1st Sunday of Lent year A 2017:
I hope your Lent is off to a great start. This is a wonderful and powerful season of Grace. If you open your hearts to Jesus, he can work miracles in your life. Don’t be afraid. I think so many times we are hesitant to embrace change because we are simply afraid of where Jesus might take us. So, if you have other resolutions for Lent, make “being open to Jesus” one of your fundamental resolutions.
Today we mark the first Sunday of Lent. We hear in our readings the story of the fall of Adam and Eve. This is probably the worst event in human history. Adam and Eve face temptation, and they fail. Then, in the gospel, Jesus faces temptation and he succeeds. Jesus overcomes the all the brokenness of our world. This includes temptation.
Because of Adam and Eve, and the brokenness we have all inherited, we are all prone to temptation. Stop and think about this for a second, even Jesus faces temptation. So, if Jesus is going to face temptation, so will we. In fact, we will probably never have a day, or even an hour without some kind of temptation. Some of us battle even more difficult temptations that we might even call addictions.
I’ve been doing a lot of reading up about addictions recently. In my pastoral work, I’ve encountered many people who are struggling with a behavior they cannot control. Maybe it’s an addiction to alcohol, drugs, promiscuity, the internet, which is a big one these days. One of the major problems with addiction, is that it loves to live in the darkness. People struggling with these issues often feel alone, abandoned, and isolated. The bad thing is that these feelings actually make people more susceptible to addiction.
So, today I wanted to talk a little bit about addiction. If you are facing an issue like this in your life, hopefully these suggestions might give you some hope. If you are not facing addiction, maybe you know someone who could use these tips. If not, these tips are also helpful for all the other temptations we face in life. And, I think you will see, that they are built right upon the gospel story we just heard.
One of the ideas that I think is helpful is to recognize what is called the addiction cycle. Different books have more or less number of stages in this cycle. But, to keep it simple let’s talk about three major stages: trigger, thought, action. It seems to me that these three things usually happen in the process of a fall or a sin. Now, just to make everyone more comfortable, I will just talk about me. But you can put in your own experiences. Not that long ago I felt I had an addiction to cigars. I thought they were getting out of control. So, I decided that for my 38th birthday I was going to give myself the gift of clean health and I was going to give up the cigars.
So, knowing this addiction cycle was extremely powerful for me in my efforts to stop smoking. First, triggers. The important thing to know about triggers is that they are completely out of your control. They come from the outside. I noticed that I was triggered to smoke a cigar by many things: stress, anxiety, certain foods, a warm evening. Now, I haven’t had a cigar in over 6 months. But, I was triggered just the other day. Remember it was 70 degrees? It was such a warm and pleasant evening, that I instantly thought: a cigar would be great. So, one of the important things about overcoming an addiction, or any sin for that matter, is to realize that we will be triggered no matter what. Triggers and temptations are never going away. We cannot control them for the most part. But, we have to become aware when we are being tempted, triggered. So that is the first step, being triggered. This is what happens to Jesus too. The devil is triggering him because he is presenting these temptations to him. They are outside of Jesus, acting upon him.
The next step is thought. Once we encounter a trigger, the next step is that our mind starts to move us toward the offensive behavior. I got triggered by the thought of a cigar, so my mind literally started thinking about how I was going to get a cigar. I thought in my mind: “well if I got in the car now I could get to the store in about 15 minutes.” I mean, my mind is amazing when it comes to problem solving. But, since I was aware of the trigger, I also became aware of the thoughts I have. I noticed instantly that I was having thoughts about trying to get ahold of a cigar. So, I needed to replace these troubling thoughts with more positive ones: no, I’m not a smoker, I love the freedom of not being tied to that addiction. I will enjoy this pleasant evening without that negative behavior. It’s vital to replace the negative thoughts with positive ones. This is what Jesus does in the gospel. For each temptation the devil throws at him, he has a positive thought from the scriptures that counteracts the temptation: man does not live on bread alone, you shall worship God alone. So, we need to practice having positive and powerful thoughts to replace temptations.
Third stage of the addiction cycle is action. And anyone struggling with temptations and addictions can tell you, that if you begin on this stage, it’s very hard to turn back. Once we are triggered, if we don’t win the battle in the mind, the behavior will almost always win out. But, it’s important to realize that if we are winning the battle of the mind, we are still longing for action. But, we need these actions to be positive. If we are tempted to sin, the best thing we can do is to do something good instead. Go for a walk, read a book, call a friend. We need good actions, good habits to replace bad ones.
So that’s the addiction cycle, it was helpful to me with the smoking thing, and it has been helpful to many people with whom I’ve shared it. I hope it would be helpful to you as well. 2 last points before I go. Number 1, temptation doesn’t last forever. Look at Jesus, once he wins the temptations, the angels show up to minister to him. The same is true for us, when we overcome temptations, we get stronger each time. Number 2, it’s next to impossible to overcome addictions and temptations alone. So, if you are struggling with something, let right now be the time you get some help. Don’t let this thing weigh you down anymore. When I quit smoking I had a bunch of friends who were helping and supporting me. I couldn’t have done it without them.
Lent is a powerful time. So no matter what temptations you might be facing, follow the example of Christ, ask for his grace, and let this powerful season of grace be a moment of healing and freedom for you.