are internal, we think that it's simply a private struggle that we don't have the resources or will to endure.
Here's the thing, though. Almost everything that I've described to you in the scenario above is wrong. Yes, we are pulled toward sin by temptation but as for being weak because of it? Nonsense! Temptation is the inevitable result of being people granted free agency by God to make choices in a world marred by sin and death. Hebrews 4:15 reminds us that, "...we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin." Jesus himself wrestled with temptation, understood the sense of weakness we all feel in the face of it, AND YET did not succumb to sin. It is possible to stand in the face of temptation and not give in to it.
So how do we face temptation and, instead of defeat, find victory? How do we avoid the pitfall of a spiraling cycle of temptation, shame, and capitulation? Where can we find hope?
Thomas a' Kempis, in his timeless devotional "The Imitation of Christ", devotes a whole chapter to the subject of temptation. In particular he wants us to see temptation, not as an occasion to find out how weak we are, but rather "Oftentimes we know not what strength we have; but temptation revealeth to us what we are." Thomas, however, doesn't want us to be unaware of the dangers of temptation. Yes, temptation can reveal that the Holy Spirit has given us the ability to resist sin but it's dangerous to try and endure temptation on our own. "In the midst of temptation," he says, "often seek counsel".
How often do we try and face temptation alone? How many times do we ignore the call to confession and counsel from the Church? Any recovering alcoholic will tell you that you can't stare down your demons alone. Go to one who is wise and experienced in the ways of God, find a good priest, and simply say, "Please don't let me hit the ground".