There is probably nothing in the universe that will calm & change your heart faster than praying for people who make you insane with rage.
It’s also a fantastic way to alienate & annoy the sort of people (nearly every human on Earth) who feel entitled to their rage.
I haven’t written here in a while. I was keeping a private journal, then stopped, writing nothing at all, which is an odd thing for a writer to do, let alone an economically disastrous thing. But as is the case with me when I suddenly stop doing something, I was exercising a spiritual practice.
I am vexingly given a great deal of these by my priest, whom I grudgingly admit is always right. I had been reading Story of a Soul, which many of you (okay, 5 out of my 7 readers) know to be the autobiography of St. Therese of Lisieux. It is delightful, and, as another priest in my parish says, “So beautiful. Also, such drama.”
Therese is a little French girl, & therefore slightly over the top.
But it is really quite spectacular, & essential reading for anyone whose vocation is love, no matter what they are doing with their lives.
So I’m reading this lovely book & having a somewhat spirited conversation with priest & teenaged goddaughter when he whips out a hardbound copy of Imitation of Christ and exhorts me to read that first. After all, it’s the source material for St. Therese’s entire existence.
“Fine,” I say, & take it.
It takes me a while to get through. It was written during a time when it was incredibly useful to tell people they were going to Hell. We don’t really do that anymore; we spend more time telling folks how easy it is to get into Heaven, since Jesus died for us (also love the Lord your God with all your heart & all your soul, etc). But back then, people used to randomly stab each other, gut cats for medicinal purposes, and literally believe that red haired women were brides of Satan (imagine such a thing!). Yes, people do that now, but they were much worse back then.
Everybody loves to talk about how awful the world is now but have you seen history?! The entire story of man’s day to day life shows a progressive trend upwards toward love. We are actually doing much better. We really are. Since Christ’s death & resurrection, people have been gradually becoming less awful on the whole.
Day to day life is less brutal. Complain all you want about a barista getting your Starbucks order wrong. It’s a hell of lot less stressful than having a marauding band from a neighbouring city-state murder your whole family. Sadly, that still happens in some parts of the world. But it still happens less. Marauding a neighbouring city-state & murdering whole families is pretty much frowned upon by all people at this point in human history.
Wow, that was divergent. Anyhow, it took me a minute to get through Imitation of Christ. I didn’t rip through it like I was ripping through Story of a Soul. It needs more thinking. It’s basically a collection of 4 smaller books (the third one seemingly interminable at times) telling you that you are a piece of crap, the cause of all your own problems, & that you need to do better.
And it’s right. At this point in my adult life, isn’t every problem I have my own damned fault? Didn’t I create every situation I’m in? Didn’t I allow someone to treat me that way, didn’t speak up soon enough to prevent something, neglected to do something I should’ve done days ago?
I’m now back to reading St. Therese, & she says pretty much the same things as Imitation (hell, she quotes it all the way through), but in this breathless girly style that speaks to the child inside me that still aches for love.
And of course the only way to receive love is to give it abundantly, even when it is spurned, misused, ignored, or trampled. Give love abundantly anyway. If you cannot find a thing, be a thing.
Love, actual burning love like Therese goes on & on about, does weird things. It inspires random weeping in front of an icon of Mary holding the infant Jesus. It inflames inconsolable sobbing during a particular beautiful piece of music. It leads you to merrily injure yourself in ten different little ways helping out someone who will never know what you did, whom you’re not even sure you like. And you will do it gleefully.
Love also helps you pray for people who, let’s face it, totally suck. People who hurt you, who hurt themselves, who hurt others. People whom you would rather punch. People who probably deserve a good punch.
Pray. For. Them.
And don’t do this thing we all want to do, which is, “Dear God, please make So&So stop being a prick. May they burn in Hell for all eternity if they don’t stop.”
No. When Jesus asks us to pray for our enemies, he means like he did upon the cross. “Forgive them, for they know not what they do.” These people were in the process of killing him & he prayed for them.
Notice he didn’t invite them up for tea & bickies. But he did pray for them.
You can pray for someone you know you can’t even be around again. You can pray for someone you hate but never met (I don’t understand how people do that, but apparently some of y’all hate people you have never & will never meet). You can pray for internet trolls. You can pray for abusive parents (only if you are ready & feel safe to do so). You don’t have to hang out with these people. Just pray.
You don’t even have to ask forgiveness for them. You can just say, “Heavenly Father, I pray for So&So.” You don’t even have to use the words “help” or “be with”. Any time you want to punch someone, pray for them.
If they make you cry, pray for them.
If they boggle the mind, pray for them.
You may never see them change. What will change is your heart. Your mind. Your sense of peace. Your ability to live fully. Usually. You’re still a person. You’re still going to hate everything from time to time. Take a second & pray.
You know what else changes? Sadly, some people get annoyed with you if you start doing this. Even if you don’t tell them. It’s like when you quit drinking or eating fried Snickers. The people who still drink & eat fried Snickers see you over there not drinking & eating fried Snickers & they feel oddly betrayed. You haven’t told them even once that they need to quit, too, but they are judging you. For being healthier & less judgy. I don’t know what to tell you. That happens.
When you pray for others, your desire to participate in addictive outrage & the constant turmoil of public discussion diminishes. Imitation spends a lot of time on shunning the advice & thoughts of people, & it is not wrong to do so, because every human on Earth is a flawed creature who could be telling you something while suffering a hormone imbalance or hunger or maybe they’re a manipulative jerk. Who knows? Hell, don’t listen to me. I’m getting over a migraine & I’m loopy. I’m just telling you a thing I’ve been doing.
You may want to try it, too. Whatever. It’s all in scripture.