Friendship, C. S. Lewis said, often begins with the following observation between two strangers: “What? You too? I thought I was the only one.”
When you face a difficulty, isn’t it comforting to find that you are not the only one who is going through that challenge? That’s why I find this observation from C.S. Lewis to be so helpful. It’s important to know that we are not alone in our suffering. And I think this is especially important when we confront the idea of temptation.
Do you often feel that you can never win the battle against temptations? Or maybe you are able to resist them, even for a really long time, but then, for one reason or another, it all comes back again, maybe even worse than before! We begin to lose hope and we think to ourselves, “What’s the use?”
Today we hear that Christ had to face temptations too: “The Spirit drove Jesus out into the desert, and he remained in the desert for forty days, tempted by Satan.” This is where the quote from C.S. Lewis can be really helpful. When we are ready to give up and say that there’s no hope for ourselves, we need to remember that Jesus was tempted just as we are. Now, Christ responded in the right way, and didn’t give into them. Instead, he holds the evil spirit to get lost. We, on the other hand, are not so successful.
But here’s the thing: When we seek forgiveness, we are standing before One who knows what we are going through—“I thought I was the only one.” When we isolate ourselves and think we are alone in our suffering and temptation, we give the evil spirit an advantage over us. But then we realize that Christ seeks a friendship with us, and that there’s more in common with the Lord than we might have thought. So maybe we have a chance!
Concerning this idea of saying, “What’s the use?” I’d like to share with you something that was said to a group of monks who were in formation back in late fifties. These words focus on perseverance in the face of sin and temptation:
“Hold on, do not quit. You will fall down, but it does not matter how often you fall. It does not matter how often you fail in humility. It does not matter how often you fall into sin. It does not matter how often things go wrong. It does not matter how often you are tempted to throw in the towel or to give up. Do not quit, but rather, turn back to God. As long as you keep getting up you cannot, in the end, be beat. It is not a matter of natural fortitude. It is a matter of faith and confidence in God. You have to say to yourself, “God knows what he’s doing.”
And when we turn back to God we realize that the One initiated the friendship with us what’s to make it work—wants to make it grow. The more confidence we have in this, the more we can reach out and help other people who struggle as we do. Maybe we will even find ourselves being a little more patient when we begin to see that we are not alone in our weaknesses.
This Lent Christ wants to come into those moments of temptation and help us realize how much we need him. Remember what St. Paul so beautifully writes: “For when I am weak, then I am strong.”
St. Anthony of Egypt, the first of the desert fathers, who really had to struggle with lots of demons throughout his life said: “Whoever has not experienced temptation cannot enter into the Reign of Heaven—take away temptation and no one will be saved.”
(We begin the season of Lent, a time to repent. So, “don’t quit, turn back to God. He knows what he is doing. God’s grace gives us the power to be victorious, but we will still have to engage in the battle.)