Ordinary Lust

Sep 13, 2001 |J. Budziszewski

Theophilus says it's not as difficult to stop as you might think.

"Professor Theophilus! You look like Sartre. Can I join you? What are you working on -- Being and Nothingness?" Don sat down.

I rubbed my face with my hands. "More like Passing and Failingness. I'm grading papers. Why do I look like Sartre?"

"You know. Sitting at a table in a little French cafe, glass of absinthe at his elbow, talking with Simone de Beauvoir, working away."

I held up my coffee. "No absinthe." I indicated the third chair, which was empty. "No Simone de Beauvoir." I glanced around the Edge of Night. "Does this look like a French cafe to you?"

He grinned. "Quod erat demonstrandum."

"You mean 'Mutatis mutandis.'"

"Doesn't Q.E.D. mean 'with the necessary changes'?"

"No, it means 'Which was to be proved.'"

"Mutatis --"

"Mutandis." I smiled. "What can I do for you?"

"I need your advice about -- just a sec," he said, hailing the waitress. "Two large deluxe pizzas, please."

"I don't want a pizza, Don."

"I want two. What were you asking me?"

"You were saying you need my advice about something. Your studies?"

"I guess you could say it's about my studies. But only indirectly."

"What is it about directly?"

He shifted. "A girl."

"I might have known."

"Do you have a few minutes for this?"

I rubbed my face again. "I'm always willing to be taken from grading papers."

"Well, it's like this. She's a sort of a -- I guess you might call her a colleague. We work together."

"At the place where you flip burgers?"

"Not that kind of work. Class project."

"About?"

"Shakespeare's poetry."

"You chose each other as partners?"

"No, we were randomly assigned."

"This project -- a big one?"

"Very big. Sixty percent of the grade for the course. And it's in my major, so I can't get out of it."

"Takes a lot of time?"

"We work on it every day together."

"So what's the problem?"

"Well, I have these feelings for her."

"I see. Strong ones?"

"Overwhelming."

"Does she return them?"

"No."

"Is she likely to?"

"No. She's engaged. I wouldn't want to mess it up anyway."

"Does she know about these feelings?"

"No."

"This may seem a silly question, but exactly what kind of feelings are we talking about?"

He reddened. "For the project, we've been working on the sonnets. Do you know them?"

"Some of them."

"There's one that expresses my feelings exactly."

"You mean you want me to guess?"

"Well, yes. If you don't mind."

"I suppose not -- though this is an odd procedure. How about this one?

If I could write the beauty of your eyes
And in fresh numbers number all your graces,
The age to come would say, `This poet lies;
Such heavenly touches ne'er touch'd earthly faces.'"

"N-no," Don said, "I wouldn't say I feel like that."

"Perhaps this one.

Being your slave what should I do but tend
Upon the hours, and times of your desire?
I have no precious time at all to spend,
Nor services to do, till you require.'

"Not that either," he said.

"Then this? But it's from the plays, not the sonnets.

See, how she leans her cheek upon her hand!
O, that I were a glove upon that hand,
That I might touch that cheek!"

"I wouldn't put it that way, no."

"Strange," I said. "What kind of lovesick swain are you? Maybe these lines strike closer to the mark."

So are you to my thoughts as food to life
Or as sweet-season'd showers are to the ground."

"That's not how I feel at all."

"Let's try another direction.

Is it thy will thy image should keep open
My heavy eyelids to the weary night?"

He reddened. "Closer."

"Hmm. Perhaps this.

My love is as a fever, longing still
For that which longer nurseth the disease;
Feeding on that which doth preserve the ill,
The uncertain sickly appetite to please."

"Now you're getting really close, Professor."

I looked carefully at him. "Would you be thinking of this one, Don?"

I do betray
My nobler part to my gross body's treason."

"That's it."

"So you're not in love after all."

"No. I'm in lust."

The waitress appeared just in time to catch his words, snickered "Two large deluxe," dropped her cargo and departed again. Don lowered his head for a moment, lifted it, then morosely dug in.

