Discover more from The Inward Odyssey
Abba Pastor: Resistance Training
Temptation, wisely used, can actually make us stronger.
A young monk came to the Abbot Pastor1 and said to him, “Many thoughts come into my mind, and I am in peril from them.” The old man pushed him out under the open sky, and said to him, “Take a deep breath, now try catching the wind." He answered, “I can’t.” And the old man said to him: “If you can’t catch the wind, neither can you prevent thoughts from entering your mind. Your job is to resist them.”2
Our job, Abbot Pastor wisely says, is not to stop temptations from coming, but to resist the ones that do. Ultimately, we can’t prevent temptations. We must develop the strength to resist them.
It’s a bit of a paradox, but you increase strength by making your muscles work against an opposing weight or force. That is, if you strain your muscles appropriately, they don’t decrease in strength; they increase.
And this, perhaps, is one important reason God allows rebellious forces on earth.
Temptation, wisely used, can actually make us stronger. As St. Isaac the Syrian said, “If a man is not first tried by the experience of evils, he has no taste for the good.”
All of this helps me make sense of Jesus’s warning to Peter, “Satan has demanded to sift you like wheat (Lk 22:31).” You sift wheat by spreading it on a stone surface and beating it until the grain is freed from the husk. Temptation, Jesus wants Peter to know, may feel like one arbitrary blow after another, but the end result is purifying.
Jesus could offer this warning to Peter because he lived it.
He, too, was “led up of the Spirit into the desert to be tempted by the devil (Matt 4:1).” He, too, took the blows. And he, too, gained strength in the resisting.
Thanks for reading The Inward Odyssey from Jonathan R. Bailey! Subscribe for free to receive new posts and support my work.
Abbot Pastor was a 5th century Christian hermit who was a key figure in the development of early monasticism and the Desert Fathers movement. He was an influential spiritual leader in Christian history, providing guidance and teaching to spiritual seekers in Egypt’s Nitrian Desert. He was known as a mentor, spiritual leader, and visionary, as well as a successful teacher of asceticism. To this day, his wisdom and guidance still inspire and inform many seekers of inner peace and joy.
Give Me a Word: The Alphabetical Sayings of the Desert Fathers. United States: St. Vladimir's Seminary Press, 2014.