If you gave this up for Lent.
Our temptations are not Jesus’ temptations, but from the garden to the wilderness, one method of the Tempter is the same.
The Tempter – or Accuser – wants us to believe that our satisfaction with who we are – our contentment with the way things are lies outside of ourselves. That our growth is contingent on situational circumstance.
For instance, there is knowledge, or status, or credentials we must acquire take in like an apple. Once we do that, then all will be well or known or understood.
Or, there is something or someone that must change or go away. In other people or in ourselves in order for everything to be all right. In order for us to really be who we believe we are.
As Rowan Williams writes – “All of us are easily persuaded that the problem of our growth lies outside of ourselves.” (Where God Happens) And the Tempter is a master at persuasion.
Lent might be a time to examine those persuasions. Especially for those of us who are fortunate enough to have our basic life-sustaining needs - like food, shelter, some community engagement and stability - already met.
Because maybe when we are looking elsewhere, it's a clue for us to look in here, within our own hearts. The spiritual wisdom in many traditions encourages us to see that most often, what we believe is getting in – actually is the way we must go for us to discover the limitless nature of our God-given capacities.
The voice of the Tempter tries to convince us otherwise. Sometimes whispering, sometimes clamoring with its recurring taunts and accusations that begin with the tiny, little preposition – if.
If I had more money. If I had more time.
If she would support me. If we lived there and not here.
If those people would just see how wrong they are.
If she would stop drinking. If he would move out.
If my son would leave that relationship.
If my daughter would get help.
If the people in charge would stop their arguing.
“If” directs and displaces our anxiety, worry, frustration, anger, etc. onto someone or something else. The challenge and difficulty is then someone else's responsibility. Someone else is at fault, someone else is to blame for what is happening to me.
The Tempter prefers it that way. As opposed to doing the difficult work of wrestling with what I might have to let go of - like my expectations of someone else. Or what I might have to accept - like holding myself or another person accountable for their actions. Or what I might have to change - like accepting the limits of my abilities. Or what I might have to deny - maybe myself, my needs, my wants.
Doing that work has always been a part of the spiritual life. Later on in William's book he shares a story of a desert father:
There was once a brother in a monastery who had a rather turbulent temperament: he often became angry. So, he said to himself, “I will go and live on my own. If I have nothing to do with anyone else, I will live in peace and my passions will be soothed.” Off he went to live in solitude in a cave. One day when he had filled his jug with water, he put it on the ground and it tipped over. So he picked it up and filled it again - and again it tipped over. He filled it a third time, put it down, and over it went again. He was furious: he grabbed the jug and smashed it.
And then came to his senses. He realized he had been tricked by the devil. He said, “Since I have been defeated, even in solitude, I’d better go back to the monastery. Conflict is to be met everywhere, but so is patience and so is the help of God.” So he got up and went back to where he came from.
It seems Jesus had to learn this the hard way too. “Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.” The Spirit of God led him to this place. He needed to go down a path all of us would prefer to avoid in order to do the work God had given him to do.
The wilderness is a proverbial place as much as it is a real place. It is the place where we grapple with who we are.
We are masters at avoiding this wilderness. Experts at creating and cultivating busyness of all sorts to distance and distract ourselves from ever setting foot there – let alone spending the literal or metaphorical equivalent of 40 days and 40 nights. In other words, a long time.
The Spirit didn’t lead him there willy-nilly, though. After he was baptized, the Spirit led him to this place. The baptism happened first for a reason. We know the water his baptism entailed, but we don’t know the words.
I’m pretty confident John the Baptist did not use the Book of Common Prayer so we don’t know what questions, if any, Jesus was asked, or what promises he made.
We do know what God said though, This is my Son, my beloved, with whom I am well pleased. (Matthew 3)
We hear those words at our baptism, and every baptism when we hear that we are forgiven and loved. We are sealed by the Holy Spirit and marked as Christ’s own forever. Amazing!
And do you know what’s asked of us in return? What we pray for on behalf of the baptized? What we vow to uphold our part in the covenant, in the promise?
A couple of things actually. We pray to have an inquiring and discerning heart. We pray to have the courage and the will to persevere. We pray for a spirit to know and love God – through the joy and wonder of all that God has created and given to us, for us. (BCP 308)
So what if, we gave up on all those "if's" for Lent? Or at least paid attention, noticed when we were listening to those devilish taunts. The temptation to believe that if circumstances were different – then we’d be content, or satisfied, or – you have to fill in that blank.
And instead turned our hearts to live those words we pray – to choose curiosity over judgment. Chose a response that opened us to an inquiring and discerning heart. It takes courage and perseverance to face the challenges in our own lives and assess our own accountability.
God is not withholding anything from us - no matter what that serpent claimed. God is not withholding anything from me. God is not capable of withholding. God is all encompassing. We are the ones who withhold. God is abundance, God is giving incessantly.
We give strategically – of ourselves, and of our treasures because we are scared there isn’t enough. Our confession, the litany we say today (BCP 149) details the ways in which we live into believing there is not enough.
The temptations of the snake and the Tempter are similar. Trying to trick the hearer into believing there is something God has that you don’t. The garden was full communion. The kingdom of heaven is already among us. Jesus responses deny there is any merit to Satan’s temptations.
There are, by the way, step-by-step instructions for us to do the same. Just read through our baptismal covenant (BCP 302). That might lead you to take on something for Lent that we often deny, because we think it’s weak. We don’t know if Jesus said it at his baptism but we say it at ours. I will, with God’s help.
Jesus fasted which brought him closer to God. Jesus went deep with scripture which strengthened his connection to God. Jesus relied on the angels to take care of him when he was weak. Jesus called on God’s help in his wilderness. What about yours? What wilderness might you need to explore this season?
Where, with God’s help, might you discover the limitless capabilities of your courageous, inquiring and discerning heart? Amen.