Testing to destruction is a great approach for product research, development, and quality control. It's a terrible way, however, to live.
Remember the old Timex television commercials? I still have no idea who John Cameron Swayze was. But in every ad, Mr. Swayze would appear on the screen ready to report a newsworthy product demonstration. The latest style timepiece would be subjected to extreme -- and dramatic -- abuse. An elephant would step on it, a motorboat would run over it, or the waterproof watch would be run through a dishwasher. Afterward, Mr. Swayze would pull out the watch, show it was still working, and pronounce his trademark tagline, "Timex: It takes a licking and keeps on ticking."
Those ads were very convincing. It's because the best way to find out how resilient something is, is to keep beating up on it until it fails. In other words, you only know what the limits of a tire or a fighter jet or a watch are when you actually use, abuse, and push it beyond its limits. You only know what will destroy something by actually destroying it. That's called "testing to destruction."
Testing to destruction is a great approach for product research, development, and quality control. It's a terrible way, however, to live. And yet, so very many of us do just that. We test ourselves and one another to destruction. The problem is that we can't just grab another tire or Timex and start over again. Relationships that are destroyed often stay that way. And people aren't interchangeable or replaceable.
At the threshold of Lent, it may be helpful to think about just what it means to be put to the test -- and what it looks like to pass. When Jesus went from the waters of the Jordan into the desert, he did so to be tempted. The Son of God faced the same choices we do. He also faced the same old enemy who comes to kill, steal, and destroy all that God created.
Jesus was put to the test. He did not use his power in a self-serving way. He refused to worship any "god" but God. And he refuted the devil's temptation to self-destruction by saying, "You shall not put the Lord your God to the test" (Luke 4:12).
In those 40 days in the desert, Jesus showed us how to pass such tests. Yet the prayer that Jesus taught his disciples, the Our Father, entreats the Lord not to lead us into temptation at all. I think it's because when we are tested, we often respond by testing something or someone else to destruction.
When we approach others with a list of demands, or otherwise make our relationships an exercise in all-about-me, we test the people who love and care for us to destruction. When we expect perfection from ourselves, or require continual superhuman efforts and achievements, we push ourselves to the point of failure. When we approach God with an attitude of entitlement, or push him and his rules out of our lives, we think we are testing the limits of God's love and mercy. God always remains unscathed. We're the ones who get hurt.
Whenever we go looking for trouble, we invariably find it. But the trials and tests God allows into our lives do not result in our destruction as much as in our reconstruction. What God allows, however, calls us to trust him more and not less. That trust, and what it can work in and through us, is the fruit we find ripe for the picking in the deserts of temptation.
JAYMIE STUART WOLFE IS A WIFE AND MOTHER OF EIGHT CHILDREN, AND A DISCIPLE OF THE SPIRITUALITY OF ST. FRANCIS DE SALES. SHE IS THE AUTHOR OF "ADOPTION: ROOM FOR ONE MORE?", A SPEAKER, MUSICIAN AND SERVES AS A CHILDREN'S EDITOR AT PAULINE BOOKS AND MEDIA. FOLLOW HER ON TWITTER @YOUFEEDTHEM.
Jaymie Stuart Wolfe is a Catholic convert, wife, and mother of eight. Inspired by the spirituality of St. Francis de Sales, she is an author, speaker, and musician, and serves as a senior editor at Ave Maria Press. Find Jaymie on Facebook or follow her on Twitter @YouFeedThem.