What happens when you approach desire with an abundance mindset

I recently read the Gospel of Matthew again and was struck by the description of Jesus’ time in the desert (for those wondering, that’s from Matthew 4:1-11). Just to give a quick recap, at the very end of his fast, when Jesus is at his lowest physical point, Satan shows up and tempts him three times. The first temptation is to turn stones into bread, to satiate what must have been an incredible hunger. The second temptation is to throw himself off the highest point of the temple in the Holy City of Jerusalem and command the angels to save him. In the third temptation, Satan promises to give Jesus the world if only he would bow down and worship the devil. As expected, Jesus denies these three temptations and leaves the desert to preach, as we hear from Mark, that “The kingdom of God is at hand” (1:15).

I’ve always looked at this story from the point of view of Jesus, but this time I was struck by the words of Satan himself, especially because his third temptation isn’t even true. At least in the first two temptations, Satan attempts to manipulate Jesus into wielding the power of God; Jesus really could turn the stones into bread and command the angels. But in the third temptation, Satan assumes power for himself, a power that he doesn’t actually have. Much like when he tempts Eve in the garden, Satan offers something that isn’t his to give. More than that, Satan can’t offer Jesus the world, because Jesus already has it. Reading it from this view highlights something I constantly need to remind myself: Satan promises us an ersatz version of something we actually already have in abundance.

Something I already have

The devil didn’t just use this strategy two millennia ago, he’s using it right now with all of us. He’s constantly promising us something he can’t give. In my own life, I’ve seen these temptations play out when I approach sin with a deprivation mindset. For instance, I struggle with living out the Church’s teaching on sexual intimacy within marriage. It’s a tough ask: love each other with nothing short of the self-sacrificial love of Jesus. It’s a beautiful ideal, but it’s difficult to execute in practice. It’s shocking how quickly my “love” of my husband subtly turns into “use.” When I approach sex this way, as a thing that I want but that I can’t have, I’m left feeling like I’ve been deprived.

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And this is where I see Satan: I see him subtly offering me something he can’t give. I see him playing on my desires of intimacy with my husband and then twisting those desires into use. Because what Satan is offering, I already have. Jesus isn’t asking me to squash my desire for intimacy with my husband; he’s gently filling it. He’s asking me to fully embrace my own humanity and my spouse’s, so I can enter into a deep communion with my husband — not one that is based on use, but based on a love that is ready to lay down my own life for the man I love. And in those moments when I do fall into temptation, when I don’t acknowledge the humanity of my partner anymore, when I use him instead of honoring him as a beloved child of God, I’m actually throwing away the intimacy that’s taken a decade of marriage to cultivate. Satan’s lie in all of this (i.e. that I will feel closer to my husband through using him) couldn’t be any further than the truth. Just like with Jesus 2,000 years ago (and don’t think the irony of comparing natural family planning to a 40-day desert fast has been lost on me), Satan is trying to offer me something he can’t give (intimacy) because it’s something that I already have.

A twisted reality

I don’t think you have to be married (or the Son of God) to benefit from this perspective shift, especially during seasons of prayer and fasting. We all hear these lies from Satan masquerading as true desires, but they aren’t authentic. They are twisted and manipulated to the point where we end up farther away from what we wanted in the first place. In C.S. Lewis’ Space Trilogy, he describes Satan as “bent,” a distortion of what is true and beautiful. He can’t create his own thing, so he bends what already exists and leads us farther and farther from the thing we actually long for. And that truest desire in all of our hearts — to be seen and known — is not something Satan can ever give, no matter how many times he tries to convince us otherwise. He has nothing to offer but the bent version of a gift that’s already all around us.

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