Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Abstinence makes the heart grow stronger

This article in Slate magazine caught my eye. The premise is deciding if you are a moderator or an abstainer, with regard to your personal habits and preferences. One section reads:

You’re a moderator if you

  • find that occasional indulgence heightens your pleasure—and strengthens your resolve;
  • get panicky at the thought of “never” getting or doing something.

You’re an abstainer if you

  • have trouble stopping something once you’ve started;
  • aren’t tempted by things that you’ve decided are off-limits.

On the other hand, sometimes instead of trying to give something up, we’re trying to push ourselves to embrace something. Go to the gym, eat vegetables, work on a disagreeable project.

How does this strike you? Having spent my weekend talking to 11-13 year-olds about sex and sexuality, I can say that I don't think abstinence (or its companion, chastity) get enough airtime in our churches (or in our families) these days. When I talk to youth about abstinence, I try to emphasize that I nor the church catholic want to keep them from having fun or experiencing pleasure.

On the contrary, for them to know real joy is our own deepest desire. We don't want to see them become calloused, or hardened, about some of the most meaningful experiences in life. We're promoting the biblical virtue for the good of the soul and the body.

Of course, one can abstain from more than sex. There are all kind of actions that are harmful to the body and to the soul from which we should abstain. And there are plenty of other actions which we should whole-heartedly embrace- beyond moderation.

From my perspective, which is admittedly coming from within the church, the world is not divisible by moderators and abstainers. That sets up the dichotomy of "I can handle this... too bad you can't".

We would all do well to consider the virtues and demerits of both positions. There are some things that are best in moderation... for everyone. There are some things from which it is best to abstain... for everyone.

Happiness may well be found in getting what you want or being able to withstand the desire for it. However, joy is found in knowing that you have been given all you could ever need.

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