Thursday, April 10, 2014

How About Lying: Are There Good Lies?

Again, Saint Dorotheos offers us great insight, this time on the topic of lying.  He tells us there are three kinds of lies: 1) Lying in thinking; 2) Lying verbally; 3) Lying through one's own way of life.

The one who lies in his thinking is one who is always suspicious of other's actions. He thinks others are always doing things against himself. He says, "they are always talking about me." When he is spoken to he thinks its an attempt to bother him or criticize him.  He is always suspicious of others. He thinks others said or did this or that because of him. The problem is, nothing he thinks is true, its all based on his suspicion.  Saint Dorotheos tells us that from this comes "curiosity, slander, eavesdropping, quarreling and condemnation." How often have you caught yourself eavesdropping seeking to hear what others are saying thinking they may be talking about yourself. How often do you take the gestures or facial expressions of others to have a negative meaning about you? This is an often forgotten form of lying. There is no way we can know what the other person is really thinking.  Their expression may be due to their own difficulties, not yours.  How about when you see someone on the street and notice the way they dress and then make a judgement about them. You label them as lazy, delinquent, or even a prostitute. This is again a form of lying as you know nothing about these people and make up your own lies about them.  

Saint Dorotheos says,
"It is impossible to learn the state of a person's soul from that (their appearance). Therefore never trust your suspicions for evan a straight rule can be made crooked by a crooked one. Suspicions are not true and harm us... Nothing is graver that suspicions. They are so harmful that if we keep them for a long time, they begin to convince us that we clearly see things that do not exist and never happened."
Lying by words occurs when we make up excuses for our failures. Let's say you are too lazy to go to Church or any other event. You meet a friend whom you normally meet at this event and he asks you where you were. You reply with something like, "I didn't feel well," or "I had a fever," or some other excuse that is untrue. Another example Saint Dorotheos gives is one who wants something from another person.  He does not ask for it outright, but begins to ask in a round about way. He may say something like, "I suffer this and I need this."  All these sins arise from a dsire for our own pleasure.  We want to hide our passions, our selfishness, our ambitions or our laziness. So we make up excuses or lie about our motivations.

Now there is the case for a good lie.  If a friend's life is in danger because of someone who wants to hurt them and they come to you asking for the whereabouts of your friend, it may be proper to not tell this person where your friend is or to deceive him in some way. But we are to do this only when necessary.  Saint Dorotheos says, 
"He must do this rarely and with the fear of God, showing to them his intention and need, and then God will protect him because even this harms the soul."
The final category is the one who lives a whole life in lies. Saint Dorotheos says, 
"the person that lies his whole life is one who, while in reality is dissolute, feigns temperance, and being greedy, he speaks about charity and praises sympathy.  His is proud and admires humility." 
What we need to develop is true humility so we are free to confess our own weaknesses, admit our sinfulness and not hide them. This is the condition of those who say when discussing the importance of confession say, "I have not sinned, I have not stolen anything, I have not killed anyone, why do I need to confess." They lead a life of lies, not being honest about their true condition.  

When we have humility the Saint tells us that we are able and willing to accuse ourselves. With this honesty also comes sympathy for our neighbors.  We no longer have to justify our superiority over others by pretending to possess virtues we do not have. We all find ourselves doing this. Do we really think we can hide our true nature from others?  How foolish this approach to life is. I have caught myself so many times in this sinful condition. For me, pride is a hard condition to overcome.  Each time I catch myself, it is such a relief to admit my true poor condition and ask for the Lord's help to overcome it. If we are not truthful we gain nothing but an oversized ego that is based on lies.

Saint Dorotheos says,
Let us avoid falsehood, brethren, so as to be delivered from the evil one and let us struggle to obtain the truth so that we may be united with Him who said, "I am the truth" (Jn 14:6). Let God make us worthy of His own truth.

Reference: Abba Dorotheos: Practical Teaching on the Christian Life, pp161-166 

Monday, April 7, 2014

Dealing with Resentment

How often does it happen that after we have a disagreement with someone and we have apologized and repented, that we still have lingering within us a seed of resentment? What happens when this is the case? The next time we run into conflict with them the old case rises again to make the current disturbance even worse. Or, when we hear someone else complain about this person, we are glad to hear this. Or, when we see something good happen to this person, we become upset to see them honored in such a way. This is all a case of rendering evil for evil.

