Lead Yourself Not into Temptation
The easiest way not to give in is not to go there!
The easiest way not to give in is not to go there!
Photo by Marta Dzedyshko from Pexels
Temptation. An ever-present inner force we must all struggle with every day. Since it tempts us to indulge in things we know we shouldn’t, this force seeks to harm our quality of life and create sadness and guilt for us. And for anyone recovering from an addiction that controlled your life, temptation offers a path that leads straight back down to rock bottom, back where you started.
When in recovery from addiction, giving in to one temptation is all it takes to ruin your life again. But here’s the thing: Even one ‘lesser’ temptation leads to another, leads to another, leads to another and another. Giving in to one ‘minor’ temptation breeds plenty more temptations; the first lapse of your self-discipline leads to more, as you’ve already let your guard down for the day, mentally and emotionally.
And I see temptation as an emotional issue, at its root. It tempts us to chase after those short-term pleasures that will make us feel better, soothe whatever emotional pain we’re carrying that day. I successfully quit cigarettes a few years ago, for example. But even now, I can still be tempted by the smell of cigarette smoke when I’m having a really bad day, and I’m carrying around the negative emotions that come along with that.
Cigarette smoke never smells better than when I’m having a terrible day.
But I can remember how addictive cigarettes are, and how insanely hard it is to quit them (how are these things even legal?!). I also know from experience that for me, one cigarette, one lapse in self-discipline, is all it takes for me to get right back to the pack-a-day that I used to smoke. I don’t want to go back there, and if I did, I would feel terrible and guilty about it. So I resist this temptation. Giving into this temptation would make my life worse; it would knock me off one of the paths I have chosen for myself.
Temptation is always there, trying to knock us off whatever path we have chosen for ourselves. For those in recovery from addiction, it’s trying to send us back to the hell we fought so hard to crawl this far out of!
Let’s bring The Bible into this, since my thing is talking about God and stuff.
“…And lead us not, into temptation…”
Almost every Christian will be familiar with that line, since it comes from The Lords’ Prayer, AKA the Our Father. But would God ever lead us into temptation? Perhaps to test us or something?
Nope. James 1:13–15 (CEB version) says:
No one who is tested should say, “God is tempting me!” This is because God is not tempted by any form of evil, nor does He tempt anyone. Everyone is tempted by their own cravings; they are lured away and enticed by them. Once those cravings conceive, they give birth to sin; and when sin grows up, it gives birth to death.
[By the way, as you can see, when it comes to The Bible I’m a CEB version kind of guy. I don’t have time to read through olde English, and CEB is so understandable! If you’d like to read The Bible, find the version that speaks to you the clearest.]
So it explicitly says God doesn’t tempt anyone. Maybe it’s the devil that puts these temptations and propositions in our path … or maybe it’s just life! The next line is clear as to what tempts us and leads us astray: Our own cravings for life’s various pleasures. We all crave certain pleasures over others, we all have vices that we ‘enjoy’ (in quotes because these vices keep us a slave to the pleasures of this world, stuck in this realm). And the final line I believe hints to what I said earlier about one temptation (one lapse in self-discipline) leading to another to another to another. It all starts harmlessly enough, but once the snowball picks up speed going downhill it’s suddenly out of your control and much more serious or even deadly; it grows into a snow-boulder going downhill, gruesomely crushing all in its path.
Temptation, our own cravings, will always be working against us as I said. So what can we do about that? It is right to pray to God that we won’t be led into temptation (acknowledging the caveat above), but let’s also uphold ‘our end of the bargain.’ We all have great power to in large part avoid temptation entirely, rather than resist it.
In recovery we talk about the importance of cutting the old ‘people, places, and things’ associated with our addictions out of our lives. We become our environments and the people we hang around with, so if we don’t distance ourselves from the active drug users in our lives, for example, before long we will be tempted by what’s going on in the environment we’re in, and we’ll fall back on our old ways, the consequence of which is a one-way ticket straight back to rock bottom.
This wisdom of cutting the old ‘people, places, and things’ out of our lives is critical because it’s the simplest and most effective way to avoid temptation. It’s easier said than done … but if you don’t lead yourself into temptation, just don’t go to where you can be tempted, just don’t engage with what can tempt you … then you’re going to ‘resist’ temptation 100% of the time! And while it may be easier said than done, it gets easier each time you do it. Figuring out how you can make changes in your day-to-day so you can simply avoid temptation will keep you the safest from it, by far.
