A brother went to find Abba Serapion. According to his custom, the old man invited him to say a prayer. But the other, calling himself a sinner and unworthy of the monastic habit, did not obey. Next Abba Serapion wanted to wash his feet, but using the same words again, the visitor prevented him.
Then Abba Serapion made him eat, and he began to eat with him. Then he admonished him saying, ‘My son, if you want to make progress stay in your cell and pay attention to yourself and your manual work; going out is not so profitable for you as remaining at home.’ When he heard these words the visitor was offended and his expression changed so much that the old man could not but notice it. So he said to him, ‘up to now you have called yourself a sinner and accused yourself of being unworthy to live, but when I admonished you lovingly, you were extremely put out. If you want to be humble, learn to bear generously what others unfairly inflict upon you and do not harbor empty words in your heart.’ Hearing this, the brother asked the old man s forgiveness and went away greatly edified.
—-Sayings of the Desert
These empty words and feelings are bitterness, anger, jealousy, strife, and others too numerous to mention. Abba Serapion calls on us to bear unfairness with generosity and grace. Society tells it very differently. If we are wronged we must get even, or at least make it right. People spend far too much time trying to sort out the unfairness of life, and precious little effort is given to generous forgiveness. With that generosity in our hearts, we can put away empty words and replace them with words of grace and forgiveness. We, like the monk who visited Serapion, can rise up edified, and an edified man can accomplish much. All of us have times that we feel unworthy of the place we have been given in life, but God has a way of turning that feeling into elation. Look hard at the empty words that clutter your heart, and give some of them away to the generous grace of God.
When we give our bitterness and anger to the generous grace of God we become different people. We once were self-centered and bitter because we never experienced the grace of God, but we now are people who understand grace and can live at peace with ourselves and others. That peace allows us to live a healthy and productive life. Our lives are then freed from the “empty words” of anger and strife.
Perhaps today is the day that you should seek to give away your “empty words.”
Lord, It is very difficult to put hurt and anger aside. Too often we strike back with words that defile ourselves and the one that offended us. This is not your way. Help us to follow your path of grace and forgiveness by inviting your grace into the very center of our being. Free us from the “empty words” of contempt and anger and fill us with your words.