It was one of those weeks. Life, work, and a series of odd or frustrating experiences had conspired to exhaust me, body and soul. The chaos started the day I finished a difficult novena, praying for a clear answer on a life-changing decision. My specific intention was “Let me know Your will, Lord, and give me the courage to follow it joyfully.”
And then all hell — or at least Purgatory — broke loose. Between demanding and time-sensitive projects, a spat of office politics, personal drama, slander against an institution I love, and the resulting lack of time to breathe, I reached the nadir of my ability to pray or even think.
Then the Holy Spirit slapped me upside the head one morning by arranging for the next chapter of my lectio divina book to be a meditation on the temptation of Christ in the desert.
Oh great, I thought. This’ll be fun. Fasting for forty days, tackling a triple temptation face-to-face with the father of lies … this is probably God reminding me that I ain’t got nothin’ on His suffering.
Or not. A few paragraphs later, the real message sank into my heart with the solid weight of the stones Satan handed Christ.
My prayer to know and follow God’s will, wrung from me with tears and anxiety? That was good. In fact, that was me joining Christ in the desert. So why the onslaught of stress? You got it: a face-off with whatever particular demon happens to be after my soul. I was being tempted, big time: tempted to lack of charity, anger, self-centeredness, and Lord only knows what all else.
Most of us have probably been counselled at one time or another to make a daily examen — to look back over the day and bring to Christ “what we have done and what we have failed to do.” I realized, in this week of stress, that in my examen, I find it easier to see where I fell than to see where the road was treacherous. Temptation isn’t something I tend to think about. But noticing the potholes as they come up makes it easier to walk confidently without tripping.
When it comes to pitched battle with Satan, which as Christians we fight every day, Sun Tzu’s The Art of War is remarkably accurate for the spiritual life:
“If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.”
So I think I’m adding something to my daily examen. Because if Christ can give Satan a holy answer plus a bit of snark when the devil comes after Him, maybe I can see where the sneak attacks are coming and find comfort in the middle of stress.
But in His divine generosity, the Holy Spirit gave me not only clarity, but also encouragement. The words of Fr. John Bartunek, LC, in his book The Better Part calmed the turbulent waters of my soul. In the voice of Christ, he writes,
“In the desert, the thought of you spurred me on. I wanted to suffer in the wilderness to convince you that I can be there to hold you and guide you in the dark nights of your soul. I am with you until the end of time.”
I can walk in the desert, and face temptation, because Christ Himself is already waiting for me among the barrenness, His Sacred Heart desiring to strengthen me.
Copyright 2018 Rebecca Willen