Resistance seems futile much of the time, regarding sexual sin or addictions, doesn’t it? I see a piece of creamy, decadent ganache topped cheesecake and I say to myself, I won’t take that cake, I won’t take that cake, I WON’T TAKE THAT CAKE…why am I taking that cake?!
Many centuries ago in his classic, The Imitation of Christ, Thomas à Kempis clearly described our pathway to moral failure: “First there comes to the mind a bare thought of evil, then a strong imagination thereof, afterward delight, and an evil motion and then consent. And little by little our enemy gets complete entrance, because he is not resisted in the beginning. And the longer a man is slow to resist, so much the weaker does he become in himself, and the enemy stronger against him.”
And the stronger your enemy seems, the more that resistance seems futile.
But there is a way out. There is always a way out. But if I may push back a little on Thomas, I don’t think the first step is avoiding the “bare thought of evil.” The evil’s going to come. But we need to look at what is leading us to be open to the evil; what’s under the attraction?
In our consumeristic age, we are told OBEY YOUR THIRST— if you have a desire, it should be fulfilled. It’s not healthy to go around with unfulfilled desires. If we only meet that presenting desire we become hedonists.
The key to effective resistance is to find out what the desire is underneath the desire.
I want to turn to pornography because that special someone has not returned my text yet. I feel rejected. I want to be valued, respected.
I want to eat in private what I would not eat publicly because everyone seems so happy on Instagram and I feel excluded. I want to be loved.
I want to kill time engaged in a computer game because I don’t want to spend time with God. I’m afraid of what he might say to me. I’m afraid he won’t say anything to me. I want to have a relationship with God.
It’s not just about saying no to temptation. We need to find out what’s underneath, what it is we are longing for.
At the very deepest part of ourselves what we all want is to know that we are loved, accepted and valued. If there is some deficit here, we will fill that void with any number of things that temporarily give us a feeling of satisfaction. But the more we engage in these, we are brought to deeper levels of shame and guilt and need more of the alternative to assuage our thirst. Some do it with pornography. Some with food or alcohol. Some with sex outside of marriage. Some by constantly keeping our minds engaged by electronic gadgets, whether it’s gaming, social media, web surfing or television.
The next time you are faced with a temptation, ask yourself: What is the longing I’m trying to fill right now? Can I ask Jesus to meet me in this, to fill this for me?
Perhaps then we could change the famous line to: Resistance is Worthwhile.
Carolyn M. Carney is Assistant Regional Director for Spiritual Formation & Prayer in NY/NJ Region. Carolyn has worked with InterVarsity for over 30 years, including two years in South Africa. She serves locally and nationally, influencing the work in Spiritual Formation, Prayer and Discipleship. Nationally, she serves on the Discipleship Steering Committee where she provides leadership for the development of resources in the area of Sexuality and Relational Health. She lives in Jersey City with her husband, David.
The blog is an avenue for staff and student leaders to hear from the visionary leaders of Collegiate Ministries about theological formation, discipleship, chapter planting, chapter growth, and other key ministry themes for campus work.