Saturday, April 21, 2012

Sabbath Reflections: The Devil Made Me Do It

My roommate keeps a document of all the weird, out-of-context things I say. It’s getting pretty long by now. The main problem with this is that I have nothing to counter-blackmail her with if she ever decides to make this document public because she rarely says anything stupid. The other problem is that I find a lot of my own quotes funny and use them in blog posts, embarrassing myself in public for the sake of content. Sigh. The life of a writer.

Anyway, one of the early entries is this: “Satan is way sneakier than the Pillsbury Doughboy.”

This was after one of my classes watched a documentary on the advertisement industry and how they get people to buy their products. They have to create a want strong enough to make the consumer think it’s a need. They do this by using words, stories, or images to associate their product with a positive abstract concept such as family, acceptance, dominance, or beauty.

In my mind, it was a perfect jump from that to how Satan tempts us. He makes sin look good, or at least harmless. He targets specific weak points, just as different products have target audiences and intentionally appeal to their values. And Satan is sneaky. Most of the time, we don’t even know that we’re being tempted until it’s too late.

If advertisers can manipulate our minds so well, how much better would Satan and his cronies be after centuries of practice? The first time I thought about this, it scared me. Because I hate being manipulated, almost more than anything else.

I began analyzing commercials to see what they were trying to get me to feel, then rejecting that out of spite. “Ha!” I would say as I nearly died on the elliptical and a commercial came on the T.V. as I exercised. “I will not buy your mango infusion shampoo even though you’re trying to make me think it will transform my life into a waterfall with tropical flowers and a shirtless guy sitting nearby. So there!”

(No, I didn’t say this out loud. I did snicker in between gasps, though. People around me probably thought I was pretty weird. But what else is new?)

On a more serious note, I also began analyzing myself to find my weak spots so I could reject Satan’s sneaky temptations. Here are some things that helped with that.
  • Know your weaknesses.
    • Example: One of mine is pride. This is not just an occasional struggle for me. It’s a daily thing, and I will probably be fighting it until I die
  • Know the good impulse behind those weaknesses. This is often how Satan will perform a sneak attack.
    • Example: I have a deep need for others' approval. Therefore, instead of a direct temptation to pride, I’m usually tempted to make myself look better around other people. (More about that here.)
  • Be honest with yourself and God. Don’t pretend that your only motivation (or your main motivation) is a good one.
    • Example: I'm getting better at this. “No, I’m not just trying to make conversation so there won’t be an awkward silence. I am constantly bringing the conversation back to me and making witty comments so everyone will think I’m funny and like me.”
  • Avoid extremes. When responding to weakness, often we either grit our teeth and try to fix everything on our own, or we sit back and expect God to wave a magical wand over us to make the problem disappear. Neither works. Believe me, I’ve tried. Prayer is the key to finding the middle ground between trusting in God’s power and acting on that.
    • Example: One of the reasons I stopped being in Gospel Choir after two great years is because it had become more about being seen than about praising God. My worship had become self-focused, and after praying about it, I felt like God wanted me to give it up for a while.
There are some good things that we can learn from temptation, especially as writers. Sometimes it can help to know our characters as well as Satan does. This sounds creepy and slightly sacrilegious, but all I mean by this is that we should be very familiar with the strengths and weaknesses of our protagonist. Here are a few questions to ask to get at them:
  • What is the character’s greatest fear?
  • Why is the character doing this? Why would they say they are doing this? (Often, those are two different things, because we like to make our motivations sound nobler than they really are.)
  • What are the old scars in the person’s past? It can be especially useful to think of soundclips of words spoken to them that hurt them badly and that they will never forget. We all have them, and they affect how we live now, like it or not.
  • Pick a few different kinds of products and think about how you would design a T.V. commercial that would make your character want to buy the product, even if it’s not something he or she would normally purchase.
The best stories have a conflict where it looks like the character might fail, where they are facing the very worst inside of them at the same time as they respond to an external conflict. But then they fight back with everything in them, and they are victorious.

That’s the kind of person I want to be in response to spiritual conflict. I don’t feel like a hero very often. Not yet. But I refuse to be a glassy-eyed consumer of temptation, letting Satan influence what I do because I was too apathetic to change the channel.

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