"I see that your condition hasn't affected your appetite," I said.

"Are you kidding? I can hardly eat." Comparatively, I supposed that was true. Don was chewing, which was very unlike him.

Four slices and thirty seconds later, he looked up with an expression of horror. "You don't think it's funny, do you?"

"The way you inhale that stuff?"

"No. These feelings."

"Not at all. But you said you wanted my advice."

"Yes."

"What is your question?"

"How do I get rid of them?"

"Rid of them?"

"It's not like I want to feel this way."

"No."

"I mean -- you can't imagine --"

"I probably can."

"Like all the time --"

"I understand."

"I start imagining that we're --"

"I get the picture."

"But God says 'marriage or nothing.'"

"Right."

"Nothing obscure about that principle."

"No."

"I talked to a Christian friend and he said, 'Gee, I don't know, man. I never figured that out either. Just read the Bible or something.'" Don rolled his eyes. "Then I asked a non-Christian friend what he did about lustful feelings. He said, 'Hey, you're an animal. Accept it.' So advise me. Please."

"Are you looking for an instant cure?"

"If there is one."

"There isn't."

"But there has to be something --"

"I didn't say I can't make any practical suggestions."

"Then spill them. I'm begging."

"Work double-time to get the school project finished as quickly as possible."

"I'm doing that."

"Hold your project work sessions in public places. Bring other friends along to them."

"Yeah, that would help."

"Avoid all other contact with the girl."

He hesitated. "Okay."

"Stay busy with other things, and continue to see your other friends."

"I have been preoccupied."

"A lot of people are troubled by passing lusts, Don. Especially in a society like ours, where you can't even go to the grocery store without having sexual images shoved in your face. But remember what Luther said about the birds."

"What did he say?"

"You can't keep them from flying overhead, but you don't have to let them build a nest in your hair."

He shook his head in perplexity.

"You don't get it?"

"No."

"It means you can't keep an image from coming into your mind, but you don't have to offer it hospitality. You don't have to say, 'Come in, you lovely thing. Sit down. Let me look at you. Let's talk. May I pet your hair?"

"But it doesn't seem to matter whether I offer the image my hospitality. It makes itself at home anyway. I can say 'I refuse to think about it,' but I have to think about it even to think about not thinking about it. So the more I fight it, the more it's in my mind."

"Then don't fight it."

"Don't -- ? You mean give in to it?"

"No. I mean ignore it. Don't try to make it go away; just act as though it's gone already. Go about your other work and thoughts. Eventually it will go away by itself. Just like all thoughts do."

"I'll try that. But I've got to tell you -- I hate this -- this stuff even comes into my mind when I pray. Especially when I pray."

"Well, of course. Because that's when you're fighting it the hardest. Don't fight it. Ignore it."

"But I have to confess it to God, don't I? I can't ignore it if I'm confessing it."

"That's true. But how long can it take to confess it? 'Also, Lord, I'm sorry that I've entertained lustful thoughts about Lulu.' Or Fifi. Or Peachie. Five seconds."

"But we're not supposed to hurry through confessions."

"You can hurry through this kind, otherwise you only increase the temptation. 'And Lord, I know You understand why I'm skipping the details about this one.' That's another five seconds. Total, ten. Then on to your other prayer concerns."

"But if the thoughts come to me again during the prayer then I have to confess them again, and I --"

"-- spend all your time confessing. I know. But you don't have to do that, Don. It's called 'excessive scrupulosity.' The bird flying overhead isn't a sin; it's only a temptation. We don't confess temptations, only sins."

Don stood up. "I have to get to class. But I'll try all that, and let you know if it works." We shook hands. He cleared his plate and left.

I returned to grading papers, but for a few minutes my mind wandered. I looked at my watch. No wonder.

"Miss," I said, "Could you bring me just a small deluxe pizza?"

Copyright 2001 J. Budziszewski. All rights reserved.

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