Even if we don't ask for it, we can experience the temptation to be unfaithful. Here's what to do when that happens.
Are we responsible for our emotions? In the moment, no. Emotions are just a part of life. Faced with a difficult situation, we may want to sheepishly run. In the face of aggression, we may want to lash out in violence. And faced with someone who exudes great charm for us, can begin to daydream. These feelings exist. They can be very powerful, like a tidal wave pulling you under. Or they can be almost imperceptible, and it’s only after some time that you become aware of it.
“What’s happening to me?”
These words are revealing when we find ourselves saying them. They suggest a distance between the emotion we’re feeling — which may preoccupy us to the point of obsession — and our will. The feeling in us, but not of us — at least, as long as we refuse to consent to it.
This is the moment to remember a very simple but fundamental principle: temptation is not a sin. As long as we don’t give in to it in thought or deed, we remain faithful and don’t commit sin. There is nothing to forgive in an involuntary thought or feeling.
But these matters are rarely clear-cut, and there’s often a gray area. This ambiguity can be an open door for the worst to happen. At that point, there is a battle to be fought. Resistance must be clear in one’s thoughts and unambiguous in one’s will—even if it’s a less than glorious battle and sometimes harrowing because it seems to go on forever.
A temptation that should give rise to some questions …
Here we need to emphasize non-consent. Let’s be clear: consent is not just acting on our desire; there is also mental consent. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus calls his disciples to a justice that is not only about outward conformity but internal truth.
Being strongly attracted to someone should raise questions. What is it that may be going on inside us, or in our marriage, that might need some work? Or maybe it’s linked to imprudent behavior, a lack of vigilance, or real failings in the past that have left their mark on us and rendered us more vulnerable to that kind of temptation. That calls for a work of the Holy Spirit deep within us—a work of clarification, of healing, of liberation.
Regardless, this trial is the occasion for a renewed commitment to your marriage and to God, as well as to more humility. The Lord allows these struggles in our lives for our growth — He is not as afraid of them as we are!
Father Alain Bandelier