A brother came to see Abba Macarius the Egyptian, and said to him, “Abba, give me a word, that I may be saved.”
So the old man said, “Go to the cemetery and abuse the dead.”
The brother went there, abused them and threw stones at them; then he returned and told the old man about it. The latter said to him, “Didn’t they say anything to you?”
He replied, “No.”
The old man said, “Go back tomorrow and praise them.”
So the brother went away and praised the, calling them, “Apostles, saints and righteous men.” He returned to the old man and said to him, “I have complimented them.”
And the old man said to him, “Did they not answer you?”
The brother said no.
The old man said to him, “You know how you insulted them and they did not reply, and how you praised them and they did not speak; so you too if you wish to be saved must do the same and become a dead man. Like the dead, take no account of either the scorn of men or their praises, and you can be saved.”
This was a good story for me. I find it so easy to be affected by both the good and the bad words that are said about me!
Sometimes it’s easier to ignore the kind compliments; at least, I readily recognize my tendency to pride in this matter, and my pleasure at receiving praise. I was always an “over-achiever” in school, and it wasn’t just about getting a good grade – it was about the effect those good grades had in eliciting positive responses from parents and teachers. I liked the praise more than the grades.
But for me now, I think the insults are more of a temptation to pride. I get all puffed up about how hurtful they are, and undeserved (of course!). And I find ways to denigrate the offending party, all the while pretending that I’m just telling the truth, and if what I say reflects negatively on the other person…oh well. That kind of thinking leads me away from charity; moreover, I forget that I will be held accountable for my careless words.
And that last point is a scary thought… “because I dread the loss of Heaven and the pains of hell, but most of all because they offend Thee, my God, who art all good and deserving of all my love.”
Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me.