Thursday, December 15, 2011

A Much Needed Break

My original intention was to get all the posts on the seven deadly sins up before Christmas but it looks like this will be impossible due to lack of time. Michaela has been out of school all week due to a terrible stomach bug and I am packing stuff for the move. It's hectic around here.

Well, I might not be able to post about the seven deadly ones right now but I'm sure getting plenty of opportunity to conquer them! Sorry about the delay. I'll tackle the remaining sins after things settle down a bit around here.

I hope everyone is having a blessed Advent!

Friday, December 9, 2011

The Deadly Sin of Wrath

Photo source: Wikimedia Commons 



I prefer the term wrath rather than anger when speaking of this deadly sin. Wrath denotes a form of rage  while anger is an emotion that can, if it is just, bring about good. As in the case of acedia and sloth, wrath and anger can mean two separate things. When we think of the term wrath we imagine an  anger out of proportion to its cause. The deadly sins have been watered down a bit over the years and I believe we may have somewhat lost their true meaning as in the case of sloth/acedia. Acedia was the sin the early church wrote about but this was changed to sloth eventually. This also seems to be the case with wrath. Though the two are used interchangeably and I will use them this way in the post, I think wrath conveys the true definition of this deadly sin (Latin - ira) and we could consider anger a little offshoot of the much bigger sin of wrath. It's like comparing a forest fire with the flame from a match stick - one is far easier to put out than the other. Both can burn you if you  get careless though.

Wrath:
1. strong, stern, or fierce anger; deeply resentful indignation; ire.

2. vengeance or punishment as the consequence of anger.

Anger: a strong feeling of displeasure or hostility.

I liked the comparison of words denoting the various degrees of anger I found at http://www.thefreedictionary.com/anger because this expresses the point I'm trying to make when defining the two words and their offshoots.

Synonyms: anger, rage, fury, wrath, resentment, indignation

These nouns denote varying degrees of marked displeasure. Anger, the most general, is strong displeasure.Wrath applies especially to anger that seeks vengeance or punishment. Resentment refers to indignant smoldering anger generated by a sense of grievance while indignation is righteous anger at something wrongful, unjust, or evil.
 
                                                         ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
In terms of sin, it's clear that wrath is more than simply anger. Wrath is a distortion of anger. True anger seeks justice, wrath seeks vengeance. There's a big difference there. An anger that stems from a yearning for justice motivates, wrath annihilates. Anger properly channeled can build, wrath destroys. Anger can be merciful, wrath abhors mercy. Anger often stems from a love that seeks to change things, wrath from  hatred. Righteous anger has boundaries, wrath very few.  Righteous anger condemns the behavior, wrath condemns the person. In a nutshell, anger has its good points at times but wrath takes anger and becomes destructive instead of constructive.

Some of the signs and symptoms of wrath (unjust anger):
~ vengeful thoughts and behavior
~ irritability
~ fear
~ manipulative behavior
~ depression (can sometimes be a symptom of repressed anger)
~ mood swings
~ impatience
~ addictions (can be outlets for suppressed anger)
~ being overly sweet or too nice (weird but true sometimes)
~ compulsive behaviors
~ destructive behaviors such as road rage
~ insomnia
~ "bad" thoughts  that pop up often (the anger has to go somewhere)
~ chronic tardiness
~ passive aggressive traits
~ difficulty forgiving
~ neck and back problems ( anger makes people stiff and more vulnerable to injuries)
~ chronic illnesses and illness in general (stress compromises the immune system)
~ heart problems
~ strokes

Anger may not be the direct cause of all health issues but it certainly aggravates them. Humans are both body and soul and stress definitely affects our health.  Whether anger is sinful or not depends on the will. If the will consents to the anger then this is when sin comes into play.

What about repressed anger?

