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Some time ago, I [Met. E] found the following prayer, which, I feel, is something all of us could use at the beginning of the day:

Dear God, 

So far today, I’ve done alright. I haven’t gossiped, and I haven’t lost my temper. I haven’t been grumpy, nasty or selfish. But in a few minutes, Lord, I’m going to get out of bed, and that is when I’m going to need a lot of help. Amen.

Although the prayer might seem humorous, and though I have been unable to determine its authorship so far, it is a lot closer to the truth than most of us realize. If one were to read the sayings of the Desert Fathers, for example, one would find many of these same sentiments and attitudes expressed by these holy men. These proverbs, for the most part, come from men who lived in the fourth and fifth centuries in Scete in the land of Egypt. Their simple words, expressed in a distinctive, no nonsense way, reflect the teachings of the Holy Scriptures.

For example, here is what Abba Ammonas had to say about anger and patience.

The abbot Ammonas said that he had spent fourteen years in Scete, entreating the Lord day and night, that He would give him power to master anger. [Note: Only fourteen years!!]

A certain brother who lived alone was troubled, and making his way to the Abbot Theodore of Pherme, he told him that he was in turmoil. The old man said to him, “Go, humble thy spirit and submit thyself, and live with other men.” So he went away to the mountain, and dwelt with others. And afterwards he came back to the old man and said to him, “Nor in living with other men have I found peace.” And the old man said, “If thou canst not be at peace in solitude, nor yet with men, why didst thou will to be a monk? Was it not that thou shouldst have tribulation? Tell me now, how many years hast thou been in this habit?” 

And the brother said, “Eight.”

And the old man said, “Believe me, I have been in this habit seventy years, and not for one day could I find peace: and thou wouldst have peace in eight?”

With us, it is quite the opposite, is it not? Our “spirituality” is still at what we could call “the bumper sticker level” (O God, give me patience. Right now!).

Abba Dorotheos of Gaza (reposed at the beginning of the seventh century) has this to say about patience and the need for discretion in surviving the turmoil and tempests that daily life sends us:

God does not permit anything to us which is beyond our power, as the Apostle says, “God is faithful, Who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able” [I Corinthians 10:13]. However, we have no patience, we do not want to labour a little and we do not accept things with humility. That is why we are depressed, and the more we try to escape temptations, the more they weigh us down. We lose our patience and we cannot then be delivered from them. There are certain people who swim in the sea. If they can swim properly, then, when a wave comes against them, they bow down under it and hide themselves beneath it until it passes. Thus, they carry on swimming free from danger. However, if they struggle against the wave, it pushes them and throws them at a great distance. Once they start swimming again, another wave may come. If they oppose themselves to it, it will again push them and throw them far. Thus, they are wearied and they do not progress. If, as I said, they bend themselves down under the wave and humiliate themselves under it, it passes without harming them and they can continue swimming as much as they desire. It is the same with the temptations. If a person endures temptation with patience and humility, it passes him by without danger, but if he remains afflicted and sorrowful, he damns himself and loads on himself the temptations. Thus, not only is it not beneficial for him, but he is harmed by it.

Or, this one:

An old man was asked, “By what means doth the soul receive humility?” And he said, “By searching into it, and by remembering the evil things which have been done by it.”

Simple, down-to-earth admonitions gathered from experience in the spiritual life. “Bow your head in humility under the waves of temptations,” and you will be able to continue swimming. Thus, you will be able to survive the day without becoming grumpy, nasty, or selfish. Even after you get out of bed.

Whether a man be rich or poor, if he have a good heart toward the Lord, he shall at all times rejoice with a cheerful countenance. (The Wisdom of Sirach 26:4)