I have fought all my saved life against persistent, nearly unflagging temptation. When your primary struggle is with lust, there is rarely respite. Those few days where you go hours without having a single wayward thought try to tug you down the wrong path are like cool breaths of fresh air. You cling to those days and thank God for them as precious gifts, for they are rare. Because there are also those days where every other thought, like a pulsing siren alarm, is an overwhelming appetite, a desperate and ravenous hunger for the illicit. There have been days I physically shook from the strain, sweating, unable to focus on anything but the immediate battle that was waging inside myself.
More often than not, if the battle gets that intense, there are few avenues for escape. And shamefully often, the end result is another tick against myself, another battle lost. Another confession which must needs be made.
Because confession is huge in this war. As in any moral conflict, I believe. Not just to our Heavenly Father — acknowledging our sin to Him, and laying it bare before Him openly and willingly, seeking pardon and cleansing. Seeking strength to get back on the right track. But also submitting ourselves one to another, bearing one another’s burdens, letting the light of confession and transparency shine into the darkest recesses of our souls by confessing to each other. Too often our idolization of privacy chokes our spiritual growth and cuts us off from the intimacy which the Head desires in His Body, and which is necessary for the fulfilled Christian life.
The idol of privacy is another topic, though, for another blog post. 😉
In one of my more recently formed accountability groups, the other two guys are veterans of AA (Alcoholics Anonymous for those not in the know), older guys, not afflicted with the acuteness of struggle in this area that I am burdened with. But they brought something to me from their experiences dealing with alcoholism, which I at first struggled to understand how to apply. When they were coming out of the throes of drunkenness, whenever they were feeling the itch for a drink, they’d call their sponsor. Not to confess what had already happened, but to confess what they were afraid was going to happen. And the sponsor could encourage them and stand with them in that moment of decision. Making the decision to call in that moment was often the critical precursor to deciding to maintain sobriety.
So they encouraged me to call them when the temptation struck. I was sceptical because I envisaged having to call them multiple times a day, maybe dozens of times. Which would be annoying for me, much less them!
But then when push came to shove, I didn’t do it at all.
This baffled me. I remembered distinctly the early nudging by Holy Spirit, urging me to call them. I had brushed it off, with a complex cocktail of emotion.
And I fell.
And I called them, confessing. And I told them about the failure to call beforehand. And I wondered why, and realised why.
I was a coward.
I was able to face up to failures already past, but I couldn’t face the confession of a struggle already in progress. It eluded me. I realised with a shock that I had never in my life done this before. I’d confessed only after the fact. Never reached out when I was in the middle of the battle. I’d always tried to force my way through on my own. Even if I wasn’t trying to do it in my own strength, and I was relying on God’s strength, I was not relying on the strength which God offers through His Body.
There are blessings and gifts of fellowship with our Beloved which He only ministers to us through His Body, through His Church. Like in the Garden of Eden, where He designed things in a way so that Adam had a need, an incompleteness, a less-ness, without the correction of which God could not call creation Good. He created Adam with a need which God Himself refused to satisfy or fulfil except through Eve.
In pondering over this, I came to the conclusion that I needed to change this in myself and in my life. I needed to become a different kind of person. The kind of person who reaches out for help in my moments of greatest weakness and vulnerability. I needed to become the kind of person who had that kind of humility and submission.
It took me a while, with several heartbreaking failures coming after. But by God’s grace I made that first phone call. Before I fell. And the victory that resulted was epic.
I haven’t done it every time since, and I’ve fallen still since then. It took some getting used to. But I can say that right now I am standing here with the longest stretch without relapse that I’ve had in years.
I don’t credit it entirely due to this fundamental change, as Father has been working on a great many other, equally radical changes in myself during this same time. But this is one which I believe is not applicable only to me. So I want to share it with you.
And also share a tactic I learned to augment and supplement the strategy. Because making a phone call isn’t always practical or feasible, and as I soon discovered, the sheer frequency of the need to reach out was greater than the availability of those I could call. As a consequence, I set up a simple code and asked a close and trusted friend online to help me try it.
- Temptations aren’t even crossing my mind. I am at a restful but alert state.
- Temptations are popping up intermittently, but not insistently or with force. They are being easily dealt with, taken to God without much struggle. They are not a distraction.
- The temptation is a steady and persistent nagging desire, a serious distraction which is making it hard to think or to do anything else except battle it. If I take my attention from the battle I feel the slide towards surrender.
- The temptation is intense, a concentrated and overwhelming desire blocking everything else out without remission. I cannot think about anything else even if I wanted to. The cusp of failure is terrifyingly near.
- The temptation has gripped me, and I’ve already taken steps in the direction of giving in, and I’m being drug towards relapse. The hook is set, even if the sin itself has not realised itself yet. Pulling out from this stage is only possible by direct Divine intervention.
Using this scale, I can send a single number over chat to an accountability partner. They don’t need to drop everything and intervene and plead with me to hold strong (though if it’s around 4 it is often appreciated). They just need to acknowledge and start praying. The bare act of reaching out and requesting prayer and confessing my need shifts my entire battleground position. Victory is suddenly within my grasp because I have humbled myself and knit myself into the Body of Christ. Just with a single number.
I’ll also use floating point numbers, measuring in between these stages. If I send a 3.8, that means exactly what it sounds like. The temptation is spiking and I know where it’s going, therefore I’m asking for prayer before it gets there. I don’t only call out when it’s a 4 or above. I’ll often let it be known that I’m praising God for a day of 2s and 1s. Because it is something to praise Him for! If a day is averaging 3s for an extended period of time, I will also reach out, because I know the danger of the exhaustion it breeds.
A side-effect I observed after doing this regularly, was that I became more aware in myself of where I stood on the scale, especially where before I would have been oblivious. I’ve been busy doing things and Holy Spirit will nudge me, asking for my number. I’ll have to stop and think about it, and realise with surprise that I’m a 3 and had been all day long without noticing. The subtlety of it missed me. But by being regularly prompted to attach a numeric value to my degree of temptation, sin has a far more difficult time of creeping up on me.
And so I offer this as a tool and a weapon for you. A help, from one veteran to another. And I want you to know, that if I ever receive a chat or a text from you with a single number from 1-5, I will know what it means. I will expect nothing else. I will pray for you. I will stand with you. Because I know. And we are not alone in this fight.
And those of you who have prayed for me when I sent out a number, thank you. Thank you from the bottom of my heart.