I received a question here, but my answer was getting so long that I felt it warranted it’s own post!
Here’s a part of the question, but please go to the original and full question because MS gives a full scenario with things that he/she has tried:
What if I do stay away from the people that I can’t handle or can’t tolerate, for a certain amount of time for that same reason you posed, moreso to avoid myself getting angry and sinning. And when I do finally come back after clearing my head and have to face these people once more, I still can’t tolerate them, or rather, their attitude.
Sorry for taking so long to post this, “it’s Lent” 😛 so I’ve been really preoccupied and just logged in.
I don’t disagree much with your approach.
There’s a difference between liking someone and loving someone. Loving someone means that I’m willing to deny myself for that person. Liking is a whole other thing. We deal with people with their entire packages of pros and cons, just as others deal with us with those pros and cons. I might be able to see that someone has cons that don’t go well with my cons. For example, the person’s imperfection at telling the truth is not lining up well with your imperfection at being patient. Each person (theoretically) has the responsibility to try and improve and work hard at his vices and imperfections, but we are not going to arrive at perfection a) quickly and b) independently. What I mean by the latter point, is that another person’s imperfections will bring out either a vice or a virtue in me. Usually it’s the vice. The continual interaction with others is what helps me to become more in the Image and Likeness of God, as it helps cast light on my true state.
So, if you are totally unable to deal with the person, then yes, avoidance is good for a season. If, however, we will always be intolerant of others’ imperfections (and I’m not even remotely suggesting that you are one of these people!), then we are arrogant and egotistical. lol So there are various things that can be tried that are of various levels of (im)perfection!
I don’t mean going to the person and saying, “Hey, you’re a liar.” But, exposing that you believe that some inconsistency with Truth has occurred. This may mean saying something like, “I was under the impression that x is what happened because of condition a, but you are telling me that actually y happened because of b, but they are not adding up. Can you help me understand the discrepancy?” Ask this really giving the benefit of the doubt, that maybe the person is not, in his view, actually lying. Maybe it really is that person’s perception of reality. If so, allow him to explain. If the person responds with another lie or an excuse, say something very simple but true, if appropriate, “Oh. Well this all seems very contradictory and it makes me feel uncomfortable. I guess I’ll just have to accept that.” You’ve now pointed out that you’re not convinced without being aggressive toward the person, you’ve spoken a truth, and you’ve given an opportunity for explanation. You haven’t sinned here if all of this is done objectively. You may even find out that the person wasn’t lying.
b) Avoid the specific situations.
So, you know that person A when he discusses person B, is going to start yelling, screaming and cussing. Random example. Ensure that you are not in a position that Person B will be brought up, so that you’re not always encountering the thing that affects/upsets you. This requires work. If Person A keeps wanting to bring up Person B, change the subject. Or, lead the conversation before it gets there to not be about Person B. If Person A is adamant on talking about it, then you should say, firmly, “Listen, I know you might want to talk about Person B right now, but I really can’t. It gets me worked up negatively and I really want to avoid that.” You’ve made the weakness about yourself (which is true), and you’ve avoided the scenario that makes you impatient and upset with Person B. Now change it to any kind of characteristic, and there may be some form of avoidance that you can do. With the lying person, steer conversations as much as possible to things that are neutral or positive that the person is not likely to lie about. You will not always be able to control this, but you can do your best in some situations.
c) Make excuses for the person
This is a higher level. Instead of just being angry, try and make excuses for why a person behaves the way he does. Perhaps the person is petrified for his job. That doesn’t make lying right or okay, but it might make you more empathetic toward the person. Perhaps the person was raised in an environment where lying was normal, or where lying was necessary for survival. Perhaps the person is in a tight financial or social situation and is really worried about losing everything, and so he is lying for protection of his vulnerability. Find reasons and factors that might make the person behave as he behaves.
d) Find the good in the person
Actively go out of your way to identify what that person does well. Think of where they are gifted, where they are above average, where they bring joy to others. Tell them that they do those things. If they’re cheerful, tell them that their cheerfulness is very beautiful. If they are patient, tell them that you are appreciative of their patience. Basically, turn your eyes away from how you feel about them negatively, and open your eyes to where they are actually good, and identify it. You may be helping this person more than you know in doing this, and you yourself may actually start to appreciate them more. You may begin to see things as, “Okay, yes, I’m aware that he lies, but I’m more aware now that in spite of that, he’s funny, he’s kind, he’s [insert virtue here]”. There’s no way that there’s nothing good about the person. So find out what it is. If you can’t identify it, ask the person to talk more about himself. Find out what he likes, what he enjoys, what skills he thinks he has. Become human. This may make him feel more comfortable around you or more comfortable being vulnerable, and may help him deal with his weaknesses.
e) Do good for the person
Beyond just identifying what is good in him, do whatever works of love that you can do for the person, irrespective of his disease. Find out where there is something that he needs or that could be of value, and in an appropriate way, use the gifts that God has given you, and direct it at other people. This is a work of love that will allow the work of the Spirit to grow in you. This may be the beginning of both your repentance.
