I found a copy of Saint Francis de Sales’ Introduction to the Devout Life on my parents’ bookshelf back in university. It floored me then and has rarely left my bedside since, which is highly amusing since it was written some four hundred years ago. It is uncanny how relevant his writing has been to my life, how specifically he writes about my particular struggles, how helpful his centuries-old advice has been. How could someone from the 16th century have had such a clear window to my modern soul?

Here is a section from chapter VIII, called Gentleness towards others and Remedies against Anger:

I mean, that when we feel stirred with anger, we ought to call upon God for help, like the Apostles, when they were tossed about with wind and storm, and He is sure to say, “Peace, be still.” But even here I would again warn you, that your very prayers against the angry feelings which urge you should be gentle, calm, and without vehemence. Remember this rule in whatever remedies against anger you may seek. Further, directly you are conscious of an angry act, atone for the fault by some speedy act of meekness towards the person who excited your anger. It is a sovereign cure for untruthfulness to unsay what you have falsely said at once on detecting yourself in falsehood; and so, too, it is a good remedy for anger to make immediate amends by some opposite act of meekness. There is an old saying, that fresh wounds are soonest closed.
– Introduction to a Devout Life, St. Francis de Sales

That particular bit of advice has (I’m sure) saved my children from being thrown out the window countless times. Lose temper. Yell. Pray. Calm down. Say sorry. Humbly ask for a hug. Lather, rinse, repeat. I’m currently praying to cut out steps 1 and 2 (the losing temper and yelling part). The book isn’t particularly directed towards parents, but the road to becoming a better person is the same road to becoming a better parent.

Which is to say: I highly recommend this book. So do all sorts of other people, it seems. I can imagine that the 400-year old writing style might be a bit much for some people, but do give it a try if you’ve never read it before. I found a neat site where you can read the full book online, for free.

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