You’ll have to forgive me for the rather junior-high-level humor today. I now have a teenager (which makes me feel old. Another post, that one) and two middle-schoolers. So you can imagine the stimulating conversation that surrounds the dinner table (which can actually feel more like a cafeteria table. Sometimes I feel like I should be wearing a hairnet. Box of milk with your fries, anyone?).
At any rate—at a certain point in our marriage, my husband kindly asked for us to spend no further dollars on air freshener for the bathroom. His reasoning, at the time: It only kind of layers on top of the real smell lurking beneath. You start inhaling something flowery or sentimental, with a name like Tahitian Sunrise (because who doesn’t want a tangerine sunrise from Tahiti in the loo?) or Honeysuckle Nectar (with a name like that, maybe we should stay in here all day!) or Apple Cinnamon (which reminds one, oddly, of eating pie). Then, BAM. It hits you. This is not nice. This is not nice at all. There is nothing “fresh” or edible about this. Hence my husband’s affectionate moniker of “Poo-potpourri.”
You might wonder where I’m going with this, as I often do myself. I think of this with regard to a thought by Tim Keller about our cravings—those idols that we’re still subtly convinced will fill our gaping holes–get religion.
Superiority dons a moral costume of (self-)righteousness. Desires for power and influence drive us to higher positions of esteem in church, or being the “wise one”, the sought-after counselor, among friends. Insecurity (like my own) looks strikingly like humility.
I guess it’s not that subtle to a lot of the people around us. These are the religious people we find repulsive in movies, in books…and, welp, in a lot of the hypocrisy that repels people from Christianity. Something smells off.
But my own cravings are subtle to me. Those same things that drive me apart from God get a little spiritual lipstick, y’might say. (Don’t miss this critical article on the difference between religion and the gospel. Hits me every time.)
Here’s what some of my own junk can look like if I’m not vigilant; when the good I’m attempting is actually just misting a heavy layer of aerosol over the repulsive underlayer. I’m like Paul: I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand (Romans 7:21).
|The heart problem||The “godly” behavior it can masquerade as|
|pride; mental superiority; judgment||discernment; holding the moral line|
|insecurity: value through accomplishments and approval||humility; serving others|
|self-centeredness/manipulation||self-sacrifice, but indirectly steering others to do what I want (a.k.a. manipulation)|
|martyrdom||self-sacrifice; putting myself last (getting quietly angry when no one looks out for me)|
|unbelief||anxiety, fear, desire for safety for my kids, stability, security* (*this morphs into a demand)|
|selfish ambition||driven for God’s kingdom|
|knowledge about God||knowledge of God; teaching; lovingly advising others|
The Elaborate Cover-Up
This morning I read the words of Thomas à Kempis. (He’s cleverly pulled into readable, digestible passages like the other authors in this book. It’s for people like me who don’t have the attention span and/or just want to get to the good parts.) Can I quote a 14th century monk in the same post as Poo-potpourri? Why, funny you should ask.
As it is written in Job, “Our life on this earth is warfare.”…Remember, no one is so holy that he or she does not have to deal with temptation.
….[Temptations] are useful because they can make us humble, they can cleanse us, and they can teach us.
….No one is completely free of temptations because the source of temptation is in ourselves…When one temptation passes, another is on its way….If we merely turn away from temptation outwardly and do not strike at the root, we will make very little progress.
And here’s where à Kempis assaults the rotting stench of my cravings: “The beginning of all evil temptations in an unstable mind and a small trust in God…temptations reveal who we are.”
My initial desire is legit: Safe kids. People liking me. Respect. Being a moral person. Being comfortable. Enjoying beauty around us. Having fun. It’s when that becomes my source of fulfillment, my demand to fill my unsatisfied, “unstable” heart, that my imagination blooms to the possibilities of how I could manipulate those desires into soul-hole-fillers.
And that’s why alertness is critical–and that I’m humbly honest with myself and with God about the craving, then ready to address the gaping hole beneath. Do I really believe He’s able to satisfy me? Otherwise, a stink might lurk beneath a false florality (yes. Made that word up myself). My cravings are constantly seeking more clever masquerades. As John Calvin wrote, Our hearts are idol-making factories.
Temptation itself isn’t the same as choosing the false filler of my heart. Jesus was tempted, right? And ultimately, my idea is not try harder. It’s more how our temptations get a little more crafty, a little more snazzy, a little more of an elaborate, intricate counterfeit as we plunge deeper into our faith. It’s Christ who makes us more than conquerors, even of the thickest, headiest, most aromatic disguise.
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