Contributor: Jerry Guarino

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    “But it’s not really my fault, then is it?”  Joseph was confessing to the psychiatrist.  “I mean, we can’t really control our thoughts, can we?
    “Is that what you believe?”
    “I’m looking for an answer.  You’re the expert.  Can anyone really control their thoughts?”
    “Joseph.  The mind is a very complex entity.  Are you looking for a medical answer or a religious one?”
    “I didn’t think there was a difference.  I want to know whether my thinking has implications for my actions.”
    “Ah.  Then that’s a medical question.  Strictly speaking, this is a question that has been going on for ages.  Will you be an astronaut or an astronomer?  Do you prefer action or observation?  People tend to lean one-way or the other.  From our discussions, I think you are more of an astronomer, someone who observes more than acts.”
    “Yes, I suppose so.  Is that wrong?”
    “Joseph.  There is no right or wrong, only choices.  Your life is guided by your choices.”
    “Yes, yes.  I know.  But how can choices be neutral?  Don’t all choices point one way or the other?”
    “One way or the other?  Your choices are based on your beliefs.  Your beliefs are based on your values.  Are we moving back to the religious implications?”
    “I guess.  So choices are neither good nor bad, just what you believe, what you value?”
    “Yes Joseph.  I think that’s a good way to look at it.  I suspect that you are worried about some choices you have made.  Is that it?”
    “Are my beliefs reliable?  Are my values in line with society?  What happens if my thoughts are not in line with my values?”
    “Then what you have is a conflict, a most common part of thinking.  Everyone has these every day.  Absolutely normal.  It seems, Joseph, that you are worried about the moral dilemma, to align your actions with your values.  I think that meeting with your pastor will help there.”
    “OK.  Are you saying I don’t need therapy?”
    “Well no.  I’m trying to tell you that religious questions should be discussed with someone else.  I can only advise you on medical questions, the examination of your life in less theological terms.  I believe people should have counsel from the right expert.  Your pastor wouldn’t give you advice on treating a medical condition; you would go to your doctor.  You see.  Coincidentally, that’s all the time we have for today.”
    “All right doctor.  I’ll see you again next week.”
    Joseph was still upset.  He decided to meet with his pastor, to get that religious perspective his therapist recommended.  
    “So you see pastor.  I’m conflicted.  My thoughts aren’t lining up with my beliefs, my values.”
    “Joseph, this happens to everyone.  Why are you so worried?”
    “Well, I worry that I have improper thoughts and I don’t dismiss them immediately.”
    “What kind of improper thoughts?”
    “Well, you know.  Mostly sexual.  Improper sexual thoughts.”
    “You can tell me Joseph.  Are you considering infidelity, an affair?
    “This is confidential, isn’t it?”
    “Of course.  Unless you are planning on committing a serious crime.”
    “No, nothing illegal pastor.  Just extramarital fantasies.”
    “Only fantasies?  You haven’t acted on these feelings yet?”
    “No.  Just thoughts.”
    “Are you unhappy in your marriage?”
    “That’s just it.  I’m very happy.  Linda is a wonderful wife, best friend and a great mother.”
    “And as a lover?”  This direct question startled Joseph.
    “It’s good.  I just imagine it being better.  More exciting.”
    “Are these thoughts related to lovemaking with Linda or the desire to be with another woman?”
    “Well, another woman, of course.”
    “So what you are saying is that your wife is incapable of satisfying your sexual desires?”
    “Well, I don’t know.  She hasn’t yet.”
    “You need to decide whether it is because of your sexual desires or a need for a different lover.  There’s quite a difference.  Obviously it is all right to want different sexual experiences with your wife, but quite wrong to get them outside your marriage.”
    “Yes, I can see that.  But are the fantasies, the desires morally wrong?”
    “What do you think?”
    “I don’t know.  I guess it’s wrong, but I can’t seem to help it.  Even though I enjoy the fantasies, I feel guilty immediately afterward, if you know what I mean.”
    “Well fantasies are normal.  It’s part of our sinful nature.  But acting on those fantasies is a more serious matter.”
    “So fantasies are all right?”
    “Anything that distracts us from God is sinful, so fantasies are not all right.  The trouble with fantasies is that they eventually replace your desire to seek God, to follow his path for you.  Just as the love of money is a sin, so are immoral fantasies.”
    “But why would God allow me to have these thoughts if it’s sinful?”
    “God gave us free will.  It is our responsibility to use it wisely.”
    “What if I never do anything more than fantasize, never act on my desires?”
    “It is still sin Joseph, but better than acting out.  It seems you want me to tell you that fantasizing is morally all right.  I can’t do that.  But I’m glad you haven’t acted upon those thoughts.  Have you discussed this with your wife?”
    “Heavens no!  I could never tell her that.  She would hate me.”
    “It might be a way to get over the guilt you’re feeling for having them.  She might be able to bring your focus back to her.  She may even be having similar thoughts.”
    “You think so?”
    “It’s possible.  Especially if you’re not giving her what she needs.”
    “I never thought of that.”
    “I didn’t think so.  If you want, you can both come in and talk with me or your therapist, someone who can guide the discussion and support both of you.”
    “That wasn’t my thinking when I came in here.”
    “Yes Joseph.  You were hoping I would tell you fantasizing was normal and acceptable to God.  Sorry I can’t do that.”
    “Thanks pastor.  I’ll think about it.”
    “I’ll pray for you Joseph.  Come back and see me again.”
    Joseph was still conflicted.  His therapist said his fantasies were normal and his pastor said they were sinful.  Both said it wasn’t appropriate to act on the fantasies.  Why would God allow me to have these thoughts if it was sinful?  Free will.  So I can’t blame God.  I want to have these thoughts.
    As Joseph was driving home, he saw the lovely young women leaving from work, off to the gym, to meet their boyfriend or for drinks with girl friends.  The twenty something’s were all so fit, with long hair and clothing that invited watching.  They walked lightly in their shoes, some high heels, some flats, some with sneakers.  He wished he were twenty something again himself.  He drove around for another half hour watching, then headed for home.
    “I’m home dear.”  He saw his wife, pretty enough for someone in their 50s.
    “Hi Joe.  How was your day?”
    “Oh, fine.  Nothing unusual.”  He walked over to his wife, put his arms around her and kissed her.  “I love you.”
    “I love you too dear.”

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Jerry Guarino’s short stories have been published by dozens of magazines in the United States, Canada, Australia and Great Britain. His latest book, "50 Italian Pastries", is available on and as a Kindle eBook. Please visit his website at
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