This is part 5 of a 6 part series. If you’ve missed the previous articles, please scroll down to find the links.
Here are 11 things we can do when we’re tempted. If you can think of any I’ve missed, please share your thoughts in the comments.
1. Pay attention to our thoughts: This requires daily vigilance.
It demands daily vigilance in the control of one’s carnal desires and corrupt inclinations. It calls for the abandonment of a frivolous conduct, with its excessive attachment to trivial and often misdirected pleasures. (Shoghi Effendi: The Advent of Divine Justice, p. 30)
2. Begin to change the way we think: In order to overcome temptation, we must first identify where it’s coming from. We can ask ourselves: Are these thoughts and motives arising from our lower nature? Are they coming from fear, anger, jealousy, self-hatred, self-pity? Change our perception that temptation is bad for us:
We should try and make every stumbling-block a stepping-stone to progress. (Shoghi Effendi, Living the Life, p. 26.)
3. Sort out truth from error: Often what we think is true, is just idle fancy and vain imaginings, so we can use the process given to us by ‘Abdul-Bahá to know what is true and what is not:
Consequently, it has become evident that the four criteria standards of judgment by which the human mind reaches its conclusions (senses, intellect, traditional or scriptural and inspiration) are faulty and inaccurate. All of them are liable to mistake and error in conclusions. But a statement presented to the mind, accompanied by proofs which the senses can perceive to be correct, which the faculty of reason can accept, which is in accord with traditional authority and sanctioned by the promptings of the heart, can be adjudged and relied upon as perfectly correct, for it has been proved and tested by all the standards of judgment and found to be complete. When we apply but one test, there are possibilities of mistake. This is self-evident and manifest. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 255)
Let’s look at how this quote might apply to temptation through my experiences of abuse as a child. Because the incidents of abuse were so painful, and I didn’t have a context to put them in, I blocked out all my memories of my childhood (both good and bad), and then started to recover the bad memories when I was in my 20’s. My parents refused to talk to me about what happened and my memories were those of a terrified child who’d been told the events never happened – they were just nightmares. So for many years I was plagues with doubts: did it happen or didn’t it? If I thought it didn’t, I hated myself for judging my parents (temptation) and taking steps to have their right of parenthood removed (action). If it did, I hated them for what they did, and blamed them for the effect it had on me, my ability to work, my marriage and my ability to parent (temptation). I was unforgiving to both them and me (action).
So when I came across this quote, it helped stop the hamster wheel going round and round inside my head. The statement presented to the mind was “This happened.” I was triggered in the present with sensory experiences from the past. My eyes reacted to similar images; my ears reacted to similar sounds; my nose reacted to similar smells; my mouth reacted to similar tastes; and I couldn’t stand to be touched or hugged. Reason told me that alcohol abuse almost always leads to sexual abuse; and I knew that if someone put a gun to my head and asked me “Did it happen or didn’t it?”, my heart would say “Yes”. So after that, any time I was tempted to doubt myself, and plunge back into negative thought patterns, I knew I could always come back to this quote.
4. Ask God for forgiveness: Once you know what they are and what’s causing them, you can ask God for His forgiveness as we turn away from temptation. In the following prayer, ‘Abdul-Bahá is already asking God to intervene on our behalf, so we can imagine him saying this prayer with us:
I beg of God to forgive thy sins and to illumine thy face with the light of forgiveness, so that thou mayest conquer the self which desires the earthly world and prevent it from its wishes and appetites. (Abdu’l-Bahá, Tablets of Abdu’l-Bahá v1, p. 80)
5. Prayer and Meditation: is a good next step:
He should pray fervently for divine guidance, wisdom and strength to do what is pleasing to God, and to serve Him at all times and to the best of his ability. (From a letter written on behalf of the Universal House of Justice, 5 June 1988)
6. Take action: but prayer and meditation by themselves are not enough. Have you ever been tempted and prayed to overcome it, and then wondered why you did it anyway? God doesn’t want to let us simply pray the temptation away. He wants us to do the work to defeat and overcome it for ourselves, so that we can be rid of it forever, instead of having to face the same temptation over and over again. We need to follow prayer with action:
It is not sufficient to pray diligently for guidance, but this prayer must be followed by meditation as to the best methods of action and then action itself. (Shoghi Effendi, Guidelines for Teaching, p. 325)
For example: As a small child, I had a very intense relationship with God, and every night I prayed for Him to intervene and make the abuse stop, and every night things went from bad to worse. Eventually I stopped believing in God. Somehow, God led me to the Bahá’í Faith two years before I gave birth to my son, and by applying the principles found in the Writings, I was able to break the generational cycle of abuse in my family! I couldn’t take action as a child. It wasn’t in my power. But through my prayers, I was able to make different parenting choices as an adult, stopping the abuse for future generations, not just for me! God’s plan is always better than ours!
In a war, there is never any victory unless you’re in the battle. You don’t win by sitting on the sidelines. So take action! God can’t move a parked car!
Even if the action should not immediately produce results, or perhaps not be entirely correct, that does not make so much difference, because prayers can only be answered through action and if someone’s action is wrong, God can use that method of showing the pathway which is right. (Shoghi Effendi, Guidelines for Teaching, p. 325).
