Passion, pride, and pessimism

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A number of years ago, I heard a sermon by the late Archbishop Randolph Adler that described the three great temptations, that can become traps, for people based upon where they are in the stages of their lives. He called them “The Three P’s.”

As I have passed through two of these stages of life and am smack dab in the middle of a third stage, I have had occasion to reflect on his long-ago sermon. So, here we go.

The First Stage This is a period of early adulthood from, say, 18 to 40 years old. According to Adler, this is the stage where passion is the primary temptation, especially for men. Passion itself is not a bad thing. One can be passionate about one’s spouse, art, about a cause, about music, and a host of other subjects. It is misdirected passion that becomes the problem.

In using King David of the Old Testament as a model, Adler described David as being passionate about God, about music, and about life in general. When misdirected, his passion led to an affair with Bathsheba and the murder of her husband. David paid a high price for having fallen into this trap as have so many others.

The Second Stage — The period that we call “middle age,” has as its primary temptation, pride. In many cases, people are successful, have completed their education, have bought a house, take vacations, and are doing well. For Adler, this is a stage of life where pride can act as a snare. For the successful, there is a feeling of having arrived.

In the New Testament, Jesus describes a man who was wealthy to the point that he had insufficient storage areas for his crops. So, he boasted he would tear down his barns, build more and better barns, and, as he bragged, he would take it easy and enjoy all his wealth. However, that very night the man died, and his riches went to someone else. Jesus refers to such a man as “a fool.” Taking pleasure in accomplishment is one thing. Being puffed up with pride is another.

The Third Stage — This is that period of life where we are elderly. The temptation, the trap, is pessimism. King Solomon, who is seen by some as the wisest man who ever lived, observed his life and the world around him during his latter years and declared that “all is vanity.” It’s all smoke, it’s all a waste of time, energy, and resources. He seems to take a negative, pessimistic view of life — even though he was rich, respected, and accomplished.

As I am in this stage of life now, I can see what Archbishop Adler was talking about. It would be so very easy to slip into the trap of thinking all the world is going to hell in a handbasket. However, both the Old Testament book of Joel and the New Testament book of Acts of the Apostles, indicate that old folks are still to be “dreamers,” those who see the wonderful possibilities just ahead and in the long term.

I remember my father commenting, “I fear for this country when your generation takes over.” But I bet that his father thought the same thing about Dad’s generation, the group that we now refer to as “The Greatest Generation.”

Certainly, these classifications are not absolute. There are old people whose passion leads them astray and there are young people who are pessimistic. And pride seems to affect us all, regardless of age or stage of life.

But, as natural as these attitudes seem to be and as easy as they are to be experienced, taken too far they become traps. I once knew a woman who was filled with pessimism about nearly everything. She had much to be grateful for, but she was caught in this trap of negativity and, when she died, there were only family members present at her funeral. She had no acquaintances and no friends. Not. One.

And that is precisely what these traps, these temptations, have the power to do. They have the power to separate us from family and friends — to isolate us from the very people we need. After all, who can stand to be around people whose uncontrollable passion rules them, or those who are filled with pride to the point of being obnoxious? And who wants to keep company with the person who never finds any good in anybody or anything?

Fortunately, none of us are condemned to stay in the trap. Indeed, we can avoid it, if we know what to look for and we can escape it once we understand that we are ensnared. Perhaps, we can even help other people evade or escape a trap or two.

It’s not God’s will or plan that we experience life hopelessly defeated and subjected to always being trapped. Jesus said, “I came that they might have life, and have it more abundantly.”

Passion, Pride, and Pessimism: these three traps are real, and they can be devastating. It’s important to know that there are, indeed, traps in our path. It’s important to know they are there.

It’s also important that we watch where we step. And, if a misstep leads us to be caught, it is vital that we get out of the trap before it ruins our journey. It’s not our destiny to stay ensnared.

[David Epps is the Rector of the Cathedral of Christ the King (www.ctk.life). Worship services are at 10:00 a.m. on Sundays but is also live streamed at www.ctk.life. He is the bishop of the Diocese of the Mid-South (www.midsouthdiocese.life) and may contacted at davidepps@ctk.life.]

2 COMMENTS

  1. The incomparable Bob Dylan mused about passion, not as a temptation or a trap, but as a game. A game I hope we all dared to play while we were young!

    Mr. Dylan says, “Passion is a young man’s game. Young people can be passionate. Older people gotta be more wise. I mean, you’re around awhile, you leave certain things to the young. Don’t try to act like you’re young. You could really hurt yourself.”

    Love that man!

  2. Rev. Epps – This is another thoughtful essay. I can certainly see these temptations and their prevalence in the age associations in which you place them. I would add the alliterated “prejudice” to your pronunciations of pitfalls as well, although I see this evident across the life cycle.

    I hope we might get another “Stolen Valor” column about senate candidates who misrepresent their service to the law enforcement community and their educational attainments.