This is an even higher level. Ask yourself what you are doing that may be a cause for his sin. Maybe you are highly reactionary to him, and he feels like lying will help him. Maybe you treated someone badly. Then, go deeper, think not just of how you might have responsibility in this particular situation, and ask yourself when you have lied, when you have fallen short, and when you have been guilty of the same thing that is upsetting you. This may move you to both your own repentance, but also for you to have some kind of compassion on the person in front of you.
Think of people with whom you have a form of friendship, but who do things that you dislike or disagree with. How do you deal with it with those that you like? Then try and apply that to the person with whom you are frustrated.
“Because we become careless about our own faults and do not lament our own death (as the Fathers put it), we lose the power to correct ourselves and we are always at work on our neighbour. Nothing angers God so much or strips a man so bare or carries him so effectively to his ruin as calumniating, condemning, or despising his neighbour.”
(Dorotheos of Gaza: Discourses and sayings: p. 132)
g) Understanding sin as disease.
If you can see sin as disease, it may help you have peace toward the person. It doesn’t mean not being upset at the evil itself (this is holy), but recognising that the sins of others are diseases, and that being angry with someone for their disease is not loving of the person. If the person is under your care or you have a strong enough relationship with him to point out to him when he is doing things that worsen his disease, then in love you can tell him. If not, then you should feel compassion for him in his illnesses, because the side effects of the illness are hard. With lying, for example, the consequence of this disease is false friendships (if any) or isolation. A person whose life is built on a lie is not making real friends, he’s making friends who are liking a fictitious character, which means they are not true friends of that person. If he’s being himself but lying all the time, eventually the lies will catch up with him, and the distrust and the burden of lying will hurt him. It will hurt that person greatly. Sins are diseases. We all have them.
“We remain all the time against one another, grinding one another down. Because each considers himself right and excuses himself, as I was saying, all the while keeping none of the Commandments yet expecting his neighbour to keep the lot!”
– Dorotheos of Gaza: Dicourses and Sayings (p. 145)
h) Accept the person
This is more divine. This is to say that, yes, I see that you are doing something wrong, but I simply accept that you do it. Acceptance is different than condoning. If I have made excuses for the person and also realised my own short-comings, then it is easier to say, “God accepts me, in spite of me; I ought to also accept others.” If I have been able to see the good in that person as well as the bad in me, then I can say with more real-ness, that “Yes, this is a person who is wounded and broken in some ways, but who is also gifted in some ways, just like me.” I might have less contempt and more patience. This, obviously, is painfully hard, but this is the part that is love. Love is denying myself for others. So, in spite of my anger that a person does something wrong, that I am able to accept them as they are. Our sins are against God and against others, just as much as that person’s, and yet He accepts both of us. I know I sound redundant, but it’s because it’s mind-boggling the mercies of God, and that we are able to attain this level of mercy and forgiveness through Him. In other words, its like remembering how our Lord said, “A certain man had two debtors…” – both were debtors, even if the debts were inequal. I think this kind can only come by living a true life of prayer – by being in Communion with God in your thoughts and habits throughout the day, so that you are seeing the world in and through the eyes of God, and consequently you see everyone with mercy.
i) Finally, if unable to do any of these things, sometimes a person’s handicap and another person’s handicaps don’t go well together until a person is able to get their handicap under control. Let’s say we’re all in a room and we’re all handicapped (because we are). Let’s say that the person on the wheelchair is doing wheelies uncontrollably and without looking and has lost control of themselves. For safety purposes, it may be necessary for everyone to step back from the person who is doing that, because they will be harmed. Someone in the room might have the skill set to help the person, and if he does, he should do it. Another person might be able and willing to put himself in harm’s way for the person (i.e. love!), and throw himself in front of the person to slow him down or stop him. If we are not those two kinds of heroes, then, until the person in the wheelchair is safely not out of control, then we ought to keep a safe distance. I must, however, at all times:
a) desire to be able to interact with the person
b) have compassion for that person and
c) see the good and the value in that person as a fellow human being and son of God
j) I didn’t add prayer to the list because you had already listed it in your methods of approach in your question. I would just emphasise that the prayer shouldn’t just be, “Lord, help that person stop lying”, it should be, “Lord, help him with his illness, but also help me with mine, and teach me to love all as you do. If possible, grant me even not to see any evil in anyone, but only Your image and likeness.” Pray that you learn to love them as He does, or, that you be able to love in His Name. This is not hypothetical, but real.
Here’s Abba Dorotheos’ advice about the prayer:
“How then can this be put right? [animosity with my neighbour]
By prayer right from the heart for the one who had annoyed him, such as, ‘O God, help my brother and me through his prayers.’ In this he is interceding for his brother, which is a sure sign of sympathy and love, and he is humiliating himself by asking help through his brother’s prayers. Where there is sympathy and love and humility, how can wrath and other passions develop?”
– Dorotheos of Gaza: Dicourses and Sayings, p. 154
I know this was really long-winded and I really hope that I didn’t totally digress from what you were asking!
Pray for me.