This is the area where I ran into trouble. Outwardly, I am very mild mannered and if someone had told me years ago that I had a problem with anger I probably would have laughed. "Me? But I rarely lose my temper!" And that would be true...I didn't get angry very often. (Barely ever, which in itself should have been a clue that things were awry. After all, anger is an emotion and it's not like God forgot to give me the full set.) So, you can imagine my surprise when the Lord decided to reveal that I most certainly DID have a problem with anger. God showed me that I had learned to completely shut down my anger as a child because I wasn't "allowed" to get angry. The thing is - people can't totally shut down their anger without harming themselves, can they?  Even to this day I struggle with calling anger what it is. (Probably the reason I study it so much too.) If we think of the words suppressed, repressed, oppressed,  and depressed  we see the word "pressed" in all of them. Anger is crushing, pressing, and heavy and that's exactly how I often felt inside. If we aim it at others we crush them and if we aim it at ourselves we crush ourselves. People can only handle a certain amount of pressure before it takes its toll and anger is not something we want to carry around with us every day.

Some would say that when we are angry it's better to "let others have it" rather than suppress it. To "let it fly" and to heck with the consequences. The trouble with this is that the consequences of being on the receiving end of this type of anger can be tragic because everyone suffers the brunt of it. Those who "let others have it" do indeed pile their anger on others while still keeping it themselves at the same time. Anger is one of those things that grows and spreads when you share it too generously.

Anger turned outward can bring about oppression, while anger turned inward can bring on depression. Neither of these is healthy, both harm people. Anger can also bring on physical illnesses. Stress really IS a killer.

The opposing virtues to anger/wrath are meekness and patience. The more someone practices patience, the stronger this virtue gets. We all have daily opportunities to develop this virtue - during traffic jams,  in long lines at stores, dealing with cranky customers, etc...

If I were to recommend Scripture passages for the battle against anger (including suppressed/repressed anger), the Psalms would win hands down. We find reflected in the Psalms every emotion under the sun and I believe praying the Psalms gives us a safe place to release our own emotions without harming ourselves or others.

Empathy is another weapon against anger. When we place ourselves in someone else's shoes and understand that they are wounded just like us it takes the sting out of anger. As with envy, it's important to pray for those who have offended us in some way.

 It's not uncommon for those raised in dysfunctional families to suppress their emotions. There may be a lot of hurt, pain, and fear hiding underneath suppressed/repressed anger so forgiveness will likely play a key role when the Lord helps you work through these issues. Trust the Holy Spirit to set the pace for your healing - it can be somewhat overwhelming if we try to push things too quickly. Healing will come over time if we allow the Holy Spirit to go about his work without trying to outrun Him (which leads to a loss of peace).

Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun set on your anger, and do not leave room for the devil.
                                                                                    Eph. 4:26-27

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Sabbath Moments


Sabbath Moments is a weekly meme hosted by Colleen at Thoughts on Grace. Come check out Colleen's site and read some of the other Sabbath Moments linked there!

We've had very warm weather the past few weeks- Springlike with temperatures in the sixties! I've even been able to leave the slider open for a while each day! Usually by this time of the year it's pretty cold and I'm enjoying this gorgeous weather while it lasts. We are doing some house hunting. We've looked at a few houses in a nearby town and have an appointment to look at another one tomorrow. I hope it's as pretty as it looks online. It sits on a two acre lot and is just a couple of minutes away from a lake. After living in a condo for so long we are looking forward to having land of our own. Maybe I'll finally get a chance to plant a garden of my own (and that makes me smile) soon!

I'm caught between laughter and horror while writing the series on the seven deadly sins this past month. On one hand it's humorous how blind I can be, on the other hand I'm a teeny bit horrified by the amount of work still ahead of me. No wonder the Lord impressed the words "Put your hands to the plow" upon me because I have the sinking suspicion that I was sitting beside the plow in his eyes. Being a bit dense when it comes to where I am spiritually, it has even crossed my mind that I may have been laying down next to the plow. No doubt God thinks he's being pretty funny by inspiring me to post on the seven deadlies...He knew what I'd find. To be honest, I often find the means He uses to reveal things about myself (that I'd maybe prefer to ignore?) rather humorous too. I admire his gentleness.

