“Temptations are very profitable to man, troublesome and grievous though they may be, for in them a man is humbled, purified, and instructed.” (Imitation of Christ, Book 1, Chapter 13)
Sometimes I get discouraged when I experience temptation. Pride creeps in my heart as I imagine myself holier to be than I actually am. Temptation reminds me that I’m very human and incredibly weak, which I hate to admit to myself or anyone else.
It takes a lot of prayer for me to see the truth about temptation — that it is actually an opportunity to choose what is right. In this sense, it is a gift. Instead of believing I have reached perfection, temptations test my faith and ability to fight my inclination toward pleasure and selfishness.
When I read the introductory quote during my Marian consecration renewal, temptation as a gift suddenly made so much more sense. The fact that God intends for us to profit from temptation — to grow in virtue, to strengthen our will — is incredibly helpful when I am facing my own defects. Here is a reflection about how we can benefit from temptation.
There are some temptations that humble us. We realize that we are capable of great sin but also great holiness, and as a result, we know we truly aren’t superior or inferior to the worst of sinners.
My husband, Ben, used to be a reserve sheriff’s deputy. He would often share with me incredibly pitiful stories of otherwise ordinary people getting entangled in criminal activity related to their addictions. At first, I would scoff and make judgments about how heinous their behavior was. There was a haughtiness in my words.
But over time, I came to see that I’m really not that different from them. I, too, have the potential to commit immoral acts. It’s all about combating temptation when it begins in the mind, and none of us do this perfectly all the time (which is why we’re not yet saints).
In this regard, temptation is spiritually beneficial, because we grow in profound humility about who we really are and what our humanity means. In turn, we realize the need for total dependence on God’s grace and increase our desire to cooperate with it.
Shortly after our second daughter, Sarah, was born, I was overwhelmed at the prospect of having more children in the future. I was terrified of the life we were forced into with doctor’s appointments and surgeries, and I simply didn’t believe I could handle the demands of yet more infants. For the first time in my life, I understood why couples choose contraception or sterilization as “options” for controlling their fertility. And this temptation terrified me, because I had always been staunchly pro-life.
Yet acknowledging the temptation and succumbing to it are entirely different. Of course, I knew immediately that I would not choose either of those two “options,” but they did make sense to me because of the exhaustion and demands of parenting small children.
Temptation in this instance helped me grow in patience. I knew that my years of fertility would likely span the course of a decade or more and that Ben and I would continue to traverse that very arduous path of monitoring my reproductive health while also conversing about our openness to new life.
You might experience certain temptations that visit you incessantly, which can be very frustrating. Be assured, though, that God wants you to grow in fortitude – to continue fighting the allurements of what seems easier but is morally deadly. Patience strengthens your will to fight the devil, the flesh, and the world.
Temptation purifies our souls when we choose what is right. Because I mostly write about the value of suffering, people ask me all the time why God allows such things as temptation or trials. I’ve thought about this through the years, and it occurred to me not long ago that love isn’t love unless you choose it.
If we never encountered struggles or faced our vices, then we wouldn’t necessarily see the value of what is good, beautiful, and true. I can’t really love God unless I choose to reject what I know offends him and what will separate me from him. Temptation, then, can aid us in acquiring the virtues that are most lacking in our lives.
Father Jean C D’Elbee wrote, “The more we love Jesus, and the more we draw near to him, the more we reject what does not belong to him, whatever he condemns…” The greatest virtue we acquire when we refuse to commit sin is an increase in love for God. When we love, we never want to hurt the one we love.
God disciplines those whom he loves. We read about this in Hebrews 12:6, but discipline still feels like punishment to us. Chastisement stings, because it bruises our egos and wounds our pride. Still, consider the following thought from the Imitation of Christ: “In temptation and tribulation, it is proved what progress man has made, and there is also great merit and virtue is made more manifest.” (Book 1, Chapter 13)
Consider what spiritual progress happens when you are instructed by God through temptation. Each time you resist evil, you’re strengthened to do what is good. Your heavenly Father is the benevolent parent who looks out for your welfare, and resisting temptation is simply one means by which you inch closer to your eternal reward. We can look to Fr. D’Elbee again for the final word about temptation: “Humiliating as it is, temptation is an occasion for victory.”