Temptation: Understand, resist, recover
Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness, where for forty days he was tempted by the devil.
‘Pray that you may not come into the time of trial.’
Jesus, immediately following his baptism, was tempted … for 40 days! On the night in which he was betrayed, he exhorted his disciples to pray “that you may not come into the time of trial.” If Jesus and his disciples were tempted, what hope is there for us and our children?
The first Sunday of Lent, as our pastor preached on Jesus’ temptation, he turned to face the youth choir, as well as the congregation, and announced, “All of us will be tempted. Temptation itself is not a sin. Like Jesus, we are given the choice of how to respond. Unlike Jesus, we won’t always successfully resist temptation … and even then, God has a plan for us.”
Growing up, I believed that to be tempted was a moral flaw, one I wanted to deny, hide from view, and never acknowledge. I thought the goal in life was to be perfect. Now, I know that the goal is to follow, love and be loved by, and accept forgiveness from the only One who ever lived and was perfect. I wish I’d heard that sermon as a child and youth.
So, what can we do to teach our children about temptation, to help them understand it, resist it, and recover when they give in to it?
Let’s make sure we make the distinction between being tempted to do what we know is wrong and giving in to that temptation. Let us speak our own temptations aloud in the presence of our kids. “I was really upset when that woman cut me off and took the parking space I was waiting for. I was tempted to get out of my car and tell her how rude that was. Instead, I tried to understand why she might have been in a hurray or exhausted or pressured or upset, and I prayed for her.”
When your toddler balls up a fist to reclaim a favorite toy from her brother, hold her little fist and tell her, “I know how tempting it is to hit or pull your toy away when Ted takes it. But what could you do instead?”
Tell the story of Jesus’ temptations. Read the story of Jonah giving in to the temptation to run away from what God was calling him to do. As you read Bible stories or other favorite children’s books, talk about the temptations people face. Listen to the stories of your child’s day and what was tempting to them.
Talk with your child about all of the resources available to resist temptation — a clear sense of right and wrong, adults to give you support, good friends who share your values, prayer that God will help you.
Then, be vigilant to catch your child resisting temptation — to take what is not theirs, to butt in line, to cheat, to lash back — and applaud them. Tell them that you know how hard it is and that they must be very proud of being able to resist the temptation. This can be a story you remind them of when they have not been able to resist.
Assure your child of your availability and support to get out of hard situations. Teach them to ask for the help they need. Identify safe people to ask. Create a family code word that your child can use to signal you to come to the rescue. Ours was, “I don’t feel well.” We came to get our child, without asking any other questions. Later, we’d discuss it with them.
There are some great biblical stories of recovering from giving in to temptation. Read the story of Jonah’s rescue by God and being sent again to Ninevah. Read the story of Peter’s betrayal of Jesus and Jesus’ reconciling gift to Peter, asking three times, “Peter, do you love me?” and enjoining Peter to feed his lambs, tend his sheep, feed his sheep. This is the disciple to whom Jesus entrusted building his church!
Remind your child that in baptism, God declared them beloved and forgiven. Invite them to confess their sins in worship, in prayer, to you. Make the sign of the cross on that dear forehead and bless them: “Child of God, Jesus loves you, blesses you, and forgives you.” Amen.
Marilyn Sharpe is an author, teacher, presenter, and congregational coach for Marilyn Sharpe Ministries, LLC. She is the author of the book For Heaven’s Sake: Parenting Preschoolers Faithfully. Email: MarilynSharpeMinistries@comcast.net; phone: 612/202-8152.