My spiritual director began our session asking me what he always did, “So what’s going on in Tom’s world?” I launched, at great length, vehemently decrying a particular group of people I worked with. At a certain point, I stopped. He smiled and said, “Tom you seem a little too interested in what’s wrong with them. What’s troubling you?”
I hated that line, “What’s troubling you?” “Troubling ME??,” I retorted, “THEY are troubling me.” He said, “Thou protesteth too much.” Then, as was his custom, we sat in silence for several minutes for us to think on this. Those pregnant pauses were always weighty, sometimes awkward, but always helpful.
Yes, he was correct, there was much else troubling me in those days. Mostly things about me, my ‘liminal’ life situation and, as ever, my unresolved past. So much unresolved crap tumbling in me, seeking resolution. “Deflection,” he said, “that’s what I sense here.” He went on:
Be careful of deflecting from yourself, of transferring the troubles at home or in your own inner world onto obsessive judgments of others’ failures and shortcomings. As they say, I think you’re “kicking the dog.” When you feel a surge of anger or judgment rise up, before you translate that into thoughts and speech, first pause to get a sense of the root of it. Where is it coming from? Why do you care so much about these things? It’s not that you can’t assess or challenge others to address problems. You must. It’s just that what I just saw here, well, you need to be much clearer on why it’s become so all-encompassingly important to you. What’s its source.
Then ask yourself, what are its fruits in my life. Fruits of the spirit? Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control?
He took his Bible out and read this Lukan passage to me:
Why do you see the speck in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Friend, let me take out the speck in your eye,’ when you yourself do not see the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye (6:41-42).
After another several minute pause in quiet, he asked me to share my thoughts. I did. It was very very helpful. “Now let’s pray and ask Jesus, ‘Lord help me face my own demons first before I try to discern or exorcise them from others.’”
Then he added, “Nip these things in the bud. As they say, ‘Well begun is half done.'”