On Weakness and Temptation: The Checkout Aisle and Me

I learned growing up that everyone has their own particular weaknesses, their own particular points of temptation. For men it might be porn, for women it might be gossip. In order to avoid your temptation you might have to avoid a particular store – like Victoria’s Secret – or a particular activity – like watching chic flicks. Mine was the checkout aisle.
Every time I approached the checkout aisle at the grocery, I knew I was in for a battle. It was the magazines, you see.

The trouble wasn’t that most of the models on the magazines were immodestly dressed. I was a girl, after all, and (in my understanding at the time) only boys dealt with that trouble. Instead, the problem was that the magazines were not godly. They were worldly and broadcast worldly ideas. I had to avoid such corruption like the plague.

And so as I entered the checkout aisle, I would do my best to avert my eyes. Let me tell you, not looking at something you really want to look at is really hard, especially when you insert the allure of the forbidden. Sometimes, furtively, so that my mother or sisters wouldn’t see, I would glance at the magazine covers.
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And then I would avert my eyes in shame. Once again, I had faced temptation and lost. The guilt followed me out of the store. Why did I feel such a desire to look, I wondered. What was wrong with me that I couldn’t avoid worldly things and keep my mind on what was pure?
I felt sorry for my brothers, because they had it worse than I did. When we would go to the mall, which was rare, my mom would tell them “look right” or “look left” or “eyes on the floor” to warn them when there was a storefront with immodest mannequins or pictures. When we would watch a movie that had women dressed immodestly or kissing or making out, mom would tell the boys when to look away. If it was hard for me to keep my eyes to myself in the checkout aisle, how much harder it must be for my poor brothers to avoid the temptation the world set in front of them, practically naked, every day!
I hadn’t thought about all this for a long time, but was reminded of it this past weekend in the checkout aisle. As I stood looking at the magazine covers, laughing at the images and article titles, I suddenly had a flashback and remembered the struggle I used to have there. I remembered the angst, the shame, the guilt, the fear. And I realized that it was gone, totally and completely gone. I still feel the desire to look at the magazines in the checkout aisle, but now I simply laugh at them.
Today, I’m not concerned that the magazines in the checkout aisle will cause me any harm because I no longer see them as anything other than what they are, magazines. Sometimes I even leaf through one as I wait, something I never would have dreamed of long ago. The power these magazines used to hold over me is gone.
I wonder sometimes if these ideas of “weaknesses” and “temptations” don’t create more problems than they solve. The thing is, a glance at these magazine covers would never have caused me to lose my faith. By thinking that they might lead me astray, though, I gave them a power over me that they never would have had otherwise. By seeing them as something forbidden and corrupting, I only elevated my desire to look and magnified my sense of guilt and shame if I did.
I think of my brothers. Did believing that looking at this or that storefront in the mall, or this or that modernly dressed actor, would lead them astray into sin and corruption actually magnify these things and invest them with a power they would not otherwise have had? Did holding these things up as forbidden make them a stumbling block in their own faith lives in a way they need not have been?
Either way, I’m glad the checkout aisle has ceased to be a place of battle for me. Rather than feel guilt and shame and self-loathing for looking, I can laugh at the magazine covers and then head home with a light heart and a car full of groceries.
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