All I wanted to do, while listening to your pitiful story last week, was fling my fist at your face. Waiting and waiting I was for some break in all the maleficence, turmoil and your perennial anger. But no break came. Story and after painful story is your collection, your ruined heap called "my life." I realize the last thing you need from me--or anyone--is some further articulation of the gravity of your sins. You don't. And I also realize you are, for the first time in your life, genuinely mourning and repenting of your sins against yourself, your family, your friends, your church and God. Because they are so grave, this will take time. By no means, don't rush this process.
My heart is afire as I peck away on this keyboard, burning it is for you. Because I don't want the rest of your life to succumb to the hells of its first sixty years, of lying to and failing your dying wife, mercilessly taking out your rage on your kids, your own flesh and blood, and deep bitterness toward God. You have wasted and ruined your life and others' with your impassioned soul. You were a slave to anger and rage. You did only that which they requested. They shackled you down like a dog, letting you venture out only to the end of your leash. But not anymore, and I'll be damned if you shack up with them again.
If there is one thing your hot tears, streamed as they did down your old weathered face, told me as you shared that evening it was you have, finally, had enough of living in anger, which is just a fancy way of saying living in death. Only Jesus brings life. Everything else is death in a pretty bow. Only Jesus and His Spirit can lead you out of hell and away from temptation and into paradise, virtue and freedom in obedience. So hear these few words, as they come from a place of friendship.
Defeating Sin: Overcoming Our Passions and Changing Forever is a book I recently finished by an Orthodox pastor, Joseph Huneycutt, from Texas. He wrote it for struggling people like you and me. About halfway he dedicates a section to what he calls the manifestations of the Passions. You probably know the Passions by their more popular name: The Seven Deadly Sins, pride, anger, lust, envy, gluttony, avarice and sloth. He takes each passion and briefly writes what he sees as the manifestations of each, or how they are expressed in everyday people.
You must understand now that Jesus brings freedom from sin, but, more often than not, we struggle, fight and even wage war against habitual lifestyles. Jesus has saved your life, here and later, and now, because the Scriptures tell us to strive for holiness--godly difference from the world--we do our part. Extremely important is also the realization that it is not just about the snuffing out of anger we desire. There's more. It's about the acquisition of, the obtaining of anger's opposite, the virtue that starts to sprout when we stamp anger out. In our case, patience. A word that seems dull to our modern ears because of its dearth of meaning. But it is absolutely vital for your flourishing.
Huneycutt quotes Elder Joseph the Hesychast:
You are delivered from this passion through love towards all humanity and true humility. Therefore, when anger comes, close your mouth tightly and do not speak to him who curses, dishonors, reproaches, or bothers you in any way without reason. Then this snake will writhe around in your heart, rise up to your throat, and (since you don't give it a way out) will choke and suffocate. When this is repeated several times, it will diminish and cease entirely. (77)
Now, listen to Huneycutt's manifestations, reading them slowly, letting them wash over you. And think not only how anger expresses itself but also how patience would be expressed, as anger's opposite, as our vitreous goal.
Resentment. Refusal to discern, accept, or fulfill God's vocation. Dissatisfaction with the talents, abilities, or opportunities He has given us. Unwillingness to face up to difficulties or sacrifices. Unjustified rebellion or complaint at the circumstances of our lives. Escape from reality or the attempt to force our will upon it. Transference to God, to our parents, to society, or to other individuals of the blame for our maladjustment; hatred of God or antisocial behavior. Cynicism. Annoyance at the contrariness of things: profanity or grumbling.
Pugnacity. Attack upon another in anger. Murder in deed or desire. Combativeness or nursing of grudges. Injury to another by striking, cursing, or insulting him; or by damaging his reputation or property. Quarrelsomeness, bickering, contradiction, nagging, rudeness, or snubbing.
Retaliation. Vengeance for wrongs real or imagined, or the plotting thereof. Hostility, sullenness, or rash judgment. Refusal to forgive or to offer or accept reconciliation. Unwillingness to love, to do good to, or to pray for enemies. Boycotting or ostracizing another for selfish reasons. Spoiling others' pleasure by uncooperativeness or disdain, because we have not got our way, or because we feel out of sorts or superior.
I'm not going to pretend that, on some fundamental level, some of your feelings are not justified. Life has been difficult on you. But you have taken seriously wrong turns in blaming your dying wife on God and transferring your anger and bitterness to the aching bodies of your beloved children. It is time you took responsibility for your disgraceful actions and with inspiration for redemption and sanctification, in Jesus' Spirit, journey toward healing and wholeness and the acquisition of the virtues, starting with patience. You never journey alone. Look up to the history of worthy saints before you, that great cloud of witnesses, who have modeled in blood, sweat, and tears what it means to be holy.
All quotations taken from, Joseph Huneycutt, Defeating Sin: Overing Our Passions and Changing Forever, (Salisbury, MA: Regina Orthodox Press, 2007).photo credit: ecstaticist via photopin cc