God, today was one of those days.
I love my oldest daughter with a fierce love but from the moment of her birth, I knew God decided that she was going to test us. She is more stubborn than Brandon and I combined (which is saying a lot) and she simply won’t stand for not getting her way. Combine that with me, a stay-at-home mom with a pretty bad temper, and you would immediately see the bad match. Since her birth, I have tried my hardest to keep my cool and be patient while she has tried her hardest to throw more and more completely out-of-control and outrageous tantrums.
At the end of most days, if I don’t pass out immediately from exhaustion, I reflect on what happened and figure out how to make things better. Did my tone of voice escalate the situation unnecessarily? Was my anger justified or did I get mad at her simply for being a kid? Then the next day I work harder at noticing when my frustration is approaching a tipping point and try to say a quick prayer for patience or walk away for a second.
And as happened today, on the days that I don’t keep my cool and I end up screaming at a 4 year old who has turned into a little monster over wanting to eat with the green spoon instead of the pink one she has already starting eating with, well, I just chalk it up to not being disciplined enough. I think to myself that I just need to keep working on the habit of keeping my anger from boiling over. And I don’t feel too bad about it because habits are hard to form and I’ll just try again next time.
But then I read Pope Francis’ homily from October 11. He said we must maintain “vigilance over our hearts because the devil is astute. He is never cast out forever.” He later exhorts, “Please, let us not do business with the devil! He seeks to return home, to take possession of us.”
While some have spoken of Pope Francis’ frequent mention of the devil as part of Ignatian spirituality, which I am not disputing, it is also part of Latin American culture. Pope Francis sounded just like La Lupe in that homily. La Lupe is always talking about the devil. When I call her on Sunday and ask her how Mass was she’ll often reply that the devil was working hard trying to distract her. Or her most frequent scolding to her grandchildren is that they need to fight the devil and not follow in his ways. He is ever present just waiting for a chance to sneak into your heart, she’ll warn.
When I was little, I was so terrified of the devil and the idea that demons were just lurking around the house waiting to push my anger a little further, goading me to fight with my parents a little longer, encouraging me to say something a little more hurtful. It scared me so much that at some point in my life I explained the devil away. I knew there was evil in the world but if I did something wrong, I justified it as a slip in self-control. I didn’t like the idea that if I messed up it could be the result of something else helping me to mess up. It was only me. I was my only problem.
And that is what I have been telling myself about my anger and reactions to toddler antics. I’ll console myself with: Oh, I just need to work harder at maintaining my patience. I’ll try harder next time. I’m only human and bound to slip up sometimes. While I can push La Lupe’s words out of my head calling it superstitious, I can’t do that with Pope Francis.
It is important to take responsibility for our actions and not blame our sins on the devil. We do have control over what we do. But that does not diminish how powerful the devil can be if we allow and how seductive and easy it is to do the wrong thing. Taking Pope Francis’ words to heart makes my struggle with anger much more urgent. Me yelling at my kid is more than not having self-control, but is me letting the devil in. Doing the devil’s bidding because I have not been able to keep him at bay.
“Do not relativize, be vigilant,” urges Pope Francis. The devil is always trying to sneak into my heart in little and big ways. And even me explaining the devil away for so long is the devil’s doing that I happily accepted because it calmed my fears. But Pope Francis is clear — if our actions are not for Jesus then they are for the devil. There is no middle ground. This reminder has left me much more resolute in my journey toward more self-control.