God rewards us when we take action, by promising not only His guidance, but blessings too:
Whoso maketh efforts for Us, he shall enjoy the blessings conferred by the words: “In Our Ways shall We assuredly guide him”. (Baha’u’llah, Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, p. 266-267)
7. Exercise discipline: It requires discipline, so we can meet our true destinies as spiritual beings:
The Writings are rich in allusions to the individual and his integrity, but also to the social disciplines based upon the moral precepts of the Faith, precepts which each of us must heed lest we fail to reflect in our lives those virtues propounded by the great Teacher for our day, and hence fail to meet our true destinies as spiritual beings. (From a letter written on behalf of the Universal House of Justice to an individual believer 14 August 1977)
It’s an opportunity to deal with our problems once and for all. The more we choose to defeat it the less of an impact it has on our lives, and eventually we won’t have to face it again. In this quote the House of Justice shows us the steps we need to take to overcome temptation:
If you are sincerely intent on overcoming your problem, you must yourself determine to resist wayward impulses each time they arise and the House of Justice feels that there is no better way than to turn to the Writings to divert our thoughts into spiritual channels, perhaps to concentrate on what we may do to help others along the way to discovering the Bahá’í Faith. The more we occupy ourselves with teaching the Cause and serving our fellowman in this way, the stronger we become in resisting that which is abhorrent to our spiritual selves. (Letters of The Universal House of Justice, 1993 Jun 05, Homosexuality)
Even for temptations as great as homosexuality, we are promised it can be overcome, so surely our temptations can be as well:
But through the advice and help of doctors, through a strong and determined effort, and through prayer, a soul can overcome this handicap. (Shoghi Effendi, Lights of Guidance, p. 365)
8. Turn to the Writings: because it helps us understand the actions we need to take to improve both our lives and the lives of the society we live in.
Therefore, every believer must continually study the Sacred Writings and the instructions of the beloved Guardian, striving always to attain a new and better understanding of their import to him and to his society. (From a letter written on behalf of the Universal House of Justice, 5 June 1988)
While it’s important to read the Writings morning and eve, we can’t do it till it makes us weary:
Take heed lest excessive reading and too many acts of piety in the daytime and in the night season make you vainglorious. Should a person recite but a single verse from the Holy Writings in a spirit of joy and radiance, this would be better for him than reciting wearily all the Scriptures of God, the Help in Peril, the Self-Subsisting. Recite ye the verses of God in such measure that ye be not overtaken with fatigue or boredom. Burden not your souls so as to cause exhaustion and weigh them down, but rather endeavour to lighten them, that they may soar on the wings of revealed Verses unto the dawning-place of His signs. This is conducive to nearer access unto God, were ye to comprehend. (Bahá’u’lláh, The Compilation of Compilations vol II, p. 225)
I often got bogged down by the flowery language of the Writings and often found my eyes glazing over when I tried to read many Bahá’í books, so instead I read compilations. These gave me short quotes on a specific topic, so I could understand what I was reading. I also read the Hidden Words for the same purpose. Bahá’u’lláh tells us that the Hidden Words contain everything we need to know.
This is that which hath descended from the realm of glory, uttered by the tongue of power and might, and revealed unto the Prophets of old. We have taken the inner essence thereof and clothed it in the garment of brevity, as a token of grace unto the righteous, that they may stand faithful unto the Covenant of God, may fulfill in their lives His trust, and in the realm of spirit obtain the gem of Divine virtue. (Baha’u’llah, The Arabic Hidden Words, introduction)
9. Concentrate on teaching: By studying the Writings, we can deepen our understanding, so that we can easily teach others.
The key to success in this endeavour is, firstly, to deepen your understanding of the Teachings of the Cause so that you will be able to apply them to the problems of individuals and society, and explain them to your peers in ways that they will understand and welcome; secondly, to strive to model your behaviour in every way after the high standards of honesty, trustworthiness, courage, loyalty, forbearance, purity and spirituality set forth in the Teachings; and, above all, to live in continual awareness of the presence and all-conquering power of Bahá’u’lláh, which will enable you to overcome every temptation and surmount every obstacle. (Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 634)
10. Service: brings assistance and helps us overcome our temptations, tests and trials:
An individual must center his whole heart and mind on service to the Cause, in accordance with the high standards set by Bahá’u’lláh. When this is done, the Hosts of the Supreme Concourse will come to the assistance of the individual, and every difficulty and trial will gradually be overcome. (Shoghi Effendi, Living the Life, p. 20)
11. Understand it’s a process: Much though we want temptation to be instantly removed from us, it’s not likely to happen overnight:
The House of Justice asks us to point out that the recognition of the Manifestation of God is but the beginning of a process of growth and that as we become more deepened in the Teachings and strive to follow His principles, we gradually approach more and more the perfect pattern which is presented to us. Bahá’u’lláh recognizes that human beings are fallible. He knows that, in our weakness, we shall repeatedly stumble when we try to walk in the path He has pointed out to us. (Letters of The Universal House of Justice, 1993 Jun 05, Homosexuality)
I hope you’ll let me know what you think of these ideas, and then continue on to the next few articles, as I explore this topic more fully.
In part 1, we look at What is Temptation?
In part 2, we look at The Steps of Temptation Leading to Sin
In part 3, we look at The Ways in Which we are Tempted
In part 4, we look at Why We are Tempted
In part 6, we look at: The Consequences of Temptation and How to Prevent It