When I was invited to write an article addressing strategies to combat acute temptation in times of significant stressors, I couldn’t think of a more important topic. Since the onset of the pandemic, many of us have had more downtime—and more opportunities for our minds to wonder than ever before. In other words, more opportunities for temptation. The combination of boredom, fear, depression, anxiety about the future, lack of social relationships, and more can make for a bad combination of stressors and temptations leading to sexual sin.
So, when we’re in the midst of acute sexual temptations to give in to pornography, masturbation, or other sexual sins, how can we respond with grace? When we experience a moment of weakness, how can we combat these sexual temptations?
First, we should remember that we’re not engaging in the battle ourselves. Humility helps us remember we are no match for the evil one. As we know from Eve in the Garden of Eden, it is a mistake to engage in conversation with Satan, and the same is true with the temptations that come from him. Instead, as Jesus did when tempted by the Devil, we can look to Scripture to help combat such temptations.
Having a strong foundation in scripture is extremely helpful. I’m not talking about having Scripture passages memorized word for word, though that can be helpful. Rather, about becoming acquainted with the heart of Scripture and God’s voice. In this way, whether we remember it word for word or in spirit, when we are tempted we can call to mind something like this: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, lean not on your own understanding. In all things acknowledge Him. And He will direct your path” (Proverbs 3:5-6).
Or we might recall the Lord’s encouraging command, “Do not be afraid,” which appears hundreds of times in the Bible. Whatever our temptation, we can begin combating them by turning to God and the words of encouragement He gives us through Scripture.
Next, after we call to mind God’s presence and words of encouragement, we can ask for His help. And, as Mary directed the servants at the wedding at Cana, we can then do whatever he tells us.
Often, when temptation or fear presents itself we might act immediately, more out of instinct than prayerful reflection. This is why, when I’m under acute temptation, I strive to pause, recall the words of Jesus’s love for me, and ask for His help in prayer to combat this temptation.
We don’t need more training as much as more trusting. We don’t need more crutches as much as more leaning on Jesus. In our weakness, His power will be made perfect in us (2 Cor 12:9).
I have often written about avoiding “white-knuckling” it through temptation. The more we tell ourselves that we are not going to fall—on our own will power—the more likely we will succumb to temptation.
Instead, when a strong temptation comes into my mind, I try to acknowledge it, call to mind God’s words of encouragement, and ask for His help.
Then, we must act. When I’m tempted, I’ll try to spend the next thirty minutes playing the guitar, going for a walk, praying a rosary, calling a friend, re-reading the daily liturgy of the Word—anything that I see as positive and growth-oriented and that can keep my mind off of the temptation.
At the end of the thirty minutes, I may still have a memory of the temptation but the sense of urgency or panic about it has diminished significantly. I have been doing this long enough now that I no longer have a sense of dread or panic when temptations present themselves.
Lastly, if you have slipped during a time of stress, weakness, or temptation, do not let this slip define you. God cares so much more about being in a relationship with us! He desires to cast our sins as far as the East is from the West. It is Satan who strives to convince us that our missteps are who we are.
If you do slip during moments of acute sexual temptation, get to reconciliation as soon as you can to experience God’s loving mercy. In our act of contrition, we proclaim, “I firmly resolve, with the help of thy grace, to sin no more and to avoid the near occasion of sin.” Remember, it is God’s grace, not our own efforts, that can strengthen, forgive, and save us.
We know that Jesus has the words of eternal life and can command the evil one to depart. That He has power over all evil and can conquer all sin. That he is ready to do this because of His unconditional love for us.
Therefore, in the midst of acute sexual temptation, let us recall the Lord’s words of Scriptural encouragement, prayerfully ask for His help, and act with trust and confidence in His mercy and love.
Jim Gorski is a 58-year-old father of four children who has been married to the same woman for 36 years. He completed his master’s degree in social work in 1984 and has directed church music groups for the past 41 years. He remains a grateful child of the most high God and strives to trust in God’s loving mercy and His ability to provide for Jim’s every need.