Love can wait to give; lust can’t wait to get.
Christopher West was on Life on the Rock last night to answer questions related to Pope John Paul II’s Theology of the Body. Someone asked if he had any prayers to resist sexual temptation. I liked his response because it opens the door to a way that I sometimes forget.
He said that sexual temptations, as with most other temptations, many people believe that there are only two possible responses: indulge or repress. You have these urgings, hunger, feelings, emotions, energy or whatever word you want to use. Indulging is what you are trying to avoid, so that leaves repression. Repression is no good because it will return stronger, and eventually explode. (The case can be made for the explosion of pornography in the 20th century after the repressive Victorian age.) And just “managing” or “getting by” or “just living with it” is not an answer either.
There is a third option. It is to open your heart to the gift of redemption. It is to realize (awaken) to the fact that our broken world has twisted and warped our desires and urges, and to open up to God so that our disordered desires may be straightened out, to be put in order. As West said, the hunger is not the problem; the problem is that we only know to eat out of the dumpster when there is this magnificent banquet table over here.
Here is West’s prayer to resist sexual temptation:
Lord, thank You for the beauty of this person.
Thank You for the gift of my own sexual desires.
Lord, I recognize this twisted, lustful desire in my heart,
and I ask You please Jesus,
by the power of Your death and resurrection,
to untwist in me what sin has twisted,
so that I might come to experience sexual desire
as you created it to be,
as the desire to love in Your image.
I like this prayer. It is a good model for prayer for almost any kind of temptation. It recognizes the desire or urge without giving into it or repressing it. It recognizes the other person as a person with dignity and respect, not as an object to be used and manipulated. It recognizes our powerlessness, our poverty to channel this energy properly, and offers it up to God.
But—there is always a “but”—be forewarned. Something must die in a prayer for redemption. What must die is that twisted desire. But it will be transformed (redeemed) into an honest and wholesome (holy?) desire that is ordered properly by respecting the other person, respecting you, and respecting God. That’s freedom, not the slavery of the temptations of your urges and desires. (Hmmm…that’s kinda like a little mini-Trinity—the other person, you, and God.)
Hunger is not the problem. The problem is where are you going to feed it, at the dumpster or the banquet table? As West said, get yourself in the shape of a cross and stay there until you have made the passover from lust to love.
(Note: The quote at the beginning of this post is a fairly good litmus test for lust or love.)