“What in the world are you doing?” My father seemed genuinely perplexed, and I had no logical explanation for why my hands were completely covered with sticky strings of chewed up gum. For the previous half-hour I’d been bored out of my nine-year-old mind in the bleachers of a junior high gymnasium, where my brother, sporting tube socks and a red uniform, was playing basketball. Halfway through the game, I attempted to entertain myself by seeing how far I could stretch a flavorless wad of Big Red before it separated into two distinct pieces.
If I had just pulled it once, I probably could have safely returned the gum back to my mouth without too much mess, or better yet could have tossed it into a garbage can. But I didn’t pull it once, or even twice, it was more like three or four times that I swirled and twisted the pink, shiny, elasticized delicacy around my fingers. And by that time…oh boy, the damage was beyond repair. Frantically, I picked at the strands trying to free myself from their tacky web, stubbornly conjoining all ten digits. The next great plan of rubbing my palms together, accomplished nothing but pressing sweat and dirt into an already disgusting mixture of sugar, spit, and skin. I dreaded the moment when my dad would look down and discover my embarrassing predicament. I vowed to never again become entangled.
A couple of years ago, I had a health scare that, thanks be to God, was resolved on its own. I’ve thought little of it since, once relief swept through scattering gut knotting apprehension like dust balls sent packing by one lucid enough to maintain tidiness. But recently, while going about my busy existence, I was randomly assaulted by a grievous suggestion, “What if it comes back again?” That single, arbitrary, unsubstantiated thought would eventually spread like gangrene through my subconscious, decomposing a once healthy mindset, and deadening my rationality. If I had just entertained the notion once, I probably could have safely returned it to the uttermost recesses of my brain without too much mess, or better yet could have tossed it out completely. But I didn’t entertain it once, or even twice, it more like twenty or thirty times that I wrestled with the tentacled assumption foretelling my imminent demise. And by that time…oh boy, the damage was irrefutable.
“I am a failure.”
“I am untalented.”
“I am evil.”
“I am dissatisfied with the life I wake up to each morning.”
It isn’t the loud temptations, I daresay, that lure most of us away from our faith, but rather these silently hurled implications distorting convictions, and contaminating our beliefs. It is highly unlikely that I will ever rob a bank, betray my spouse, or commit murder; I am acutely aware of the sinfulness surrounding all such acts of passion. Having a strong sense of morality, however, makes me a relatively easy target, for I often become lazy and self-assured. When my prayers turn flippant, and my mind becomes distracted by everyday concerns and responsibilities, I float further and further from the security of God’s will until … BAM! I am blindsided by an idea so frightening, so disturbing, and so persuasive it becomes impossible to extricate myself from the tacky web of lies, stubbornly conjoining all my faculties. The pouting, the anxiety, the depression that then ensues is like hell on earth as joy, hope, and love become elusive.
Observe your thoughts, and beware of what you have in your heart and your spirit, knowing that the demons put ideas into you so as to corrupt your soul by making it think of that which is not right, in order to turn your spirit from the consideration of your sins and of God, said St. Gregory of Nyssa. I can’t afford to step away, even briefly, from the edifying presence of my Savior. I can’t assume I have the strength to conquer morbid ponderings on my own. Don’t touch! Don’t taste! Don’t listen! I mustn’t dare to avert my gaze from Christ. He who prays often will escape temptation; instructed the Abba Evagrius, but thoughts will trouble the heart of the careless. I’ve come crawling home, dreading the shame of surrendering my humiliating predicament. “I fell for it again, Lord please have mercy! Disentangle me from these fleshly preoccupations! Forgive me like the father who embraced his prodigal son, dirty and disappointed from assuaging his own desires. Fill my soul with what is holy, and what is peaceful.”
So what in the world am I doing, wasting time all curled up and fruitless? The power of the cross stands firm to uphold me, if only I’d lean my full weight upon it. If only I’d reprioritize every single thing in my life till it pointed to, sang of, and rejoiced in the Resurrection. If only I’d trash the junk before it spoils all that it touches, and kept my motives clean with fervent prayer. “Finally, brethren, says Paul in Philipians, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy – meditate on these things.
If only I’d chew on that for a change.
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