December 2, 2009

Temptation and Resentment

It took me years of spiritual reading and direction to realize that one of my basic and ingrained spiritual troubles is an attitude toward temptation that is both bad and wrong.

I didn't see it for a long time, but I resented having to be tempted. I interpreted the angst as the pain of the struggle with sin, but I was wrong. My anguish was actually resentment at having to deal with sin and temptation in the first place. I wanted to think of myself as holy, and sin and temptation interfered with my little plan! The more dangerous the source of the temptation (from the flesh to the world, and finally to the devil) and the deeper its location (from the physical, to the emotional and social to the spiritual) the more subtle and insidious was my resentment. I didn't want to have to deal with temptation in the first place, nor know myself as a spiritual mediocrity in my vain self-regard. Of course this made temptations that much harder to deal with, having made them all the more distracting and strong by loading them up with a negative emotional charge on top of everything else.

My resentment, however, when I learned to look at it rightly, became a gift insofar as it revealed to me the disordered spiritualities from which it came. It revealed to me two dangerous distortions. First, when I realized that I resented having to be tempted, it showed me that I was far from the hard-working spiritual practitioner I had imagined myself to be. In fact, I was lazy and I resented having to fight and work for the sanctity I thought I desired. Second, and worse, my resentment helped me to understand that I was not so much in love with God as wanting to admire myself as a godly person. I wanted to enjoy a certain spiritual vanity rather than worship the living God. It took me many years to put words around this distortion; I remember several incidents with spiritual directors and confessors in which they admitted that they didn't know what I was trying to get at. I see the same thing in some of my journals from the early years; I was struggling to figure out my own particular temptation to vanity and idolatry, but I had not yet the experience of prayer to make a functioning distinction between God and my own idea of God, between my vision of sanctity and the Holy One Himself.

Now, on a good day, I'm able to recognize the resentment as a temptation that compounds other temptations. I try to make it a spiritual practice to make acts of gratitude for trials and temptations. When you love someone, you are grateful for the chances to do something difficult and costly for that Person.


Adoro said...

Yup. Guilty. Am seeing a lot on temptation lately, has been feeding my own musings, and a LOT I'm not going to write about!


KAM said...

Yeah, thanks for the insight into a basic human trait that we probably all miss in ourselves. I find that prayer not only brings me closer to my goal, becoming closer to God, but also opens my eyes about myself, sort of going from first grade to high school. You just learn things along the way in the weirdest of ways and the strangest of times.

Julia said...

I like this post, Father, and it resonates with me.

I used to pray for temptations to cease, which gave them power over me. Now, I make an act of resignation or even pray for the temptation to strengthen, as long as I am given the grace to resist. Perhaps that sounds foolhardy, but it works for me. Every time we choose God in the face of temptation, we are bound closer to Him, so I think it's definitely a blessing for which to be thankful.

Brother said...

Good post and I admire your honesty.