#6: Forty Days in the Desert

The Prompt:

Choose something you use routinely (perhaps a food or drink, such as coffee, or an object such as your television) and give it up for five days.  This is similar to one of the Christian practices of the forty-day season called “Lent,” (from an Old English word meaning “Spring”), the time of year that commemorates Jesus’ going out into the wilderness.  Write a short journal entry each day, recollecting your experience trying to give something up.  How often did it enter your mind?  Was it ever especially tempting?  How did you overcome the temptation?  Now try and see how this thing you gave up might be something you use to try and feel secure, or powerful, or to win affection (more on this below).

The Context:

“Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. After fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry.”  –The Gospel of Matthew

Just before Jesus began his public life, he spent forty days in the desert during which he was tempted by Satan.  First Jesus is hungry, and Satan asks him why he doesn’t just turn the surrounding stones into bread.  Jesus replies by quoting a Jewish scripture that says, “Human beings do not live on bread alone but by every word of God.”  Next, Satan brings Jesus to the top of the temple and says, “If you are the son of God, then throw yourself down to prove that God will send his angels to save you.”  Jesus refuses and again quotes Jewish scripture, saying, “You shall not tempt the Lord your God.”  Finally, Satan brings him to a mountain top and promises to give him all the kingdoms he sees if he will only worship Satan.  Jesus says, “Away with you, Satan!” and again quotes a scripture that says, “You shall only worship and serve the Lord.”

A Christian monk named Fr. Basil Pennington once said that Jesus withdrew from society in order to see and to confront his false self, the source of unhappiness.  Satan’s three temptations are symbolic of our false self’s mistaken search for happiness in security, affection, and power.  Pennington asked, “Why am I unhappy?  Is it not because I cannot do something I want to do; I do not have something I want to have; or I am concerned about what others will think?”  Jesus is able to see through these false-self temptations on his way to discovering his true self as Son of God.  Pennington’s fellow monk Fr. Thomas Keating talked about how once Jesus overcame these temptations, he was able to help others to be secure, to show others affection, and to empower others—all of which we see in the rest of Jesus’ life story.

If you were to go out into the wilderness, what form would these temptations take?   What would it take for you to overcome the allure of excessive security, power, and affection?  What would be the effects on your life if you could overcome these temptations as Jesus did?