Saint Dorotheos gives us an analogy:
A person lighting a fire first has a small piece of tinder. This represents the word of the brother who has upset him. This little fire is very feeble. What significance has the word of your bother?  If you put up with it you blow out the small fire, but if you begin to think to yourself, "Why did he say that to me? I myself can answer him. If he did not want to hurt me, he wouldn't have said that and believe me, I can upset him too." In this case, you add small pieces of wood to the fire or some other fuel like the person that lights a fire and you produce smoke which is agitation.
This hanging on to issues with lingering resentment is probably the greatest problem in all relationships, especially in marriages. We are not good at cleansing ourselves from the remnant of resentment. Even if we do repent and make amends we let hurts linger, only to have them rise up again and lead us to sin and turmoil.

How do we get rid of these remnants of resentment? Here is what Saint Dorotheos says,
By praying for the person that upset him, with his while heart, saying, "God help my brother (spouse) and through his prayers, me." Thus, he prays fervently for his brother (spouse), which is evidence of sympathy and love, and, at the same time, he humbles himself by asking for help through his brother's (spouse's) prayers. Where there is sympathy, love and humility how can anger, resentment or any other passion prevail?
This is a common teaching of the Church Fathers. Evagrius writes, "The person that prays for his enemies has no resentment."

Try it. I think you will find that it makes a difference. In dealing with sin in our lives it is through the work of God's grace that we are healed. We only need to ask for it in our prayers.

Reference: Abba Dorotheos: Practical Teaching on the Christian Life, pp 153-158

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Why We Should Blame Ourselves

Saint Dorotheos give us a most difficult teaching. He says, 
"The root cause of every disturbance, if we examine it carefully, is from not blaming ourselves.... Whatever happens to us, whether it be damage, or dishonor or any other affliction, we deem ourselves worthy of it and are never troubled."
We logically respond, "if someone upsets me and I have have not done anything to justify this, how and why should I think of myself being worthy of this?"  Saint Dorotheos answers this by saying that if we search ourselves more deeply with "fear of God" we will find that there was a word, a gesture, a facial expression or a deed that triggered the seemingly unjust action in the other person. Then, if we think further still not seeing any error, we can search into the past and think about how we might have offended this person at some earlier time causing their attitude that caused them to act in a way that upset us at this time. Even digging more deeply, maybe they suffer from some other sin or had a recent encounter that upset them and is being reflected in their current action against us. Therefore, our reaction was not called for we should have been more sympathetic to their distress. Saint Dorotheos says, "Therefore, as I said, if a person searches himself in the fear of God and diligently examines his own conscience, he will certainly find that he is guilty."

The very fact that another person upsets us indicates that we have hidden in our subconsciousness a passion that is triggered by another person's action. When someone does something that upsets us it gives us cause to dig deep into our inner being to discover why we react in this way.  We know all our brothers and sisters are sinners like ourselves. Why would their action be cause to turn us to anger or being upset? If we have love for our neighbor as we are called to by Scripture, we would have compassion for the plight of our brethren.  We would not act in a way that would cause them further difficulty, but instead, try to act in a way that would lead them to overcome their sinfulness. Our caring thoughts would then be directed towards them rather than ourselves.

I think this teaching gets at the core of the meaning of "love your enemy".  When our soul is strong and our heart pure, we can withstand any affront by another person without being upset. We become able to maintain our inner calm no matter how we are attacked. Besides, what good does it do to get upset?  What is achieved in worldly terms other than create distress and turmoil? We lose our inner peace and most likely separate ourselves from God, and are now unable to respond in a godly loving manner.

Saint Dorotheso writes,
In truth, whatever we may suffer, we suffer it because of our sins. If the saints suffered, they suffered for God's name or to demonstrate their virtue for the benefit of many or to gain greater reward from God. As for us wretches, how can we say this? We sin like this daily and in seeking to satisfy our passion, we abandoned the right path, which the Fathers spoke about, that of self-accusation. Each one of us follows the wrong path, tries on every occasion to put the case against his brother and throw the burden of responsibility upon him. Each one of us is negligent and keeps nothing, but demands that our neighbor keeps the commandments.
Let's challenge ourselves to reflect on this teaching. Think about your inner peace and how important it is to retain it and how easy it is to lose it. How often we fail to think in loving terms about the condition of our neighbor. We know we are better servants of our Lord when we maintain this inner peace. Try using those instances where we are upset by others to learn something about our own sinfulness and how we can improve ourselves. This is all part of the way of repentance that brings us closer to God.

Reference: Abba Dorotheos: Practical teaching on the Christain Life, pp 143-150