Overcoming Lust: The 3rd of the Seven Deadly Sins, by Linda Seger
We often think of lust as sexual desire, sometimes leading to uncontrollable sex with one person, sometimes the constant desire and need of many partners. Although lust or lechery is usually equated with the excessive desire for sex, it is sometimes considered to be an excessive desire for anything. It is sometimes humorously asked, “How much sex (or anything else) is enough?” The answer may be, “When sex becomes more important than the loved one you’re having it with.”
Some years ago, my husband, who is both a massage therapist and an acupuncturist, told me he had a massage client who came in for his weekly massage, totally depleted. He had been having an orgy for a week. Peter said he had never seen anyone so totally exhausted – to the point where Peter thought he might become permanently ill, or even die. Peter explained that this kind of lust damages the whole body as well as the mind and soul.
Lust is a distortion of a relationship. Rather than focusing on the other person, and being a giver, lust is a taker. It wants parts of the person, not the whole person. It wants to get pleasure, rather than to give mutual pleasure. It is more interested in seduction than honesty, more interested in strategy than in sharing.
In our professional lives, lust can work on many different levels, all of them harmful to at least one of the partners. In an unequal relationship, lust becomes the bargaining tool. Sometimes the bargain comes from the more powerful, as the boss wants to take more and more from the less powerful, often insisting on a sexual response in order for the other person to keep the job. Sometimes it’s the bargaining tool by the powerless who are willing to sell themselves, in one way or another, to get the job, the money, or the material possessions.
Whereas love-making respects boundaries, lust crosses boundaries. Whereas love-making is a part of life, lust becomes the whole of one’s vision. In our professional lives, this deadly sin becomes disruptive of our goals. It’s difficult to focus on the job when the heaving breasts or the tight T-shirt are taking all of our attention.
Like envy, lust confuses us. We think we want something, but it’s not at all what we want. It keeps us from our goal of a well-rounded life where our love life and our professional life can integrate with balance.
Many women lust after a Clint Eastwood type, even though they have nothing in common with a High Plains Drifter or the silent gunfighter type. Many men lust after the modern Marilyn Monroe, in any of the various forms, even though they would have nothing in common with her. Many fall in love with a certain “look”, although there is no possibility of a loving relationship between them and the tall, dark, handsome manipulator or the beautiful, voluptuous woman who has seduced them with good looks and sweet words, but with nothing else.
Lust consumes us, rather than frees us. It narrows our vistas, rather than expands them. And it diminishes the human being to the person’s parts rather than to their full complexity.
Naturally, all of us have probably experienced lust in our hearts and our loins, and the desire and attraction for another person is a normal reaction. The spiritual discipline which can often help overcome lust comes from changing lust to appreciation. My Jungian therapist pointed out to me that those things we want can help us recognize what we appreciate if we don’t give them power over us. When we find ourselves attracted to someone who is clearly inappropriate (perhaps because we’re married, perhaps because the person truly isn’t our type), we might ask ourselves: “What do I appreciate about this person?” We can then see that part of this attraction is a good thing. Usually the person is attractive, but there’s more to it than that. The person might also be fun, kind, smart, generous, and/or caring – all qualities that are worthy of being appreciated. If we tell ourselves, “This is normal, there are good qualities here”, lust usually doesn’t want to stick around, since it has lost its power over us.
My spiritual director once said, when I told her about a very good-looking man that I worked with: “Well, there’s nothing wrong with someone who is easy on the eyes.” I laughed – and realized that a way to overcome lust (although I didn’t lust after this guy – but recognized he was gorgeous!) was through a sense of humor. Love laughs. Lust tends to be very serious and desperate.
Usually we meet envy, greed, and lust when we’re climbing the ladder and trying to get to the top. Rather than freeing us, they confuse us. We lose our identities, and often lose our focus because we don’t know for sure what we want and why we want it. They put everything in the world’s terms, and make promises that when we get what we desire, all will be well. So we continue to climb the wrong ladder. We get lost on the wrong path. Lust is excessive desire that fills up our whole vision and makes it impossible to focus, integrate, and balance our lives.