Help. Hope. Healing.

Enduring Temptation

By Mark Chamberlain, Ph.D.

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Sex Addiction Recovery Tips from Mark Chamberlain, Ph.D.

Enduring Temptation

Sherm was up in arms. At times it seemed to him like all of his efforts were paying off. However, the fact temptation could return so powerfully in weak moments like it often did made him wonder whether he would ever be able to regain control of his life. When things were going well, he didn’t experience the least temptation whatsoever. However, it seems that no matter how hard he worked at avoiding temptation, eventually an urge would hit, which he found very distressing.

 “I was confident that my recovery was going better than this,” he would lament to himself at such times. “I guess I’m not doing as well as I thought. I had hoped that I was getting to the point where sin wouldn’t have any appeal to me at all. But here I am, desiring it as powerfully as ever.” Feeling that all of his efforts to resist temptation had failed, at points like these Sherm would become discouraged and dejected. Feeling guilty for even wanting to sin, his resistance to acting on his urges would be at its lowest point. Once Sherm was no longer on what he saw as the “highest road,” there was very little to keep him from taking the route that led straight down. I have seen many people like Sherm begin to doubt their ability to succeed in their efforts to overcome temptation and live righteously. I have seen friends and family members doubt such strugglers’ sincerity. However, I no longer question such individuals’ effort or strength of character. The problem is typically not a failure to try hard enough. The fact is, people like Sherm may be closer to success than they realize. Of course, it can be hard to persuade someone like Sherm that. Since temptation did not “bounce right off without even fazing him” and since he had not yet reached his goal of having “no more desire to do evil,” he was convinced that he was failing. While Sherm’s hope for a “mighty change of heart” is certainly a laudable goal, unfortunately his narrow view of success not only led to discouragement, it also blinded him to progress that entailed anything less than complete imperviousness to temptation.

Fortunately, insights from the scriptures provide guidance, clarity and hope. It is interesting to note that the criteria for success outlined throughout the scriptures is not complete imperviousness to temptation itself, but the avoidance of unrighteous thoughts and actions. It is significant that we are not commanded to never experience the urge to sin. Rather, temptation is acknowledged as something that we will suffer–but also something that we can and should endure. The Savior himself “suffered temptation but”–and here’s the key–“gave no heed” (D&C 20:22). The apostle James exhorts us to do the same: “Blessed is the man that endureth temptation” (James 1:12, italics added). Likewise, in the Book of Mormon we are counseled to “withstand every temptation” we do experience (Alma 37:33, italics added).

The apostle Paul tried to help the saints in Corinth not become discouraged by the temptation they suffered. He reassured them that “There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape. . . .” Were we to read only to that point in this passage, we may be left with the impression that “escaping” means being spared the temptation we are experiencing. However, Paul goes on to clarify that we will escape by being blessed with the strength “that ye may be able to bear it.” (1 Corinthians 10:13, emphasis added.) Once again, we see that at times it is the bearing–the enduring or withstanding–of temptation that will be the key in our efforts to avoid sin.

Traveling the path that leads through temptation but not all the way to unrighteous choices may place us in a unique territory with its own opportunities and blessings. The Lord experienced all that He did, in part, so that he would be in a position to help us through this challenging terrain of life. “Wherefore in all things it behoved him to be made like unto his brethren, that he might be a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God, to make reconciliation for the sins of the people. For in that he himself hath suffered being tempted, he is able to succour them that are tempted” (Hebrews 2:18).

Along the same lines, we are promised that “after their temptations, and much tribulation, behold, I, the Lord, will feel after them, and if they harden not their hearts, and stiffen not their necks against me, they shall be converted, and I will heal them” (D&C 112:13). The suffering of temptation may deepen our relationship with the Savior and increase our need for the healing only He can provide.

It is important that we remember, therefore, that it is the giving into temptation, and not the suffering of it, that puts us at cross purposes with God. As unpleasant as it may be to endure temptation and not give in to it, we nonetheless are in good company when we do so–the company of our Savior. After all, He “was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin” (Hebrews 4:15). Have we fully comprehended this fact? That He experienced the most powerful pull we have ever experienced–and more? It is not that He did not desire. Rather, He is the only one who stood up to every desire, refused to give in to a single urge to sin, even the most powerful one. This key distinction can make a tremendous difference in our struggle to overcome sin. No longer need we interpret urges and cravings alone as indications that we are vile and wicked, or that we’ve “fallen off the wagon.”

Instead, we can rejoice, as Peter taught, in the hope of salvation even “though now for a season, if need be, ye are in heaviness through manifold temptations: That the trial of your faith, being much more precious than of gold that perisheth, though it be tried with fire, might be found unto praise and honour and glory at the appearing of Jesus Christ.” (Peter 1:6-7.)

As we develop a deeper understanding of temptation and its potential role in our lives, we may finally begin to understand how James could write: “My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations; Knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience. But let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing.” (James 1:2-4.) The more we are able to tolerate our wants without giving into them, the less dependent we will be on sources besides the Divine.

One caveat is in order before we end our discussion of this topic. I feel a certain sense of trepidation as I write these words, realizing how easily they might be misinterpreted. I worry that even one reader might use them to justify the entertainment of unrighteous thoughts and inclinations. Only the foolish would use the inevitability of temptation as an excuse to welcome temptation into their life. We may very well “fall into divers temptations,” as James warned (1:2, emphasis added), but we should not jump! Indeed, Jesus taught us to pray, “Lead us not into temptation.” (Matthew 6:13.) The tools and suggestions we have been discussing should not replace our initial efforts to avoid temptation in the first place. Rather, they should be used more as a second and very important additional line of defense against sin. We will have plenty of opportunities to suffer through temptation–we don’t need to go out looking for them. When we place ourselves in temptation’s way, on the other hand, we are asking for trouble; we offend the spirit and forfeit the Lord’s protection. Therefore, the avoidance of situations that trigger our unrighteous desires should remain a primary focus.

Mark Chamberlain, Ph.D. is Salt Lake City-based clinical psychologist specializing in the treatment of sexual addiction. He can be reached at 801-564-7566. His offices are located at 1258 West South Jordan Parkway, Suite 202, South Jordan, UT and in Davis County at 1785 East 1450 South #233 Clearfield, UT. Mark is author of Wanting More: The Challenge of Enjoyment in the Age of Addiction and coauthor of Willpower Is Not Enough: Why We Don’t Succeed at Change. He specializes in the treatment of addictions and compulsive behavior. Contact Dr. Chamberlain to try out his eWorkbook, “Turning from Other Dependencies to God.”

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