Cheated of Cheesecake?

Today was one of those good days when my employer fed me lunch on their dime. A guest speaker, Joshua Neufeld, the artist behind such graphic creations as The Influencing Machine: Brooke Gladstone on the Media or A.D.: New Orleans After the Deluge (Pantheon Graphic Library), a graphic account of the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, had given a lecture. We gave him a luncheon (and presumably a wad of money).

As I sat down to the table, I found the usual fare, including glasses of water and tea. We’re swanky at JCCC! But then I saw the precise slice of dessert pictured here lurking just past my super-healthy grilled chicken salad. Not only were they tempting me with cheesecake, but they’d drizzled caramel or somesuch all over it. I knew that, given my October Resolve to control my eating, I could not indulge in this delicacy. It would be colossally hard!

That’s what I told Penny when I got home. “It was hard.” Then I thought about it for a moment and realized that not eating that marvelous confection really had not been that hard. I looked at it. I saw Beth to my left eat about half of hers. Maureen to my right ate most if not all of hers. Mine never moved.

That’s when I found myself reminded that resisting temptation is not the incredibly difficult thing that we make it out to be. Temptation came my way not by the hand of Satan but my the hand of JCCC Food Service. The desire for it might have been nudged forward by Satan, but for me to truly be tempted, to find it hard, I would have to turn that desire over in my mind.

James 1:13-15 describes the process by which temptation develops. It starts with an idea, but it only moves from desire to sin to death when I allow myself to be “drawn away and enticed by [my] own evil desire.” It’s not the cheesecake’s desire. It’s not Satan’s desire. It wasn’t the desire of Beth or Maureen. It was mine. All I had to do to win the moment was not to feed–either literally or figuratively–that desire.

A Farmer’s Kind of Comfort

My forebears, the generations before my grandparents, were farmers. I’m not entirely certain how successful these people were as farmers, but they listed themselves as such on the census reports. My grandfathers, born on farms, made an exit toward better economic pickings, eventually making their ways to Kansas City where two of their children met and became my parents.

Why did so many people in America, from the late 1800s and into the early decades of the 1900s make that farm-to-city move? Somewhere in the 1870s, the segment of the population working on farms moved below 50% for the first time. By 1940, as the Second World War drew near, that number dropped to 18%. And the reason is fairly clear. With increasing industrialization offering steady jobs and the relative certainty and comfort of urban life, the move seems sensible.

Think about it. If you work in a steel mill, as my maternal grandfather did, you don’t need to worry much about the weather. A drought will not ruin the steel. Blast furnaces, unlike hogs or cows, don’t die, and if one does go off line, it’s not the worker’s problem so much as the company’s. When the potatoes succumbed to a disease on the farm, that typically meant not having potatoes that year. In the city, unless the problem was catastrophic, it meant that you paid more for the spuds at the market.

City dwellers didn’t have to contend with long dirt roads. Coyotes mostly chased roadrunners in cartoons rather than eating the chickens. Water, sewer service, electricity, and phones came to the city far more quickly than to the country. To this day, the broadband Internet availability in rural areas is limited. Who wouldn’t want to move from the farm to the city?

Elijah presumably didn’t want to make that move. After serving as God’s emissary to bring about a terrific drought, Elijah had to make himself scarce lest the officials make him dead. In 1 Kings 17:2-4, he is told to “hide” in the Kerith Ravine to drink from its brook and eat what ravens brought.

As a result of the drought, Elijah had to move to town in 1 Kings 17:9. Couldn’t God have kept some water running in that stream for him? He could have done so, but I don’t think God wanted Elijah to get too comfortable.

Those who remain on the farm, who move from cities back to farms, or who just have a farmer mentality understand that comfort is not something that we should always desire. We might have to tend the animals in sub-zero weather. That’s just the truth.

Moving from our comfort zone is frightening but less so when we trust that God is directing our steps. Successful farmers have a self-reliant streak, but successful Christians couple that with a God-reliant streak. Put those together and a little discomfort is just–well–a little discomfort.