February 26, 2017
Letters Home (from a retired pastor to his family, the Church)
I love peanut butter! I mean I really love peanut butter. It is one of my major temptations.
Temptation seems to possess an amazing power, but the truth is temptation does not exist separately from the human heart. For it to be real, it has to hold a place in our hearts. What is also true is that what has the power to tempt one, may not have power over another. I have a problem with peanut butter, but do you? When I think about it, I recognize it is not peanut butter itself that is the problem for me, it is my desire to eat every spoonful that passes my way that is the problem. As a friend of mine likes to say, “my problem is not will power, it is won’t power.” Temptation is an internal reality, not an external power.
When looking back at the great temptations of our lives we may recognize something. They have had more to do with our strengths than our weaknesses. They are related to what is possible for us, less so about what we consider impossible. As we grow, develop, and discover our powers – talents, new horizons of life’s possibilities open to us. This does not end with the passing of our youth. If we are fortunate, we continue to grow in this way. How do we use these powers that we continually discover? We can choose to use them in ways that feed our own appetites, or we can find ways to make use of what we have been given for the benefit of all. This is where the “tempter” arrives.
Coming face to face with life’s temptations is a necessary part of our life. The Heavenly Father gave each of us unique gifts to be used fully. Denying this can be understood as a form of avoidance of responsibility. Unfortunately, once we embrace our unique giftedness the struggle begins. When we open the door of possibilities, we must choose which path to take. As Robert Frost wrote, “Yet knowing how way leads on to way, I doubt if I should ever come back.” And as most of us have discovered it is almost impossible for us to know where the choices before us lead. We find it easier to choose the path whose promises lie closest at hand. This struggle between the easy and the best is where we grow.
Each year, on the first Sunday of Lent, many Christian communities begin their Lenten journey by hearing the account of Jesus’ time in the wilderness and the temptations that bedeviled him there. Each year we are reminded that this time of temptation began with Jesus’ baptism at the hands of John the Baptist. The Gospel accounts tell us that Jesus emerged from those waters knowing as never before who he was. In this knowledge he must have sensed more completely the power in His words, and at His fingertips. Many see Jesus’ wilderness struggles as His way of coming to grips with that power and self knowledge. How was He to use what He had, and who He was? Should He solve the problems around Him through manipulating creation and others? Should He address the world’s ills through the power of influence, example, and reliance on God? It is liberating for us to understand that Jesus truly was tempted to misuse God’s power, to misuse His identity. If this is not so, the wilderness temptation story loses its meaning.
God is the author of our strengths. The brokenness of our hearts is the author of our temptation to misuse God’s gifts. Maybe encountering our temptations in the light of the author of our strengths is something to be embraced, not avoided. Jesus went into the wilderness to embrace and come to terms with His temptations. He faced them head on by placing His trust in God Almighty. In the end, the “tempter” left Him alone, for a while, and angels came to wait upon Him.
Maybe I should fully embrace my conflicted relationship with peanut butter in the light of God’s presence. Maybe this could help me deal with my other temptations as well. How about yours?
First Sunday in Lent
Almighty God, whose blessed Son was led by the Spirit to be tempted by Satan; Come quickly to help us who are assaulted by many temptations; and, as you know the weaknesses of each of us, let each one find you mighty to save; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen. (BCP 218)