Advent with A Kempis XIII

Chapter 13: How to Resist Temptation (Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe and First Day of Hanukkah)

“Someone once said: Take a stand at the very beginning; it is much too late to apply medicines after the illness has grown worse because of long delays.”

I just finished a game of Tetris on my iPhone. Before that, I ran some errands, made some Pesto Chicken Pasta, cleaned the washrooms,[1] checked emails and played guitar. This is all good stuff except for the fact that I have three twenty-page papers due on Friday and I didn’t work on any of them today.

Today is the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe and I just learned that the word “Guadalupe” is actually a misinterpretation of “te quatlaxupe,” which means “woman who crushes the serpent.” In Aztec culture, the most powerful deity was the serpent god, until Juan Diego encountered “Our Lady,” who he comes to see as even more powerful.

Today is also the first day of Hanukkah, when the day’s worth of lamp oil miraculously lasted throughout the entire eight days of the temple dedication.

And in today’s reading from The Imitation of Christ, Kempis preaches on resisting temptation.

In his sermonizing, Kempis quotes the Roman poet Ovid, who says, “Take a stand at the very beginning; it is much too late to apply medicines after the illness has grown worse because of long delays.” Kempis uses Ovid’s quote to encourage his readers to be on “guard at the beginning of temptation, for then we can more easily overcome the enemy if we refuse him entrance into our mind and, keeping him outside on the doorstep, confront him at his first knock.”

In his discourse, Kempis keeps “temptation” broad in meaning, giving few details about particular sins or sources of temptation. Kempis knows that temptation is an unavoidable part of our existence: “As long as we live in this world it is impossible for us to be without…temptations.” Yet Kempis also knows that his readers struggle with a variety of particular temptations. I will confess that my particular temptation today is procrastination. In some ways, I feel like blogging about The Imitation of Christ is a form of procrastination. But what is even more mind-boggling is how I procrastinate blogging and therefore procrastinate procrastinating!

We are all tempted to procrastinate. As I was procrastinating writing this reflection, I looked up some quotes on the subjects and found the following:

“Procrastination: Hard work often pays off after time but laziness always pays off now”

“Never put off until tomorrow, what you can do the day after tomorrow.”

“I will conquer my procrastination problem. Just you wait!”

“Procrastination is like masturbation. At first, it feels good, but in the end, you are only screwing yourself.”

“Procrastination: The longer you wait the worse it gets.”

The last quotes shares a similar resonance with Ovid’s quote in Kempis. The more I give into procrastination, the harder it is to start my work, which continues to accumulate, and the easier it is to keep on delaying: “The more sluggish our resistance, the more vulnerable we daily become, and the more powerful does our adversary grow.”

I wish Kempis offered some practical advice to resist the temptation to procrastinate like the counsel I read online: “Are you procrastinating? Get back to work! Switch off your web browser! Nothing newsworthy happened. That random project idea you have, it sucks! Web stats are boring and you know it!” What Kempis does offer is the challenge to not let temptation have control. He says, “Acknowledge temptation as an unavoidable reality, but don’t make it your only reality” (paraphrase). The temptation to procrastinate is worth paying attention to. It might be saying something to us that we need to hear, but if we continue to blithely give into its power, we fail to learn from it. This is why Kempis says, “Confront him at his first knock.” In some cases, we might learn that we need to crush the temptation to procrastinate as Our Lady of Guadalupe crushes the serpent. In other cases, we might need to learn that we really do have what it takes to get our work done, even though it sometimes feels like we have the time, energy and resources to complete only a fraction of our work. We can learn from the Hanukkah miracle and believe that our energy and resources can multiply through the power of Ha Shem. Just as the lamp oil lasted seven extra days, so can our limited energy empower us to complete far more work than we thought possible.

I have about five days to complete all my work for my first semester as a PhD student. I am going to need the power of the “woman who crushes the serpent” and the fire-sustaining oil of Hanukkah to confront the temptation to procrastinate.

[1] That is Canadian for “bathrooms”


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