If you struggle more with sexual temptation during the holidays, you might be surprised, and perhaps relieved, to learn that you are not the only one.
Why does temptation increase during the holidays?
- Busyness increases. This is probably not a surprise, but what you may not have considered is that when your busyness increases, your ability to attend well to your heart, soul, and body decreases. You only have so much time in the day, and if you’re days are filled to the brim with holiday preparations and activities, it only goes to follow that you’ll have less time to nourish your soul.
- Expectations increase. Perhaps more than any other time of the year, the time right before Thanksgiving until the New Year is rife with images, songs, movies, shows, and social media posts depicting images of loving families, beautiful (and expensive) homes, delicious food, and attractive people. When your attention is captured by these idealized images, you’ll feel more temptation to escape your less-than-ideal real life by running to pornography.
- Family dysfunction comes a-knocking. Even the best of families has its particular set of problems. Perhaps it’s your parent’s insistence on doing things a specific way, your sibling’s lack of healthy boundaries, or your cousins’ dependence on alcohol, sports, or media to cope with the stress of the season. Whatever it is, when extended family is a part of your holiday, so are extended family members’ problems. It may be that you learned to cope with family problems by turning to pornography, and if you temptation will offer you that same way of escape today.
- Habit. For good and for ill, we are creatures of habit, and if you’ve used sexual behaviors to escape, cope, or deal with past holiday seasons, then you will be tempted to do so this year too. It’s true. Your brain will remember the lights, smells, rituals, stressors, and images of the season and will think, “Hey, I remember this! This is that time of year I get to experience the pleasure of sexually acting out!” and it will urge you in that direction.
- Spiritual warfare increases. We don’t think of this much during this time of year, but the birth of Jesus was an act of war—God moving into humanity in a powerful way to rescue people back from the enemy’s occupation. This means the devil and his minions will do all they can this time of year to keep you from Jesus by pushing on your vulnerabilities, and if sexual sin is an area of difficulty for you, that’s where they’ll apply pressure.
Whether for these reasons or others, don’t be surprised when sexual temptation hits this holiday season. In fact, planning for it means you can also plan on how to navigate not only temptation, but also the reasons temptation is increasing. Talk with your allies about how you can and will walk through this holiday season differently than years past. Here are some ideas to help you:
- Fight the spiritual battle on the right battlefield. The enemy of your soul would love to get you all focused in on battling sexual temptation as though that is where the real battle is. It’s not. Instead, fight to maintain the internal peace that Jesus gives you. His peace is not dependent on the pace of the world, how perfect your Christmas lights are hung or how much money you have to spend on presents. It’s a peace rooted in the reality that Jesus has entered into the fullness of humanity for your sake, He is with you, and all He has is yours as a free gift. With this in mind…
- Slow down. Instead of getting swept up into the busyness of the season, intentionally slow down. Slow down your driving, shopping, eating, even your breathing. Take a deep breath. All that makes Christmas truly Christmas cannot be neither achieved nor shaken by the busyness of the world around you. And as you do, practice the presence of God. Someone has said that the enemy constantly drives us to go faster and faster, but God has designed our souls to go slow, and that is where we best connect with him.
- Simplify. Instead of coming under the expectations of others—whether family, friends, neighbors, advertisers, or someone else—deliberately take steps to simplify this Christmas. For me, I’ve been realizing that too many Christmas decorations in the house actually increase my feelings of stress and distraction. I get over-stimulated. I have a relatively large family and others love lots of decorations, but I decided I can control some spaces—like my room—to create some havens of simplicity and silence for myself where I can pray and rest with Jesus. Another great way to simplify is to give. Sacrificially giving is an act of defiance this time of year, and can serve as a way for you to keep your heart fixed on eternal things amidst the push to secure an ideal life today.
- Connect with people who know and love you. In a season when families prioritize gathering together en masse, make sure you prioritize time with dear allies and beloved friends. If you have introvert tendencies like me, then prioritize time with just one, two, or three friends. And if the crowds at coffee houses and restaurants are too much, then schedule time to take a walk outside instead. Yes, even if it’s cold! Also, if your recovery community does not meet for a week or two due to the holiday, then plan ahead to gather together with your allies. If you’re traveling, plan ahead to talk on the phone with them.
- Create new traditions. Lastly, replace old sinful habits with new, life-giving traditions. Think through one or two new things that you can begin. Perhaps it’s attending a midnight Christmas Eve service, or serving at a homeless shelter. Perhaps it’s ice skating with a friend or sitting to write a letter to an old childhood friend. Think about creating traditions that both nurture your soul and that help you be mindful of the Incarnation.
And if you do fall into sexual sin this Christmas, let it stir you thankfulness that Jesus has come. He didn’t keep himself far from our sin and failure, but came to us in the midst of it all. And he will certainly be with you no matter what this Christmas.