Growing up I recall watching an old Tom and Jerry cartoon that depicted a particularly enticing temptation that Tom was facing. Tom appears to rationalize why he should either indulge and give in to his appetites; or abstain and give into good judgment. A devil appears on one shoulder whispering in his ear, and an angel on the opposite shoulder. The point is clear: the decision that Tom will make will be determined by what voice he chooses to listen to.
We all fight temptations, and the season of Lent is about self-examination. Taking time to purposefully reflect is important because it provides the necessary space to be reminded of who we are, and what we aspire to become. In one famous story, Jesus is going into the desert for a time of purposeful reflection. He abstains from food for a period of 40 days, he practices the spiritual disciplines of prayer and quietness as he prepares for his earthly ministry to begin. He is physically tired, hungry, and spiritually depleted.
The tempter (the devil) comes to Jesus and says: “If you are God, turn these stones into bread.” “If you are God prove it…. jump off the temple and God will keep you from hurting yourself.” Often well-meaning ministers may use the temptation of Christ to remind us that we, like Christ, need to say, “no” to our own temptations. That’s valid. However, I think there is a deeper point to this story than just saying no to bad things. I believe the heart of this story is really about identity.
Satan begins by saying: “if you are God then…” If he can get Jesus to doubt, or to be unsure about his sense of identity he can get him to do anything. Isn’t this true of us also? How often in life do we doubt who we are? We buy into the lie that we are not special, or lack gifts, or can’t do something, or life is always going to be like this. At times, that inner voice can be positive and keep us pushing ahead; however, it often is negative and defeating. One writer says it this way: We all have it. That nagging little voice inside of us that tells us to stay still and not go work out. It tells us to keep eating that junk food because it will make us feel so good. It tells us to not do something productive that may require effort because it doesn’t want to. It may even tell us that we are not good enough to do a certain task. For most, we have been dealing with this negative voice in our heads for much of our life.
As we age, our temptations may differ, but the truth of the old cartoon remains the same: the voices we listen to will often determine the quality of our life.