Riddled with the Worm of Bad Temper

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We ought to be very careful to keep watch on ourselves. When a harbor is full of ships it is easy for them to run against each other, particularly if they are secretly riddled by the worm of bad temper.

St. John Climacus, 4

I have seen my four living children nearly grown. The youngest turns 17 tomorrow (which is quite old as we all know). Her older sisters are in their twenties and married. Her brother is enjoying his first few months of marriage while still in college. When I think of my life with these marvelous people, I am staggered by how quickly years have sped by. I am stricken with grief at the many words which failed to be spoken, and with compunction at many of the words which were.

St. John Climacus, in his classic work, The Ladder, looks at the inner life of monastics. And though they pray more and fast with greater rigor, their life is not categorically different from that of the rest of us. We share, after all, one human nature. And thus it is that we can read the advice from an ancient monastic of the desert and find that it fits our own hearts and the struggles within our own families and social climates.

How many words I have spoken in haste with unkindness to one of my children – or my spouse – when there was no provocation! It is to such words that St. John refers when he speaks of the “worm of bad temper.” To awaken in the morning in a bad mood was one of my great indulgences as a teen. It later was curbed when I lived with a group of committed Christians in my early twenties. There was no room for “grumpiness.”

Living with others – particularly with my immediate family – has been the most important crucible of the inner life. It is one thing to be a father – it is another thing to be a father who happens to be a priest. The children with whom you are sharp in the morning have the great spiritual trial of forgiving you and seeing you as a priest later in the day at the altar of God. By God’s grace we learned to beg forgiveness of one another – and I was usually the one who stood first in need of begging. Fortunately my children are good hearted and forgive very willingly.

But the interior world of the heart that our closest relations and associations reveal to us is indeed the great battleground of the faith. St. John the Theologian says it all very simply:

If any one says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen (1 John 4:20).

Of course there is a world of difference between grumpiness and hate. But hate is a plant that does not flourish in the ground of kindness and meekness. Grumpiness is perhaps a minor thing but can make a fertile soil for far more serious.

I have to quickly recognize that my family has taught me much. One of my children once said to me: “Our family is a lot like a monastery – and you’re the abbot.” I smiled at the time – though it was true. It was the crucible where the love of God was being forged in our hearts. If we could not love our own flesh and blood, how hard it would be to love another.

That two of my children have taken up the cross of being the wives of priests only makes me pray more for them, and to think that my wife clearly set an example that was worth imitating. But each to his own call.

For all of us, in our various states and stages of life, the battleground is much the same. Most of our battles are with matters small and insignificant of themselves. A worm is but a tiny creature! But unless we tend to the battle moment by moment – struggling for love and forgiveness – then something other than love and forgiveness will triumph in our hearts. There is no neutral ground in the heart.

To my daughter who has tolerated me for seventeen years I pray: “Many years!” And ask that Christ “make her yoke easy and her burden light.” And that for all of us, we may take up His cross in our battles (small and great) and triumph over every temptation – even bad tempers!

19 Responses to “Riddled with the Worm of Bad Temper”

  1. Nicholas Says:

    Thank you, Father, for yet another inspiring post. A bad temper is a difficult passion to overcome, and your words provide much-needed motivation to keep up the struggle.

  2. Discipulus Says:

    Anger is a terrible, destructive sin. It is an acid that eats oneself and everyone exposed to it.

    Unfortunately, I speak from experience.

  3. handmaid Says:

    Here is something I quite like; The Spiritual Apothacary

    A certain person went to a medical center an inquired of the doctor, “Do you have a medicine that would treat sins?” The doctor answered with a discourse:

    “We have. Take a root of obedience, add a leaf of patience, the flower of purity, and the fruit of good works. Crush it together in a pot of silence, and sieve it through the discernment of humility. Blend it into water from tears of prayer and pour it into a melting pot. Heat it with fiery divine love. Cover it with charity, and when it is ready, salt it with brotherly love. Take it with a spoon of repentance, and you will be healthy.”

  4. artisticmisfit Says:

    It is interesting you mention hate. I didn’t actually feel hate until last year, 8 years into my Christian journey. I found the only “cure” for hate was to separate myself from those inciting the feeling to the best of my ability. I also know that Jesus Christ uses the word hate to denote ultimate priorities and in this case these people I hated were people outside the church seeking to do me harm so perhaps my hate was God’s way of telling me I had ventured into the wrong territory. I certainly feel better now that I am not interacting with them anymore. So you never know.

  5. nancy Says:

    My very best wishes to your lovely daughter on her 17th birthday, and may she paint many more icons!!! She’s a joy, and I enjoyed knowing her just a little this past summer.

  6. Pseudo-Polymath » Blog Archive » Friday Highlights Says:

    […] The worm of temper. […]

  7. MuleChewingBriars Says:

    Father –

    I have the extreme good fortune of having met one of your sons-in-law, who is currently serving a parish in Louisiana. May God grant him many years, and may my daughter make so wise a choice.

