The final test for Jesus probably came about midway through the arduous and painful process of fasting and meditating. I suspect he had gone through many bouts of intense hunger, long stretches of boredom, hours of wondering what the hell he was doing out in the middle of nowhere. And he had no guarantees that anything significant would come of all this. Isn’t that the nature of any true discipline, and particularly a spiritual one?

It was in the middle of one of those “what am I doing here?” moments that Jesus thought, “This is crazy. There must be an easier way.”

In the story, Jesus used the metaphor of bowing down to Satan in exchange for something that seemed quite similar to what Jesus’ real goal was. The dilemma he faced was real, intense, and very much like what each of us faces.

UnknownHe was being offered the same kinds of things we fall prey to: “Four simple steps to enlightenment,” “Seven steps to success,” “Physical fitness without effort,” “Saving your marriage through better sex,” and all the quick-fix, no effort plans that offer the desired result without having to do the work.

There are no short cuts for anything lasting and worthwhile. Years ago I saw a cartoon of a meditation student and his master, both sitting in the lotus position. The student asks, “What’s next?” The teacher responds, “What do you mean, ‘what’s next?’ This is it.” Meditation is both the means and end of enlightenment. You don’t simply declare one day, “I am enlightened. I can stop meditating now.”

For Jesus, the forty days of fasting and solitude were the means. The end was not some other product, it was the extension of what he had been doing. He simply took his practice to the street instead of staying in the wilderness.

So what’s my lesson? Stop looking for short cuts! One of my current practices is my writing. I cannot hope to get anything of significance written if I am not writing, almost every day, even if most of it is crap. But without the discipline, nothing will come of it. I cannot call myself a writer if I am not writing. And interestingly, the act of writing becomes the reward of writing. If I wait to be published to appreciate what writing does, I will be a frustrated word generator. The means becomes the end.

The same is true of anything lasting and worthwhile in my life. Do the work. There are no short cuts.