Hey, my friends. Welcome back to Let’s Encourage One Another.
My name is Kari Bartkus, and I am a spiritual director for women who are experiencing grief, hurt, anxiety, or depression. But one thing that is a bit unusual about me is that I offer it as a modern-day letter writing style of spiritual direction.
I do this because, in my experience, I often found I didn’t have the words to share with others in person, but if I could write them out, the words found me instead. This happened when I was journaling, but also when I was emailing trusted friends about what was stirring in my heart.
And so I write back and forth with women in spiritual direction. It gives both of us the time and space we need to write and reflect without feeling the pressure of coming up with the words on the spot.
Now, as I continue to lean into this, I’ve been reading letters of spiritual direction from people of the past. Namely, Francis de Sales and Padre Pio. And I apologize if I’m saying their names incorrectly, but that’s how I say them in my head when I read.
Francis de Sales lived during the 17th century and served for a time as the bishop of Geneva. Padre Pio, meanwhile, was an Italian priest from the 20th century.
Now, a caveat before I begin: I don’t know everything about these men. I’m still learning about them. I know that I don’t necessarily agree with all of their theology. I also know that spiritual direction has a rich history in the Catholic church, and so many writings about spiritual direction come from priests and monks and so forth. However, spiritual direction also has a place in Protestant faith, which I adhere to. And I believe there is a lot I can learn from them, as long as I read with a discerning mind and heart.
I have enjoyed learning how these two men—and more like them, I’m sure—wrote letters to others in spiritual direction. They are the forerunners of my more modern-day style of spiritual direction, in which we use email to write back and forth. It’s interesting to note the similarities and differences.
Temptation as a Battle
And so today, I want to share a couple of excerpts from their letters to others specifically about facing temptation. This is something we all obviously experience, and thinking about how to approach such temptation or how to stand strong against it is both useful to us and a way for us to strengthen our faith and spiritual lives.
As we get started, I want you to picture a time when you really struggled with some sort of temptation. Recall the battle that you felt waging within you. Note not just the mental war going on, but the emotional, the physical, the spiritual. Do you remember that?
How were you told to address such temptation? What did your friend or pastor or counselor encourage you to do? Was it a “buck up and deal with it” kind of attitude? Was it a compassionate yet kind of unhelpful “trust God to help you” idea? Did they give you any practical ways to deal with it?
There are several Bible verses that come to mind even now as I think about temptation.
Ephesians 6:10-11 (NLT): “Be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on all of God’s armor so that you will be able to stand firm against all strategies of the devil.”
And, of course, the following verses describing the armor of God.
And then there’s 1 Peter 5:8 (NLT): “Stay alert! Watch out for your great enemy, the devil. He prowls around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour.”
What about 1 Corinthians 10:13 (NLT)? “The temptations in your life are no different from what others experience. And God is faithful. He will not allow the temptation to be more than you can stand. And when you are tempted, he will show you a way out so that you can endure.”
But I also think about 2 Chronicles 20, where God said that He would fight for His people. Check it out. Chapter 20 verse 17 (NLT) says, “But you will not even need to fight. Take your positions; then stand still and watch the Lord’s victory. He is with you, O people of Judah and Jerusalem. Do not be afraid or discouraged. Go out against them tomorrow, for the Lord is with you.”
It’s easy to feel confused, sometimes, when we hold all of these verses at once. But it’s important to take the whole of Scripture together and to ask the Lord to lead us which way to go. Because, remember, there is a time for everything, a season for everything under the sun. There’s a time to fight and a time to stand still. “A time for war and a time for peace” (Ecclesiastes 3:8b NLT).
As we go through these words, these letters, from Francis de Sales and Padre Pio, ask God to show you which ones are meant for you in this season of your life. What is He calling you to do?
From Francis de Sales: “Don’t Open the Door”
Let’s start with a passage from Francis de Sales. This is a letter he wrote to Madame de Chantal, hereby referred to as Jane. He wrote over 400 letters to Jane, and this one in particular he wrote on October 16, 1604—almost 418 years ago to the day.