Just don’t go there, and you’ll be safe every time. You can think about the specific addiction that plagues your life, keeping you less happy and fulfilled than you deserve to be … and consider how ‘just don’t go there’ applies to it. While someone recovering from a drug addiction needs to take every possible step to avoid the places where they bought drugs, avoid old friends, etc., someone else with a gambling addiction for example needs to take every possible step to not enter any location where they can gamble. And so they might choose to take an alternate route home from work so as not to be tempted by the idea of going into these places, because on a bad day they just might see a place where they can gamble and succumb to that idea.
That’s the gist of it. Do you get it? We all have cravings for Earth’s various pleasures, and therefore we will always be tempted. But by changing our routines we can act to avoid temptation, thereby making the battle easier on ourselves. Take an alternate route home … delete an app from your phone … avoid the cookie/candy aisle when grocery shopping … or pick up and move to a whole new city if that’s something you need to do! Once we do that, we start to win the battle against temptation much more often than we lose it. Think about your specific temptation, the one you struggle with the most, and look back through your memory to see how you succumbed to that temptation in the past. And then … just don’t go there again!
Around 2005 or so, before the opioid crisis, I was regularly attending a Narcotics Anonymous (NA) meeting for awhile. It was my first experience with 12-step. I hear many people are down on 12-step these days, and I understand the criticisms against it. But here, at this particular meeting, I’d found a kind and supportive community and had a great 12-step experience.
So one day during a meeting … I forget the day’s discussion topic … a young woman with a good amount of clean time was talking about how she had no problem looking back at old pictures from her time as an addict, pictures of her with her old friends and so on. She enjoyed looking through these photos, she thought they were hilarious. She ended her turn, and soon after it was an older man’s turn to speak. Now this was an anonymous meeting, so I only would have known his first name … but to my great regret, I can’t remember that name now. He spoke in direct response to what she had said.
“It’s almost Halloween, so there’s nothing but horror movies on TV” he said. “And I was watching Anaconda, watching this thing jump out of the water to grab these people. And it made me think about how I can walk down in the valley of the shadow of death by the water, down where something can jump out and get me … or I can walk up on the high bank with my higher power and be safe. What do I need to look at old pictures for? That’s taking me down to the water, away from safety. That’s going backwards. I don’t need to do that!”
I was thinking recently about what he’d said. It was the phrase ‘in the valley of the shadow of death’ that made me remember his words. A friend of mine, who has also been cigarette-free for a few years, was talking about one time when she asked a smoker if she could have a cigarette. She smoked it, thought it was disgusting, and didn’t get addicted again. “I think we should be able to walk in the valley of the shadow of death, and be alright,” she said.
Yeah, sure. It’ll be alright … until the day that it’s not. If you keep rolling dice, at some point you’re going to roll snake eyes. If you keep walking in the valley of the shadow of death instead of in safety, something’s going to jump out and get you eventually. If that something in question is an incredibly powerful addiction that ruled your life and you found it nearly impossible to escape from, then you might not survive one more rumble with it. Be smart! Walk on the high bank in safety, don’t go down into the valley unless you seriously need to and have no other choice.
Because you know there will be times when your life path will take you down there by necessity, and there won’t be a choice. So don’t go down into that valley of the shadow of death if you don’t need to! In my last article I wrote about how faith is like a battery, it gets used up and needs to recharge. With temptation it’s similar. Keep your ‘temptation batteries’ high by avoiding temptation, so that when life brings you down and makes you suffer through trials and tribulations, you’ll have enough power left in you to resist the harmful temptations that may offer short-term relief, but will knock you off your path. These temptations might drag you all the way back down to rock bottom, or they might make you spend a longer time in tribulation than you need to and harm your quality of life. When the time comes, you need to have enough power left in your ‘temptation batteries’ to resist. So keep them as fully charged as possible — by not taxing them every day!
The struggle to resist the temptation of our cravings for life’s various pleasures must be fought every day. It only makes sense to make that struggle as easy as possible on ourselves, and give ourselves the best odds! It is right to pray to God to not be led into temptation, but we must also uphold our end of the bargain and do what we can on our end to fight temptation. By making changes to our own routines and behaviors, or cutting the sources of our temptations out of our lives, we can avoid temptation rather than resist it. Then we will be walking with our God in safety, where whatever is lurking in the water down in the valley of the shadow of death cannot reach us.