I remember yielding to temptation for the first time when I was about seven years old. I’m sure there were thousands of times prior to that. It’s just the first I can remember.
When I was that age you could walk to the corner store and no one worried. Our corner store was named “Thrifty Mart” and I went there often.
On the day in question I remember seeing a packet of “Famous Monsters Bubble Gum Trading Cards” - and I wanted them. Badly.
I was a huge monster movie lover. Still am. So Universal’s “Famous Monsters,” packaged with that neat lil’ square of pink, brittle, bubble gum, was proving too much for me to resist.
I was going to have them.
I remember looking around - this way and that - and then, as cunningly as a kid of seven could, I slipped them into the back pocket of my jeans.
With my heart pounding like I was in cardiac arrest I walked out of the store, and to my great surprise I got away with my first crime. Slick little me had heisted the cards and had not been caught.
As I looked over my five finger discount, on the way home, I didn’t feel very happy. In fact, I felt so bad it was sucking every bit of giddiness out of me.
I passed a terrible night. The next morning I repackaged the cards in saran wrap, Scotch-taped the corners closed, scampered back to the store on my seven year old legs, and somehow managed to put the cards back on the shelf at Thrifty Mart without being detected.
I won’t bore you with how much scarier it was to return the obviously-already-been-opened package than it had been to steal it in the first place. I’ll just say this: I was relieved my life of crime was over.
But it wasn’t. Far from it.
I wish I could claim I never took anything else that didn’t belong to me. It would be many years and an epiphany or two later before I came to grips with the fact that it was wrong to boost even a pencil that wasn’t mine.
Why didn’t the frightening experience at Thrifty Mart cure me? Because my desire to have things that didn’t belong to me proved greater than my fear of getting caught.
One day I realized what really bugged me about stealing those cards. It wasn’t the fear that I might have been busted. It was that the cards were not mine.
When we yield to temptation we usually end up “stealing” something from someone that we really had no right to take. Whether it’s their peace, their happiness, their possessions, their self worth, their affections, their husband, their wife or whatever it may be - our selfish desire becomes greater than someone else’s welfare.
No matter how much we may fear the consequences of hurting others by our “thefts,” fear rarely keeps us from doing just that.
Love is a much more powerful motivation than fear. Love will keep us from doing things that fear never can.
Love will never march into a person’s life and take their affections under false pretenses. If we know in our heart we desire a different kind of relationship than someone who likes us, truly loving them can keep us from hurting them where the fear of consequences might fail.
Love can keep us from self-absorbingly torching someone in anger where fear of reprisal may only give us momentary pause.
Yes, there are usually opportunities to “fix” things afterwards - but that’s kinda like repackaging the “Monster Cards” in saran wrap. The owner of those feelings is never exactly the same because of our theft.
Love helps us remember that there are human beings on the other end our selfish desires. Love reminds us that a moment of pleasure we steal may hurt a person for life while leaving visible “scars.”
Of course we’ll blow it sometimes when it comes to temptation. That’s the acid test of being human. People who feel they never blow it are the scariest kind of people to be around.
What matters most is whether we care about the lives of others as much we do our own. If we do, then temptation is in for a fair fight.