Now, her letter to him isn’t included in this particular book, but it is clear she mentions to him some sort of temptation she is facing and the suffering she has endured as a result of that temptation. She asks him for a way to remedy it.
This is what he writes in response:
“In this kind of temptation we must take the same stance that we take against temptations of the flesh, not arguing at all, but doing as the Israelite children did with the bones of the Paschal Lamb, not trying to break them but simply throwing them into the fire. In no way must we answer or even pretend to hear what the enemy is saying, no matter how hard he pounds on the door. We mustn’t even say, ‘Who is it?’ ‘That’s true,’ you tell me, ‘but he is so annoying and is making such a loud racket that those inside can’t even hear each other speak.’ It’s all the same; be patient, speak by means of signs: we must prostrate ourselves before God and stay there at His feet; He will understand very well from this humble gesture that you are His and that you want His help even though you are unable to speak. But especially, stay inside; don’t so much as open the door to either see who is there or to chase the pest away. Finally he will grow tired of shouting and will leave you in peace….
“So, courage then! Things will improve soon. So long as the enemy doesn’t get in, the rest doesn’t matter. Still, it’s a very good sign that he is raging and beating at the door; it’s a sign that he doesn’t yet have what he’s after. If he had it, he would no longer carry on this way. He would come in and stay. Remember this so as never to get caught up in scruples.
“And here is another remedy for you. The temptations against faith go directly to the understanding to draw it to argue, and to get caught up in all these things. Do you know what you should do while the enemy wastes his time trying to scale the walls of your intellect? Slip out the gate of your will and take the offensive against him. That is, when a temptation against faith starts raising questions in your mind such as, ‘How can this be? But what if this? What if that…?’, instead of debating the enemy with arguments, let your affective side attack him with full force, and even let your thoughts be reinforced by your voice, crying out ‘You traitor!… You left the Church of the angels, and you are trying to get me to leave that of the saints! Disloyal, unfaithful, perfidious one! You gave the apple of perdition to the first woman and now you want me to bite it too! “Get behind me, Satan! It is written: you shall not tempt the Lord your God.” No, I will not argue with you….’ Say these and similar impassioned words….
“I don’t know if I’m making myself clear. What I’m trying to say is that we have to strike back with the heart and not with our reason, with intense feelings and not with arguments….
“When all is said and done, these temptations are simply trials like any other, and you must calm yourself, for as Scripture reminds us: ‘Blessed is he who undergoes temptation; for having been proved, he will receive the crown of glory.’”Francis de Sales
So we see from de Sales an invitation to ignore the whispers of the enemy, and also an urging to raise an offense against him by way of verbally stating the truth about who he is and what he is about. As Jesus Himself says, “The thief’s purpose is to steal and kill and destroy” (John 10:10 NLT).
How did that sound to you? Is God inviting you to ignore the enemy’s taunts and jeers? Is He calling you to shout out the truth, instead? Perhaps a “get behind me, Satan”?
On my end, I resonated with the imagery de Sales used, both in terms of the door and also by way of throwing the offense back on Satan. For that would very intentionally remind me of who is trying to bring me down and fortify my desire to stand strong.
From Padre Pio: “Fight Back Hard”
Padre Pio takes a bit of a different approach. He wrote a letter to a lady named Maria Gargani on September 4, 1916—just over a hundred years ago. Again, we don’t have a copy of her letter to him, but apparently she, too, struggled with temptations. This is what he wrote to her:
“Do not agonize over countless temptations that are continually assaulting you, because the Holy Spirit forewarns the devout soul that is disposed to advance in the ways of God to get ready, to prepare for temptation. For that reason take heart; the certain infallible sign of a soul’s election to salvation is temptation….
