“To men that are just and upright, temptations become helps. Job, a man of discernment, was victorious in temptations. Sickness came upon him, and he complained not; … his body failed and his strength departed, but his will was not weakened. … So Joseph from the house of bondage was made to rule as king of Egypt. They of the company of Ananias and Daniel delivered others from bondage.
“See then, O thou are wise, the power that freedom possesses; that noting can injure it unless the will is weakened. … Seek thou not here repose, for this is a world of toil. And if thou canst wisely discern, change thou not time for time that which abides for that which abides not; that which ceases not for that which ceases; nor truth for lying. … Collect thy mind, let it not wander among varieties which profit not.” ~St. Ephraim the Syrian
An excellent runner who is used to running on a clear track will not do well if suddenly put into a hurdle race. Likewise, one who has always ran on flat ground, will get winded quickly running up a mountain. Even worse, the guy who sits on the sidelines watching the runners will not become a good runner at all. For that reason, some people need a wolf to chase them so they will start to run. Some need hurdles and mountains to climb to really build strength in their legs.
We usually think of temptations as something that seems to be good, but often isn’t. The ice cream that gets us off of our healthy diet. The movie of TV that gets us to skip our workout to watch it. But temptations can also be unpleasant things. An illness that makes us stay in bed, even when bed rest isn’t the best solution. A minor injury that gives us an excuse to quite exercising. Most of all, physical problems that cause us to skip our spiritual exercises. But resisting such temptations make us grow strong. That’s why they are helpful temptations.
Power of Freedom
The Power of Freedom has many aspects. The one of concern here is the freedom to choose what is right rather than what is easy. Sometimes, that choice can be painful. It may take us away from things we would rather be doing. But we have the freedom to ignore our own thoughts, or the dark ones whispering in our ears, when we know they are leading us astray.
World of Toil
I have noticed that some members of spiritual groups on social media think that a spiritual life is a life of leisure. They think they will not have to work at all. But just the opposite is true.
The spiritual student is always learning, always improving. That even includes those who have earned the tile spiritual master. On one level, they may have learned all there is to learn, but higher levels remain. A real spiritual life is one of action, not leisure. Even physical death does not bring that learning to an end. It just means you have graduated to a higher level school and need to start learning on that level.
St. Ephraim tells us to collect our mind and not let it wander “among varieties which profit not”. Some spiritual masters say that if the student wants to achieve his spiritual goal, he must keep that goal in mind at all times. That doesn’t mean it has to be at the very front of consciousness at all times, but it has to be in their somewhere. This is a difficult thing to do, but we must try. The closer we come to accomplishing it, the faster we grow.
This is another place where helpful temptations can assist. When we find ourselves being tempted by foolish things, we know we are not keeping locked on our spiritual goals. If we find ourselves desiring to participate in activities that are pointless and a waste of time, we may have pushed our goals back too far. O those helpful temptations remind us to remember our goals.
Of course we all need to wind down occasionally and engage is some innocent fun. We need to do so consciously, though, and not because we have forgotten what we are working for.