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Test of faithLately I’ve racked up a lot of windshield time and, although I’ve missed being at home with my wife, one of the benefits of long drives is the time I have to pray and think deeply.

Over the last week I have had trips of several hours. I have filled some of that drive time with reciting a Rosary as part of a 54 day Novena I started two weeks ago. This is my first time to pray a Novena and I’m happy with myself for not yet missing a day, and pleased that I am feeling much closer to the Lord than I have in recent weeks.

However, I have had several frustrating and critical issues arise recently in my business causing me grief. Experience tells me that these new challenges are not mere coincidence. I believe as we work harder to get closer to God, Satan works harder to derail us.

On one rather long drive this week, I plugged in a CD from a lecture by Fr. Rob Jack, a priest who regularly visits our parish and who is an instructor at the Athenaeum of Ohio in Cincinnati. In his lecture on Living Faith, he mentions how God likes to test our faith from time to time. The vision that came to my mind is of God throwing us curveballs, forcing us to take a strike or two, and be humbled in the process.

But, my next thought presented me with a conundrum: how do we tell whether a challenge is God testing our faith or Satan trying to sabotage us as we try to get closer to God? Over the next several miles, a couple examples came to mind. Since I’ve already used a baseball example above, I’ll stick with sports analogies.

In one case, let’s suppose your hometown basketball team is in the deciding game of the NBA finals. There are 52 seconds to play and your opponent just went up by six points after scoring one three-pointer and then, after a mistake that resulted in a turnover, scored a second three-pointer.

In a second instance, say your favorite hockey team is in the final game of the Stanley Cup playoffs. The score is tied with three minutes left in the game, and your best player gets sent to the penalty box for two minutes after committing a flagrant intentional foul against an opposing player. Because of his action, his team is forced to play one person short which gives the opponent a power play advantage.

Both instances are tense and critical with their entire seasons resting in the balance.

Let’s consider the basketball scenario. The players’ confidence has been shaken and they have been humbled in front of the hometown fans. Calling a time-out, the coach will present to his players a plan to close the gap which, he hopes, will eventually win the game. He will also try to calm his team down and, most importantly, try to keep them focused on the fundamentals and on executing with the skill they have shown all season, that is, to fall back on and trust in each other and in what they know.

This feels like God testing our faith. The response is exactly what He wants us to do! He wants us to stop, collect ourselves, and recognize and do what is right and just. Although the strategy to win the game will likely include intentionally fouling an opposing player, the aim is not to hurt the player nor is it borne out of anger or personal pride.

Now, let’s consider the hockey analogy. The player, in his desperation to win, decided to be “uncharitable”, if you will, towards another player either through anger or to gain an unfair advantage. As a result, he caused his team to be penalized and put the likelihood of a win in jeopardy. As he sits in the penalty box waiting for his chance to get back in the game and play the final minute, he plots his revenge and envisions the crowd cheering him as he scores the go-ahead goal with only seconds remaining.

This situation feels like an example of Satan’s handiwork. The reaction is exactly what Satan is hoping for! He doesn’t give a hoot about who wins the game. He doesn’t care who gets hurt. All he cares about is the player’s pride becoming inflated, that he sees himself as superior to everyone else, and that his selfishness blinds him to the greater good. He wants him to cross that line because then it will be easier for him to do it again and again. He has followed Satan’s game plan to a tee.

On the other hand, the hockey player doesn’t have to choose that path. He has another option. As he sits in the penalty box he could replay in his mind the wrong that landed him there in the first place, and vow not to make that mistake again. He could block out all negative thoughts and focus on playing the best game he’s ever played. He could trust in his years of training to come through for him in a moment of glory. He could opt for doing the best he can do and let the outcome be what it may.

This is exactly what Satan doesn’t want us to do! Do you know why? Because it’s what God expects of us! If we do this, God has won and Satan has lost his grip.

Having thought through this, I have to admit I still don’t know how to tell if a challenge is simply God testing us or if Satan is tempting us. But, I don’t think it really matters whether we know up front or not. What matters is our response to the stimulus. When we are faced with challenges that move us to cheat, lie, shirk responsibility, and blame or plot the demise of others, we let Satan become our coach. When we lose sight of what is right and just, we lose sight of God, and high-five with the devil. But, when we choose the right path we are one step closer to holiness. And, maybe, only during the post-game review can we tell the difference.

I would love to hear if you can tell the difference between God testing your faith and Satan leading you astray.

God Bless You.

(Is It God Testing Your Faith or Satan Tempting You? was first published on the blog Reflections of a Lay Catholic)

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