Temptation to lust is usually rooted in the deeper temptation to deal with life’s pain and discomfort on our own terms rather than with God.
This is true not only with lust but with many addictive habits. In fact, many addiction recovery groups use the acronym HALT, which stands for Hungry, Angry, Lonely, and Tired, because those feelings are some of the most common feelings accompanying times of increased temptation. (There are many more, including stress, anxiety, boredom, rejection, embarrassment, or shame, to name a few.)
The point of HALT is not to always seek to avoid feeling these kinds of feelings, but rather to learn how to respond to them in healthy ways rather than trying to escape or numb them with lust (or whatever your drug of choice is—media, social media, work, food, alcohol, drugs, etc.).
By way of example, if you’re walking around barefoot and wander across shards of broken glass, it’s going to hurt. And so comes the temptation to turn to something that can distract from the pain or numb it altogether.
Emotional pains and discomforts can be harder to identify than the pain of cuts in your feet (which is why many people struggling with compulsive behaviors don’t know there’s a connection between pain and temptation), but the principle is the same.
But just like leaving broken glass in your feet, turning to lust or another drug to numb emotional pain may make the pain fade away for a while, but it won’t heal it. What’s worse, eventually the pain will return, and since you didn’t tend to it, the initial problem will likely have gotten worse.
So rather than tuning out the pain, our goal is to learn to tune into it.
Tuning out means we avoid or numb the pain with one or more of our drugs. Tuning in means we respect the pain by listening to it and responding.
As much as you may think you hate the pain, you don’t really. If you’ve walked across shards of glass in bare feet, pain isn’t the problem. Broken glass in your feet is the problem. Pain is actually on your side. It a friend trying to tell you there’s a problem so you can tend to it, so you can heal.
For those who struggle with lust in its many forms (or other compulsive sins), perhaps the first question is: Are you willing to learn to tune into pain again in order to respond lovingly to your human needs?
Maybe at first you won’t notice the pain, you’ll just notice the temptation. That’s okay. When you’re tempted, begin asking yourself what’s underneath the temptation. Then as you begin identifying the pain, you can seek to learn healthy ways to respond that will actually help? Maybe food for your hunger, a hard conversation to resolve the conflict under your anger, a friend to meet you in your loneliness, or rest for your weariness?
Or maybe just a good pair of shoes.
We’re here to help if you need us.
Question: What’s the pain or discomfort underneath your most persistent temptations? What do you do (or what can you do) to respond to those needs in a legitimate way? Leave a comment below.