I had a spiritual director once who was trained in the “Ignation School” of spirituality. Our relationship was a nice experience for me. He was a chemist, by education, and brought much of the personality and expertise of his field with him into our relationship. Being almost the opposite of a chemist, in training and typical personality type, I benefitted greatly.
At one point, he told me about the three ways I could be tempted, according to Ignatius, and asked me to decide which way I was being tempted in the moment. I have never forgotten the imagery. Here are the thoughts from the Spiritual Exercises of Ignatius Loyola paraphrased by David Fleming. I thought you might like to examine yourself to see how you are likely to be opposed this week.
Three Ways the Enemy Works
Like a Bully
The enemy behaves like a bully who is a weakling before strength, but a tyrant before weakness. It would be characteristic of a bully to lose courage and take flight when confronted with someone who is determined and strong of will. However, if a person loses courage and begins to flee, the anger, vindictiveness, and rage of the bully will surge up and know no bounds. In the same way the enemy becomes weak, loses courage, and turns to flight as soon as the one leading a spiritual life faces their temptations boldly. (SE 325)
I have been very encouraged this week by dear friends who have had the courage to face “the bully” in whatever guise he was taking. They make me remember the recurring dream I had for several weeks, long ago now, in which a “monster” was chasing me. Gwen suggested I prepare to turn and face it that night rather than dreading to run away from it in my dreams. I decided to do it, and in my dream I did it. The result was exactly as Ignatius said. I proved it had no power over me.
Like a False Lover
The Enemy’s behavior can also be compared to that of a false lover. One who loves falsely uses another for selfish gains, and so people become objects at one’s disposal or like playthings for entertainment or good times. A false lover usually suggests that the so-called intimacy of relationship be kept secret because of fear that such duplicity will be made known. So does the Enemy often act in ways to keep temptations secret, and our tactics must be to bring our temptations out into the light of day to someone like our director, confessor or some other spiritual companion. (SE 326)
I regularly hear about the literal “false lovers” who lock people up. Porn is the undiscussed false lover for any people. Many people have connected with a person who doesn’t love Jesus and that relationship is a secret love. Some people have many secrets about how they have satisfied their lust and pretended they didn’t to their intimates. Sex it a spiritual matter. Although many people are resolute in pretending otherwise, there are probably no inconsequential couplings or orgasms.
But our loves are not all sexual. We have many lovers who use us and leave us kicked to the curb. We trust our employers or addictions or abusers, even when they don’t love us like Jesus. We trust our false selves in all their delusions and bad heart-habits, even when they have repeatedly been proven self-destructive.
The solution is dialogue. We shouldn’t wait for our expectations of trustworthiness to be fully satisfied before we talk about our lovers. They are much less powerful in the light. Just because they fear the light, and they tell us that being secret is better, and they warn us of the terrible consequences of living in the light, that doesn’t mean they aren’t lying.
Like a Shrewd Army Commander
The Enemy can also work like a shrewd army commander who carefully maps out the tactics of the attack at the weakest point of defense. The military leader knows the weakness is found in two ways: a) the weakness of fragility and unpreparedness, and b) the weakness of complacent strength which is self-sufficient pride.
The Enemy attacks come against us at both points of weakness. The first kind of weakness is less serious in that we more readily acknowledge our need and cry or for help from God. The second kind of weakness is far more serious and more devastating in its effect upon us so that it can be a more favored tactic of the Enemy. (SE 327)
Peter says the devil prowls around like a roaring lion seeking someone to devour. This is a similarly threatening image. Our enemy is like an army commander scoping out the weak defenses of our walled city. Some places, like the gates we open to the world every day are well-defended because we know about them. But there are weak sections of the wall, perhaps, that defend places we never expect to be attacked, or don’t want to imagine being attacked because we’ve been hurt there before, that are much more dangerous.
For instance, Circle of Hope is a relational network. We count on people loving one another. We have 50 cell leaders entrusted with nurturing the process of micro-communities. So, naturally, we can get complacent about how everyone supposedly loves one another and can be “sitting ducks” in the gun sites of an enemy shooting conflict at us. We can be so committed to our harmony that we don’t allow healthy conflict, or don’t even allow needed change to occur if it might create conflict – even though we have a proverb that says, “Everyone is recovering from the sin addiction – expect conflict.”
On a more personal level, each of us might be very unaware of our childhood defense mechanisms and just consider them “normal,” or even “my right to be who I am,” or even, nowadays, “my genetic disposition that I can’t change even if I want to.” We could all use a little more Ignatian attention to self-sufficiency. The enemy would love us to be self-sufficient. It is antithetical to serving God.
Ignatian spirituality is not for the weakly committed. It takes a lot of time to ponder all the ways we could be growing stronger in faith and becoming stronger opponents to the enemies of God. I am encouraged to take the time, because much of the time I am not spending becoming aware of my temptations I am spending conforming to them.