  8. AR Says:

    AM: I identify with your surprise. I’ve been a Christian at least in intent all my life but it was only a year or so ago that I realized I was feeling conscious hatred. Looking back I can see that my habits of thinking and feeling had been leading up to it for years – first pride and prideful resentment of those who didn’t accept and appreciate me, then beginning to wish that I never had to see them again, then beginning to loathe not only those who had wronged me, but those I had wronged or who had witnessed my wrongdoing. It’s odd how you can be seeking God on one hand and journeying towards death on the other…I guess that’s a function of this earthly life when nothing is set in stone yet. I do know that hatred is a destruction of my own spirit. I was noticing that death of the spirit coming on for a number of years but only since coming to this Church was I able to realize that my anger and bitterness was contributing to it.

    I remember that when I first noticed this inward dying, about two years ago, I wrote a blogpost mourning over it, not knowing what was causing it. I knew it was there because it was beginning to affect my creativity and ability to enjoy life’s good things. I assumed it was happening through sorrow…and that may have been part of it. But the Lord suffered sorrow, too, and it didn’t induce him to loathe the existance of those who inflicted it on him and even in death he remained the giver of life. Somehow even as I wrote that blogpost I had the hope in God to believe that whatever was causing this death of the spirit would be alleviated through his power. “I will live again” I wrote. And it was true. I wonder if this is in part how faith saves us, that it keeps us searching for God even when other elements of our life are turning us against him.

  9. Dave Whalen Says:

    Father,
    Thanks for this reminder, I too am a father (of 3), and my fear is to get so tied up with worldly things that I neglect them and regret saying things to them I shouldn’t have or not saying things to them that I should have.

    Thanks,
    Dave

  10. artisticmisfit Says:

    AR,
    Thanks for that entry. Often times I say to the Lord I am dying inside when I am enduring spiritual pain and suffering. Today I feel at peace, but I also feel greatly disappointed. The church’s ways are not my ways, and sometimes I feel like I don’t stand a chance in the church.

  11. fatherstephen Says:

    AR,

    I appreciate your candid description of this process within us. I remind myself and others that “grace is slow” and that to persevere in the life of the Church sharing as fully in it as possible is the balm that heals the soul. Not to lose heart, but to gain patience. May God help us all.

  12. thegreatone336 Says:

    I myself right now am on this “Daniel Fast” seeking God diligently for deliverance from my temper and selfishness for it has almost destroyed my life and family.

    http://wofpm.wordpress.com

  13. fatherstephen Says:

    thegreatone,

    One suggestion, if I might be so bold to suggest one, is that in addition to prayer, each time your temper flares, you immediately ask forgiveness of the person whom who have directed it towards. Humility is difficult medicine but very strong. The act of asking forgiveness directly of others is a powerful antidote to our anger. I speak from experience.

  14. thegreatone336 Says:

    Thank you for that advice I will take such into consideration.

    http://wofpm.wordpress.com

  15. Phil Says:

    Thank you for this post, Father. I find that anger is a difficult temptation to overcome. As a relatively new parent, I routinely suffer the thoughts you have so elegantly written of:

    “When I think of my life with these marvelous people, I am staggered by how quickly years have sped by. I am stricken with grief at the many words which failed to be spoken, and with compunction at many of the words which were.”

    I pray the Lord will have mercy on me for my unworthiness at being a steward of the wonderful life He has given into the care of my wife and me. How hard it is to be a parent! But aren’t children indescribably wonderful gifts?

    A blessed birthday to your daughter! May she have many more.

  16. thegreatone336 Says:

    Children are a wonderful gift and I love mine to the best of my ability I myself as well am I new parent under the sun, and I hope that God gives me the wisdom and knowledge that I should pour into these vessels.

  17. fatherstephen Says:

    Phil,

    Thank you for the well wishes. We are just beginning the celebration. She found roses on the windshield of her car (how could they have gotten there during school?) and more at home.

    Each year at the service of Forgiveness Vespers when the priest and all the congregation mutually prostrate themselves before one another (this takes a very long time) and ask forgiveness – I do pretty good until my family comes to me, I always start crying and don’t usually manage to stop until much later. What a gift it is that the Church asks us to do this at least once a year. And how much more valuable it is to do it more often (especially in the home). Children will never learn to truly ask forgiveness unless their parents teach them by example. They will not be humble unless we teach them humility by our example. Teaching a child false humility through fear is deeply misguided and damaging to the soul. May God give us the gift of humility and love in the face of so much that is arrogant on our part.

  18. Fr. Bill Says:

    Thank you Father for this spiritual food and the many good words you post for all of us to read. I’m an American in this age and an Episcopal priest and I spend up to four hours a day driving in Los Angeles — there’s a lot of fodder for anger. Sometimes, especially of late, that anger bubbles up and I bleed all over my family and even my flock. But, when I reflect on human history, sacred history and my own history there is no more reason for letting anger consume me now than there has been for any of the saints.

    As the (adoptive) father of two little girls and also as a priest I have so many reasons to give that anger over to God so I can truly see my family and my flock and be present to them to see, to listen, to counsel, to love and most of all be the instrument of Christ I am called to be as a husband, father and “Father.”

    Thank you Father Stephen for sharing and instructing us your readers in the True Faith.

    God Bless.

    Father Bill

  19. The WebElf Report Says:

    […] FR. STEPHEN: Riddled with the Worm of Bad Temper. A Common Faith: Deification and Grace …. […]

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