"A silly idea is current that good people do not know what temptation means. This is an obvious lie. Only those who try to resist temptation know how strong it is... A man who gives in to temptation after five minutes simply does not know what it would have been like an hour later. That is why bad people, in one sense, know very little about badness. They have lived a sheltered life by always giving in." --C.S. Lewis
That Clive Staples! How does he always manage to take a common struggle or widely-accepted premise and turn it over on all sides and finally pin it to the mat like an agile wrestler? He is my favorite heavy-weight.
Temptation is what my English teacher would have called a round, complex character, not a flat, black/white character, but a nuanced, sly, cunning, prismatic, beautiful character.
For example, should you try to tempt me today to go shopping for a beautiful new diamond bracelet, I would smile at you, shake my head and forget it. Out of the question, no problemo.
However, should you tempt me today with even a stale packet of instant generic COFFEE, I might nervously shift from one foot to the other, lick my lips and throw my palm over my eye to stop the twitch. I might be thinkin' your proposal over. Seriously.
Why? Because I decided to fast coffee for Lent. Now, I'm not a coffee addict. I'm not a coffee snob. But I have a morning routine that includes one mandatory cup in 1 of 3 special mugs. Can I just tell you that not only am I missing that early-bird cup, but I am thinking about coffee all day long!
Well, I bought some green tea to help "take the edge off." Yeow. One sip and the edge was back on ... my teeth. I've been adding lemon and promising myself every sip is zapping bad free radicals. It was going fairly well until my 17 year-old son questioned me, "Should you really be having that tea? I mean, is it really fasting if you give yourself a substitute?"
Thirty seconds of ominous silence and then, my answer: "Should you really be badgering your java junkie mom about her spirituality when she controls your car keys, TiVo and food supply? I mean, is it really sane for you to still be standing right there in front of me right now?"
I think you see the depths temptation can drag one into.
I'm noticing coffee everywhere. I agreed to meet a friend to talk at a coffee shop, forgetting my fast until the aroma immediately began seducing me. By the time I left, I was so whipped up for coffee I thought a mug of Joe was going to tear my cloak as I ran out the door, a la Joseph escaping Mrs. Potiphar.
I work in a building with a coffee shop. When the manager has that morning brew going, my feet feel like they're leaving the ground and fluttering like butterfly wings toward the coffee bar.
I went to church Sunday morning and realized there would be no coffee for me.
It's still cold here. Tonight at Bible study some lady gingerly held her Starbucks cup to warm her hands and sipped it the WHOLE time. The topic was predestination, and all I could think about was how that blessed lady with the coffee was like the elect and I was like ... uh, I couldn't concentrate enough to complete the analogy. That's bad.
Commercials, blogs with coffee in their names ... it's everywhere.
AAhh, Temptation, be ye flat or complex--I am thankful for you. Not joyous, just humbly thankful. You keep me from the sheltered life C.S. Lewis spoke about. You remind me of how weak I am and how much I need a Savior. You underscore that I am capable of not only the imminent sin I might commit, but every sin. You uncover my selfishness and rebelliousness. You connect me to a long history and large community--humanity. You make me compassionate toward others who are being tempted. You keep me on my feet, watching for your subtlety and guile--urging me to take bad shortcuts to get to good goals such as satisfaction, intimacy and comfort.
When Jesus was tempted in the wilderness, specifically to throw himself off the mountain and have his kingdom come right then and there without suffering, he refused the shortcut. He chose the life he had been given, even with its suffering, showing us that it is possible to say no to temptation in order to say "Yes, I will sacrifice; I will obey," to the Father.
A cup of coffee is a small, small thing to forego. But I am re-visiting some big, big lessons every time I reach for an empty mug. The Holy Spirit meets us where we are, and lately, we are meeting over coffee, or the lack thereof, and I am coming away satisfied.