Speaking of humor, I loved your new book, Victor! Thank you for all the laughs!

Friday, December 2, 2011

Facing Off with Envy

Envy is sorrow when faced with the talents, gifts, material goods and blessings of others. Envy isn't looking at others and noticing their gifts and virtues. Emulating someone is not envy. Looking up to someone is not envy.  Wanting what they have AND feeling sad or wishing they did not have it is envy. Looking upon someone as a hero or model is good and can help us by motivating us to improve ourselves. Saints come to mind here and having a saint as a role model can help one progress in virtue. There's humility in looking up to someone else. Humility looks up, envy looks down. This makes perfect sense since one is from heaven while the other is from hell. The humble person may try to emulate his or her hero, an envious person has no heroes because envy distorts truth and seeks to strip the heroic qualities away from others. Humility applauds, envy belittles.

Peter Kreeft, in his book Back to Virtue, has this to say  about envy: Envy removes joy because envy is the opposite of gratitude, and gratitude is the seedbed of joy. This particular sentence stuck with me because it shows us one of the ways to combat envy ...gratitude. Cultivating a grateful heart is one of the first steps toward living a life of joy and  peace. One of the ways we can do this is by meditating on God's deep and individual love for each and every one of us. In God's eyes we are each unique and utterly irreplaceable. Every single person on this planet has a mission and purpose that is unique to that person. No other person can do this particular "job for God" because they are not equipped for it. I can't fulfill your mission and you can't fulfill mine. We live in a culture that has lost it's respect for the sanctity of human life and the end product of this "ingratitude" is a society that sees people as easily replaced. Simply being immersed in such an atmosphere can result in  feeling unlovable and disposable. God, on the other hand, sees everyone as "special". He loves us so much that He refuses to live without us and has gone so far as to have a place in heaven waiting for each one of us. He even tells us this is so! We are the ones who reject Him... He NEVER rejects us. Pure love is incapable of rejecting anyone. When we begin to really understand and trust in the immensity and purity of this love a grateful heart becomes very easy to cultivate.

While writing these posts on the seven deadly sins I have noticed a common thread that weaves through them :

Fear.

Another blogger commented on this too. The seven deadly sins seem to be fear-based for most of us. Fear of not being lovable, fear of not measuring up, fear of our own sinfulness, fear that, because there IS a hell, then maybe we could just possibly end up there. Perfect love casts out fear and this is the reason that I believe meditating on God's love is the surest path of healing for us. When we grow in the knowledge of God's tremendous love for us gratitude comes easily and a grateful heart is a loving heart.

Along with practicing the virtue of charity, envy can be opposed by meditating on Scripture passages that speak of God's great love for his people as a whole and for the individual person. I'll list a few Scripture verses that are helpful at the end of this post. Another thing that I think may be helpful to those battling against envy is understanding that other people make us holier. It's very difficult to grow in holiness alone. One of the ways we grow in virtue is through our interactions with others. Also, when we help others grow in holiness...we grow in holiness. God likes it when we ask Him to make saints out of others. I ask him to do this all the time because God loves to answer this particular prayer. One of the drawbacks of living in such a competitive world is that it can pit us against one another if we allow it to. This is not God's way but man's way. God wants us to help one another grow in holiness. Praying for those we envy is very helpful in overcoming this capital sin.

Here are some helpful Scripture passages on love and gratitude:
~ John 3:16
~ Eph 2: 4-5
~ Rom. 8: 37-39
~ Jer. 29:11
~ Psalm   86
~ 1 Jn 4: 9-11
~ Gal. 2:20
~ Psalm 136
~ Col. 2: 6-7
~ Heb. 12:28-29