Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Purpose and Temptation -- Repost

December 9, 2004

I had missed breakfast. The night before had been a late one, and the day was full. I resisted the alarm clock for one cycle too many, and breakfast fell off the priority list. It was nearly eleven o' clock, and I had taken the bus down to the University of Washington campus. It stopped four blocks shy of my destination--the bookstore--and so I found myself walking up the Ave. Not just any avenue; "The Ave" near campus is the collection of book stores, pawn shops, various novelties stores, and cheap restaurants that spring up around a University.

I was on a mission. I was in the middle of an art project for a friend--some pen and ink artwork--when I discovered that my crow quill nib wasn't functioning well and I needed a new one. A trip to the art store the night before had been a failure, and I was bound for the campus bookstore. I needed to be home by noon. I had $10 in my wallet, bus fare in my pocket, and not much else. I was hoping to buy some ink and a couple new nibs, and make it home in time to have lunch and get to my online tutoring session.

As I walked up the street at a quick pace, a sign caught my eye. I was walking past a chinese food restaurant--my favorite one, when I had eaten on the Ave more frequently--and noticed the posted menu. Lunches, $4.95 or less. The aroma of rice and good Americanized Chinese drifted out of the restaurant. I remembered that I hadn't had breakfast, and it was nearly noon. I had five dollars in my pocket.

Sometimes when I am standing on a high balcony, I think about jumping off the edge--not that I want to do it, but I think about it. I marvel at the fact that it is perfectly possible, and might be immediately fun (a few seconds of flying!)--and yet it is impossible, something I would never consider doing. The temptation is completely and utterly overwhelmed by a greater concern. I could jerk the steering wheel and go flying off the road; I could spend my life savings on candy; I could cut my finger off with the kitchen knife. But why would I want to? I'd never do any of those things. While it's physically possible for me to do them, it certainly isn't possible on the level of the will.

So it was with this chinese restaurant. Had I had a bit more money and a bit more time, I would have almost certainly stopped and had lunch. But I needed all of that $10--I ended up spending $9.74 on supplies. And I needed all of the time, too--I made it home just barely by noon. And if I didn't make it, well... I wouldn't finish my project for my friend. Or I would be late for my online tutoring session. Those just weren't acceptable options.

The smell reached out to me and made my stomach growl; the sign enticed me with yummy meals; I walked past without really a second thought. All down the street this continued--pizza places and used book stores cried out for my time and money. These weren't idle cries, either--there was the hamburger place I'd had many delicious lunches at, there was the bookstore where I found my Calvin and Hobbes book. And yet they held no power over me because I was on a mission.

Temptation is like that.

Temptation is thinking about and wanting to do something that you know you shouldn't do. And if it's a thing you shouldn't do, then there's a reason you shouldn't do it. If we were always sane and rational, that reason would overwhelm the temptation and we would never struggle with sin. But we aren't sane and rational. We desire to do what we shouldn't do--what in our heart of hearts we don't want to do. (What irony there is in that! Giving in to temptation isn't doing what you want to do, it's doing what you don't want to do!) Giving in to temptation is temporary insanity--giving up something that you know is more valuable to you, in exchange for something that you know is less valuable.

Why would I do that? It doesn't make sense. What is going on? It is that for a moment, I lack faith in something I know to be true. Though I know it, it is a distant truth, far away from the present situation, and I can doubt it. Or if not exactly doubt it, perhaps just ignore it for a moment or two. It is not present to me.

I know that I should be open and honest with my husband. I know that if I am angry with him, keeping it to myself is only going to hurt both of us in the end. And yet for a moment--when he asks me, "Hey... are you all right?"--for a moment I believe that if I just keep everything quiet, it'll go away. Why would I believe that? It's never true. I know marriage is better when I am honest and quick to resolve things; I know intimacy must be 100% or it's nothing, and that hiding things invariably cuts it off. Yet for a few seconds I do not believe it, and choose the lesser value--avoiding conflict. If in those few seconds, you could look me in the eye and say, "Do you really believe you'll accomplish anything by hiding your anger?" I would say "No." And if you further asked, "Then why do you do it?" I would have no answer. It is irrational, it is insane. I am believing things I do not believe, and doing things I do not want to do.

If that's the problem, though, the solution is as simple as walking past a chinese food restaurant to the bookstore. When the reason for rejecting temptation is present, is believed wholeheartedly, is exercised through faith, then the temptation loses all power. Why would I stop to eat when I have nibs and ink to buy? That makes no sense. The food looks yummy, yes, and I am hungry, yes, and I have the money, yes--but it just makes no sense. I wouldn't do that. And why would I hide my feelings when I love my husband and desire an intimate marriage? I don't like conflict, yes, I'm a wimp through and through, yes, I can deceive him if I try--at least for a little while, yes. But why would I do that? It makes no sense.

Powerfully felt purpose destroys temptation. Really, faith destroys temptation. That is the root of so many of the temptations I struggle with--I struggle with pride, because I do not really believe I am so far short of God's perfection. I struggle with anger because I do not really believe that my husband annoyed me by accident. I struggle with an inability to do housework because I do not really believe discipline, cleanliness, and taking care of my husband are important. I struggle with an inability to pray because I do not really believe God will hear me.

And perhaps there will be no better way to shield against temptation in my sane hours than to reaffirm to myself the truths that I know--exercise faith in them, remember them, make them present reality for myself. If purpose defeats temptation, then I will fix my mind on spiritual things, remember who I am in God and what I have been called to--that will surely rob many temptations of their power!

The right philosophy is found in Hebrews 12:

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, we must get rid of every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and run with endurance the race set out for us, keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith.

Why should I get entangled and burdened down with sin, when I've got a race to run? This is no narcisstic legalistic pursuit of purity. I have things to do, a person to be, a race to run--and I will run it! I won't look at the sidelines; the chinese food stores I pass will have no power over me. My eyes are fixed firmly on the race--on the back of the runner who went before me, in whose footsteps I dilligently follow.

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