A young man I knew years ago wrote on Facebook once that he was thinking of giving up drinking for Lent. I assumed he meant alcohol. In less than an hour, six of his friends had made a variety of comments sometimes jokingly, sometimes seriously, I really couldn’t tell, that he had gone insane, that it was not possible, that he shouldn’t endanger himself by even trying, and that nothing good could come of this. An hour later, the young man admitted that he had already lost the battle anyway. Graciously, he thanked everyone for their input, and they all just moved on to something else.
When Lent comes around each year, I usually stop to think what it might cost me. Those who do not observe Lent have no such concerns. But for those who do, whether we like it or not, we have an ingrained awareness that this time is important. So we ponder our spiritual journey and consider what God asks of us. Most modern cultures will agree that you don’t need to believe in God to live a morally upright life. But for us who do believe in God, there is a fundamental connection between the choices we make and our relationship with God. The choices I make will differ at different stages of my life. Young children seldom have to consider the choices adults make. Seniors don’t usually experience the pressures that confront teenagers. But my relationship with God will influence the choices I make. If God is distant and cold, my decisions will show that I don’t care what God thinks or asks of me. If God is close and compassionate, my decisions will show that it matters what God thinks and asks of me. If I am convinced God is obsessed with catching and punishing me when I offend, I won’t trust God, and I will find ways to not get caught. But if I believe God is a loving Father and friend, I will be willing to make the right choices despite inconvenience and difficult consequences.
Throughout the course of each day, we will find ourselves responding to many different suggestions, some overt, clearly spelled out, shamelessly unambiguous, others subtle, finely disguised or outrageously camouflaged as something else altogether. From the moment we open our eyes in the morning, we will field a multitude of advice, requests, opinions, and suggestions that result in action or inaction on our part. The point where we become responsible is when we decide to make that advice, that request, opinion, or suggestion our course of action. Should I hit the snooze button or jump out of bed? Just a suggestion. But what I end up doing I must freely choose. No one can make the choice for me. Of course, there are consequences. I wouldn’t be debating options if I weren’t aware of consequences. And sometimes, even aware of the consequences, I will continue to struggle and resist, either to convince myself that I had made the right decision, or to find a way out of the decision I had made. What to wear? What to have for breakfast? What to respond when someone asks how I am? Each is a choice I have to make freely. Often it is not a question of right or wrong, so I don’t waste a lot of time or energy on it. But when it IS a question of right or wrong, my relationship with God will significantly affect the choice I make.
When Eve was tempted by the serpent in the garden, she should have been aware of her options. The serpent suggested that God had not told them the truth about the tree in the middle of the garden. “God knows well that the moment you eat of it, your eyes will be opened and you will be like gods, who know what is good and what is evil.” Enticing offer. Who would not want to be like gods, knowing good and evil? And if she had recalled her relationship with God, that God had shared with her and Adam all the beauty and blessing of creation, that God shared an intimacy and confidence with them unlike with any other creature, she might have given it a more serious second thought. After all, it was just a suggestion.
When Jesus was tempted by the devil in the desert, he was well aware of his options. The devil suggested he knew more than God and was willing to share his knowledge if only Jesus would do as he asked. “Command that these stones become loaves of bread … Throw yourself down and God will catch you … All the kingdoms of the earth can be yours if you … worship me.” Each offer was enticing. His hunger satisfied, wealth and power beyond measure, even that God do his bidding, who would not want this? But Jesus recalled his relationship with God, that he trusted his Father above all others. So in the face of such exciting offers, such delightful suggestions, such appealing options, he chose to remain faithful to God.
When I have to make a choice that involves right or wrong, I will hear the juicy offer that will attempt to cast doubt on my relationship with God, that perhaps God has not been as truthful or just or loving as God should be, that my relationship with God is in fact the one obstacle to my self-fulfillment, that I only have to surrender myself to this awesome suggestion and all will be even better than I can ask or imagine. And yet temptation is just a suggestion … yes, a powerful, attractive, seductive suggestion at times, but still just a suggestion. Temptation is not sin. It is simply an invitation to sin. Sin happens when with full knowledge I make a free choice for what is contrary to my relationship with God and contrary to who I claim to be as a disciple of Jesus Christ, and I act upon that choice.
We will never be able to get rid of temptation. It is embedded in our DNA. But temptation will serve as a constant reminder that I am given “the abundance of grace and of the gift of justification come to reign in life through the one Jesus Christ,” that I am not merely the sum total of my urges and desires. I have power to resist temptation, to recognize its deception. Through their choice, our first parents have shown us the depths to which we can fall. Through his obedience, Jesus shows us the heights we can attain, that we can resist the attraction of passing pleasures, that we can rise above selfishness, that we can place our trust firmly in God. We will need to ask God’s help. We know we cannot do it alone.
So temptation will be working overtime during Lent to cast doubt upon my relationship with God, that I shouldn’t bother giving anything up, especially the things that I enjoy, that I don’t need to pay better attention to prayer since I’m doing all that is required already, that I don’t have to help my sisters and brothers in need, especially since it’s none of my business and it takes away from precious “me” time. God is also offering suggestions that I might share more fully in the life of grace this Lent. Each time temptation finds me, I know I can find God’s grace. I will just need to look to God.
Rolo B Castillo © 2023