In Unseen Warfare, Part I, Chapter 14, St Theophan writes about what to do when we find ourselves unable to control our physical desires.
Despite all that we know about how addiction forms our brains and weakens our ability to resist the temptations, it is nonetheless true that we can find the will to resist — indeed, there are always still times when we do manage to resist. St Theophan emphasizes here the power of our free will which, though damaged, is never lost. He emphasizes the importance of awareness — so that we can catch the temptation at the earliest possible moment and cut it off before it takes control of our bodies, and of preparation — so that we set ourselves up in such a way as to have the temptation find us in a place of strength rather than weakness.
Our free will is a gift of God, and when aligned with God through communion with Him and in constant awareness of his presence, has great strength. In the book, St Theophan outlines the four main spiritual weapons that will help to bring this about: not relying on myself, keeping an all-daring trust in God alone, striving without ceasing, and constant prayer. All of these should be developed in the context of the Mysteries of the Church, particularly the regular reception of the Body and Blood of Christ, and in the daily extension of this in the constant reception of Christ spiritually.
If you feel sometimes such a strong upsurging of sin that resistance to it will seem impossible and the very zeal to oppose it will appear exhausted, take care, brother, not to give up the struggle, but rouse yourself and stand firm. It is a subterfuge of the enemy, who, with the thought that resistance is hopeless, strives to undermine your firm stand and by making you lay down all your arms to force you to surrender to him.
Make your mind see the subterfuge of the enemy more clearly and do not give ground. For so long as your will does not incline towards this passionate urge you are still among the victors, the fighters and slayers of the enemy, even if your sympathy is already arranged on the side of the passion. Nothing and nobody can force your will or steal victory from your hands and overthrow you against your will, no matter how obdurate and bitter the war waged in you by the enemies of your salvation.
God endowed our free will with such power, that even if all a man’s faculties, the whole world and all the demons rose up in arms against him and attacked him, they could not compel it. It is always left free to decide what they offer or demand, if it so wishes, or not to desire it, if it does not wish. On the other hand, for this very reason, his will bears the responsibility for everything and is subject to judgment. Remember this well: no matter how weak and exhausted you may feel, you cannot find excuses for inclining towards a passionate suggestion. Your conscience will tell you the same. So the stronger the attacks the stronger the resistance you must prepare, and never abandon this resolve, repeating on all such occasions the words of command of one of our war leaders: “Watch ye, stand fast…, quit you like men, be strong.” (1 Cor. 16:13)
Thus keeping your will inflexible against the uprising of sin and arranged on the side of the demands of the higher will, bring into action your spiritual weapons, one after another. The chief among them is prayer. Make it your inspiration, saying:
- “The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The Lord is the strength of my life; of whom shall I be afraid? … Though an host should encamp against me, my heart shall not fear: though war should rise against me, in this will I be confident” (Ps. 26: 1-3).
- “I will not trust in my bow, neither shall my sword save me… In God we boast all the day long, and praise thy name for ever” (Ps. 43:7-9).
- “Neither fear ye their fear, nor be afraid. Sanctify the Lord of hosts himself; and let him be your fear, and let him be your dread. And he shall be for a sanctuary… Gird yourselves, and ye shall be broken in pieces… Take counsel together, and it shall come to nought, speak the word, and it shall not stand: for God is with us” (from Is. 8:9-14).
Thus inspired, do what a warrior in physical warfare does sometimes when he is hard pressed by the enemy; he steps back a little, to find a better point of vantage and see more clearly how best to speed his arrow at the heart of the foe. So you too, collect your thoughts within, and, re-establishing the consciousness and feeling of your nothingness and of your impotence to achieve by yourself what this moment demands, appeal to God to Whom all is possible, calling for His help against the attack of passion with warmth of trust and tears, saying:
- “Arise for our help, and redeem us for thy mercies’ sake” (Ps. 43:27).
- “Fight” (my Jesus) “against them that fight against me. Take hold of shield and buckler, and stand up for mine help… Let them be confounded and put to shame that seek after my soul: let them be turned back and brought to confusion that devise my hurt” (Ps. 34: 1-4).
- “Holy Virgin, do not let me yield to the enemies and be vanquished by them. Oh my guardian Angel, cover me with your wings against enemy arrows, and with your sword strike them down and cut them off from me.”
Persevere in these appeals and help will soon come. At the same time, keep acute attention on yourself. The foe knows the power of such appeals to God and hastens to forestall them, or spoil them by inciting senseless complaints against God for having allowed such enemy attacks and such danger of downfall to asail you. In this way the enemy strives to prevent or stop your appeals to God and make you unworthy of God’s help.
As soon as you notice such an ungodly impulse, hasten to re-establish the true and sincere conviction that “God cannot be tempted with evil, neither tempteth he any man: but every man is tempted, when he is drawn away of his own lust, and enticed” (Jas. 1:13-14). Then, examine carefully your preceding deeds, feelings and thoughts, and you will find that it is they that give birth to the inner storm, which put you in this dangerous position. The enemy defamed God, and covered up your own shortcomings. By faith you must justify God in yourself and, by reasoning, cast off the flattering veil with which the enemy has covered you. You must shed the load of inattention and self-indulgence, repent and confess your inner sin to God and return to the appeals we have indicated, which will bring back God’s help, since He is ever ready to come to your assistance, especially on such occasions.
After this, when the inner storm has died down, the struggle should proceed in accordance with the general rules of unseen warfare, which have been mentioned in part already.