The other night I cheated on my wife. Well, sort of. It felt like it. It was all part of a disturbing dream I had. Ever have those? A dream so real you wake up wondering if it’s all true? I hate these kinds of dreams. They leave me feeling dirty and sad and hopeless and ( in this dream), helpless, without control. I awoke in a sweat.
As I replayed the scenario over and over in my mind, a thought began to emerge, a thought about ‘real life’ — it’s not inevitable, I have a choice. Cheating doesn’t start with “cheating“. What I mean is, cheating starts with an idea, entertained early on.
In the same way, choosing to not cheat starts with a decision. I’m not talking about a decision made as you walk to someone’s bedroom (although its never too late to stop and RUN!), but I’m talking about a decision made early on. You must answer the questions: Will I cheat? Will I entertain the thoughts coming into my mind?
If we wait until we are faced with the temptation, it may be too late. Like waiting until we’re holding a donut in our hand and trying to decide whether or not we should eat it. Or like driving a car toward the edge of a cliff, the closer we get before deciding to put on the brakes the more likely we will go over the edge.
So, we must decide to decide.
We are all tempted in some way. Maybe its blatant. Sex. Some of us are just hooked on it, driven by it, can’t stop thinking about it. When this is the case, the temptations are obvious and need no interpretation.
For others, the temptations are more subtle — we linger. We pause, hang on, wait, live in the moment, breathe it all in, we l-i-n-g-e-r. We may be tempted to linger on a glance, enjoying how good it feels to be noticed again, to feel attractive, or smart, or funny, or strong, or thoughtful, or whatever.
Does it feel better to say “hello” to Jane than it does your other coworkers?
Do you feel a tingle when you sit next to John at a lunch out with the office gang?
These temptations can feel harmless enough, passive, unnoticeable. Allowing a look, a smile, a “friendly” gesture to affect us, it can come in a hundred different ways. Don’t be fooled by their simplicity. Don’t excuse the temptations away or dismiss them as irrelevant.
Temptations are signs of the assault. Think of them as the “heads up” that something big and scary and dangerous is heading your way. They could be direct attack by the enemy (1 Pet 5:8). Or, they could be something more insidious. The bottom line, they are aimed at our heart.
Willpower can only take us so far toward fighting against temptation. But most of us bet our lives on simple willpower, hoping we will have the strength to “just say no”. The problem is usually more complex than a simple act of the will. Don’t get me wrong – it certainly has its place. I rely on willpower at times. But, willpower should be treated more like a safety net than a first line of defense. The Will is weak, for a variety of reasons. (Matt 26:41) I think of it sort of like I’m holding my breath. I rarely need to hold my breath. But, if I step into a situation where I cannot safely breathe (like a gas leak) or I throw myself into a swimming pool, I can hold my breath to avoid harm. If I’m in deeper than I’d anticipated, I can hold my breath a little longer. But, there comes a point at which I can no longer hold my breath. And this is where willpower is simply not enough. The real answer lies with the heart.
We need safety zones. As a married man, I create “Hedges” around areas of my life. In other words, I mark out zones or areas around my life that only my spouse can enter. Such as conversationally, emotionally, physically, and time. Within each of these I draw an imaginary line to which I don’t allow members of the opposite sex to cross. Conversations with other women are allowed up to the line (in this case, the line represents a certain familiarity or level of intimacy.) Likewise, when I’m feeling in need of emotional support, I do not turn to women other than my wife to meet my emotional needs. You get the picture.
We are all hungry. And when we are hungry we try to satisfy the appetite. Our heart hungers, too. So, when you are in the midst of one of these temptations, look beyond it. Like when out at sea and feeling motion sick, they tell us to stop watching the waves and look for the horizon. Find the horizon and we’ll feel stable. So like that, look beyond the momentary, beyond the feeling you’re in and ask yourself “what’s missing?” I find the answer emanates from roughly four categories — (A) Lack of Adventure — (B) Lack of Beauty (romance, art, music, literature, nature, etc) — (C) Lack of a Cause to fight for or something to believe in — (D) Lack of Love/Intimacy. One or more of these things might be missing from your life (or you might be experiencing feelings of failure in them). These things, these “core desires” so to speak, are our horizon. And to regain our footing and balance we must reintroduce them into our lives. These are the places God will interact with us, and through them guide our life**.
We can’t make it alone. Alone we will fall. I’ve seen this over and over and over again. The enemy knows we can’t stand alone. It’s like those nature shows where gazelles run free across the Savanna. The lion waits for the stragglers, the animals that wander away from the herd, and he attacks. Our enemy does the same thing. He will watch in wait, hoping we’ll stumble. Or, he will run us, drive us, chase us, and try to separate us from our friends and our God and from our heart. He will rob, kill, and destroy (John 10:10).
And, even if the attacks aren’t from the enemy himself, our heart can’t make it alone. We simply aren’t “large enough”, as C.S. Lewis put it, by ourselves. “… In each of my friends there is something that only some other friend can fully bring out. By myself I am not large enough to call the whole man into activity; I want other lights than my own to show all his facets …” (C.S.Lewis – The Four Loves) If you are not regularly opening up to another person, man-to-man, woman-to-woman, you are in danger. Find a friend to confide in, to walk with, to know and be known by. And, if you’re not inviting God into the specifics of what’s going on in your heart, start now. He cares about you more than you know. Your future depends on it.
Here are 10 Thoughts to Consider to Help Safeguard Your Marriage:
- Choose ahead of time – think it through and decide
- Be open. Tell a friend what’s going on in your heart. Tell them everything. (No friend? Get one! Have a friend? Great, cultivate depth.)
- The real protection is found in being attentive to your heart. Consider “willpower” just a safety net.
- Be aware of the not-so-obvious danger zones of discontentment or lingering. Don’t dismiss the simple and obvious.
- Always consider your heart. What is it lacking? What is it hungry for?
- Create your own “hedges” — safe-zones to keep you from situations that could lead to cheating.
- Stand against the attack. Regardless of its source, with every temptation there is always a measure of the enemy’s influence or “spin” on it. (James 4:7)
- Reintroduce adventure, beauty, a cause, love/intimacy into your life.
- And, if you find yourself in the middle of a temptation, an affair, or a boundary crossed – it’s never too late — RUN.
- In all of the above, invite God into it. He is the source of wisdom, strength, comfort, and direction.
Praying we all find the strength to become the men and women we desire to be,