“Temptation spares no elect soul. It did not spare even the Apostle to the Gentiles, who, after having been taken up into paradise while he was still alive, underwent such a trial that Satan almost succeeded in overcoming him…. Who can read his writing without feeling the blood run cold in their veins! How many tears, how many sighs, how many groans, how many prayers did this holy apostle lift up to the Lord, asking him to remove this very painful trial from him! But how did Jesus answer? He answered nothing other than ‘My grace is sufficient for you,’ and ‘My power is made perfect in weakness’ [2 Corinthians 12:9]….
“The enemy will wage war against you, but he will never be able to bite you. Fight back hard. Always fight against the appetites of the flesh, worldly vanity, and the seduction of gold and high social standing—the things the enemy is always using against us. The conflict is hard, of course, and the battle is painfully won, but… ‘Let us lift up our hearts’ [Lamentations 3:41]—and keep your gaze fixed on high.”Padre Pio
How does that one sit with you? Does it comfort you to know that all believers face temptations? That the enemy is after you because you are a faithful one? That he is trying to get you to fall?
Did you resonate with Paul’s own trial, the thorn in his flesh that pained him so much, yet God said, “My grace is enough,” and didn’t heal him?
Padre Pio offers some strong imagery, too, with his encouragement to fight back. What would fighting back look like for you?
My Own Words
Now, I’ve had women who have struggled with fear and anxiety, and in some ways, have battled with the temptation to fall into these things and let them overwhelm. And while I won’t share much about that because I hold those conversations as sacred and holy, meant just between us and the Lord, I do want to share a few sentences I wrote to one, which speak directly to our topic today. I said,
“Stand firm, my friend, in what God has called you to do. There is no need to entertain thoughts or whispers from the enemy. Pay him no heed. Dwell on God’s truth and promises, instead.”
And I would invite you to do the same. Whatever the enemy is whispering to you, whatever temptation he is sending your way, pay him no heed. He lies. He steals. He distracts. He causes conflict where there ought not to be any.
And so as we come to a close today, I want to offer you a stanza from the song “I Need You” by Matt Maher. It goes like this:
“So teach my song to rise to You
When temptation comes my way
And when I cannot stand, I’ll fall on You
Jesus, You’re my hope and stay.”
To me, that beautifully summarizes my approach to facing temptation: I’ll stand as long as I can. I’ll fight as hard as I can. But ultimately, I’ll trust God to bring me through. Because He is powerful and strong, the Almighty King. He can do it. And I believe He’ll do what He said He would do. God is a God who keeps His word. Amen?
I’d love to hear your thoughts on this topic. Would you do me a favor and email me at email@example.com? Tell me what stood out to you. Share how God is standing with you in battle. You can even write about an invitation God might be offering to you regarding a current temptation you are facing. I’d love to support you and pray for you in that. Okay?
Okay, that is all for today, my friends. Thank you so much for being here. Until next time… let’s encourage one another.
BIBLE VERSES & RESOURCES:
- “Be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on all of God’s armor so that you will be able to stand firm against all strategies of the devil.” (Ephesians 6:10-11 NLT)
- “Stay alert! Watch out for your great enemy, the devil. He prowls around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour.” (1 Peter 5:8 NLT)
- “The temptations in your life are no different from what others experience. And God is faithful. He will not allow the temptation to be more than you can stand. And when you are tempted, he will show you a way out so that you can endure.” (1 Corinthians 10:13 NLT)
- “But you will not even need to fight. Take your positions; then stand still and watch the Lord’s victory. He is with you, O people of Judah and Jerusalem. Do not be afraid or discouraged. Go out against them tomorrow, for the Lord is with you.” (2 Chronicles 20:17 NLT)
- “A time for war and a time for peace” (Ecclesiastes 3:8b NLT)
- “The thief’s purpose is to steal and kill and destroy” (John 10:10 NLT)
- Letters of Spiritual Direction, Francis de Sales and Jane de Chantal
- Padre Pio’s Spiritual Direction for Every Day, by Gianluigi Pasquale
Learn more and register for Journal Gently, an 8-week program designed to help you use writing as a way to process hurt, grief, and trauma with God.