March 20, 2014
What do you do when temptation sneaks up on you, as it surely will? You’re probably prepared to head off a frontal assault, the obvious feints, the predictable ploys from the enemy. But what will you do when he sneaks past your defenses and takes you by surprise?

Lent is by nature a time when we are more focused on the spiritual life and you’ve probably noticed that there is nothing like a day of fasting to make bacon seem like the most appealing food on the planet. That’s temptation at work - the slings and arrows of the enemy. We are attractive targets for the Sneaky One when we are trying to grow in holiness, when we seek to draw closer to God; the stakes are higher for Satan then. At any other time he may be content to toy with us, but when we are serious about the state of our soul, he knows it’s winner take all and he antes up in order to win.

When dealing with an enemy – and temptation is one of the minions of the enemy – it is smart to have a plan in place before the attack is launched. As we are deep into the season of Lent, this seems like an appropriate time to think about how to defend ourselves. Here are a few ideas:

Know your vulnerabilities.  Are you susceptible when you’re lonely? Tired? When your hormones are amuk? When you skip breakfast?  Maybe there is a snowball effect of several tiny factors compounding to throw you off.

Be attentive. Pay attention to where the temptation is coming from. Maybe it’s listening to a certain radio station or a particular kind of music. It might be watching tv late at night or spending time with that group of friends. It could be as simple as reading a glossy home decorating magazine that stirs up envy and avarice. Knowing your particular weaknesses and the triggers that wake them up is a good weapon to have in your arsenal.

Speaking of arsenals, keep your other tools sharp.  Pray, pray, pray. Pray a lot, pray often, pray all the time. Pray rosaries and chaplets when and if you can, and for the rest of the time, make an offering of your day, your labour, your struggles; take a brief moment here and there – literally seconds – to offer thanksgiving, or send out a cry for help. If it is your regular habit to turn to God in all things, it will be second nature to do so in that moment of need. Another tool is to make frequent use of the sacraments: get thee to a confessional regularly, and receive the Eucharist often.

Have a plan before you need a plan, particularly with a recurring struggle. But what can you do when you know you are under attack? First of all, as mentioned above, pray. Make that your instinctive response.  Then move. A change of environment is good, as is physical activity. Engage in something that will occupy your mind and/or your body. Reach out to a friend or prayer partner. You don’t have to disclose why you’re doing so, but the human connection might alleviate the urges, cause a distraction, or provide a balm to a limping spirit, any of which may be enough to head temptation off at the pass.

Rebuke the tempter. Acknowledge what is happening: Satan is laying a trap for you. Be careful to follow the example of Jesus, though, by simply using scripture. Do not engage him in dialogue as Adam and Eve did, for he is a wily, crafty, tricksy sort. Once you start to debate or negotiate with him, he will confuse and distract you further. Our Lord quoted from the Psalms and the Prophets – reach for your bible, or have some key passages memorized to use in a moment of need.

Most importantly, do not despair! You are not a failure. This is not a reason to give up; dust yourself off, learn from what happened, and carry on.  Lent is not about keeping your penances perfectly, but carrying the Cross – stumbles and falls and all.

“Get away, Satan! It is written:
‘The Lord, your God, shall you worship
And Him alone shall you serve.’”
Matthew 4:10

Then the devil left him and, behold, angels came and ministered to him.
Matthew 4:11


  1. Excellent post, Tess. I agree that having a step-by-step plan is absolutely necessary. Mine is one that I have learned over the past few years and have honed with new spiritual insights.

  2. Thank you, Elena!
    It's funny, but I'd never considered it before. I just sort of thought I'd power through, or that after the last confession it would finally 'take' and I'd never have the same struggle ever again. Then finally a priest asked me point-blank, "What are you going to do the next time?" and I realized I was essentially drowning in DeNile (haha)
    Best confession ever.

    1. Tess, part of my revelation was hearing a recovering heroin addict talk about having a daily plan to counter his addiction and the compulsive thoughts and behaviours that go with it. It was like a lightbulb over my head telling me that I absolutely had to do the same thing with specific temptations. Before that I had felt the same as you: I will power through or The Lord will, bam, just heal me. Not true - so much hard and daily work. Some days are much better than others and, even in that, there is a pattern to be discerned.

    2. Elena, thank you so much for your insight. I was taken aback at first, at the unsavoury idea of comparing myself to a heroin addict (surely *my* addictions are more palatable, I tell myself) but am I any more free because what binds me doesn't come through a needle? A chain is a chain, isn't it? It's far better to look at the situation honestly, then put the plan in action.



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