Oh, the Aggravations We Face!
Do you know someone whose purpose in life seems to be to aggravate you? You know what I mean, right? This person is the one who manages to raise your blood pressure just about any time that you interact with them. Maybe it’s the things they say to you. Perhaps it’s the fact that they are rude to you in the way that they speak to you. It could be that they don’t respond to your e-mails, or when they do, the response is abrupt or obnoxious. You may face these types of incidents with this person far too frequently. My spiritual director told me that God sends these people to help “sand off our rough edges.” To be fair, we all have our bad days, and we each may be a major aggravation for others as well—perhaps we unintentionally act as the “sandpaper” for others in those cases.
Let’s Look in the Mirror First
Some of this, unfortunately, is part of human nature. But what are we to make of all of this? How are we to deal with it as Christians? Let’s start by looking in the mirror. If I am honest with myself, how well do I treat others? Am I the source of other people’s aggravation? Do I manage my interactions with others so that I show them the love of Christ? We should imitate the virtues that Jesus modeled for us. Among those virtues were humility, charity and mercy.
We need humility to counteract our sinful pride. Pride can be a big problem in so many ways. It will sabotage us every time. Do we sometimes let our pride and vanity get in the way of emulating Jesus’ behaviors? Focusing on ourselves, rather than on Jesus, and on Jesus in others, we easily become the source of aggravation for others. Do we stop to think about our need for humility? Do we pray for humility?
The litany of humility is a great resource that my spiritual director recommended to me. Developed by Pope Pius X’s Secretary of State, Rafael Cardinal Merry Del Val, it is profound. The intensity of this prayer can be troubling at first—at least it was for me. In it we pray for deliverance from the desire to be loved, praised, approved, and more. We pray for the grace to desire that others be honored and chosen while we are forgotten. These may be difficult sayings, but they address in a powerful way how Jesus is asking us to live. He provided us with the supreme example of humility. The God of the universe allowed Himself to be born as a helpless baby into humble surroundings. He lived a nondescript life for 30 years. Then He was tortured, derided and crucified for our sins. You can’t get more humble than that.
Charity—love of God and love of neighbor—can help us overcome our sinful behavior. By focusing on Jesus and on Jesus in others, might we show them Christ-like love, rather than rudeness, inattention or obnoxiousness? By looking at others through the eyes of Christ, we will be more inclined to show them Christian charity in our interactions with them. We need to remember that God created each of us in His image and likeness, and recall what Jesus did for us out of love. That should make it easier for us to be kind to others and to avoid creating undue aggravation for them. Besides, when we aggravate others, we can be the cause for their sinning, and that’s not good for them or for us:
Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone hung around his neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea. Woe to the world because of things that cause sin! Such things must come, but woe to the one through whom they come. Matthew 18:6-7
We are all broken in one way or another. It’s important to keep that in mind. No one is perfect but God. If we look for perfection in ourselves and in others we’re going to be disappointed. Recognizing the human condition, do we obsess about others’ behaviors and yet, ignore our own that could be even worse? God sent his only begotten Son to die for us, even though we didn’t deserve it. Do we demonstrate God’s merciful love, compassion and forgiveness to others? Jesus lays it out for us in clear language:
Be merciful, just as [also] your Father is merciful. Luke 6:36
But They Really Do Aggravate Me
You may be thinking, “Okay, none of us is perfect; we all need, with God’s grace, to make some changes. But some people still drive me nuts.” Fair enough, but consider this. The aggravation we feel at perceived umbrages from others often is more about us than them. It’s more about us, our pride and vanity, than it is about the other person. At times, our ego gets in the way, and we take offense where none is intended. So—back to the mirror.
Challenges – Some of us are wired such that we like to call the shots and take charge. This can be a burden for us when we receive what we believe is a slight from someone else. That’s our pride getting into the mix. We think that they are challenging our position, our worth or status. That may not be the case at all, but we might jump to that conclusion. Time for the litany of humility
Criticism – Others of us are thin-skinned. We take offense when someone who really wants to help us provides suggestions for improvement. Here again, doesn’t our pride actually create the aggravation we’re feeling? Isn’t there a chance that we might make some changes and be even better? Let’s get out the litany of humility again.
Hurtful Behavior – Sometimes another person will show their humanness in ways that hurt us. It may be intentional or unintentional on their part. What they say, how they say it, other things that they do, can all be hurtful. Do we lash out at them in a knee-jerk reaction when this occurs? Or do we take a deep breath, say a short prayer, and return that behavior with merciful love, compassion and forgiveness? Isn’t that what Jesus taught us in the Lord’s prayer?
Focus on Jesus—Thank Him for the Aggravation
In all of the above cases, we should be focusing on Jesus. Keeping Him at the center of our lives will help us deal with the daily crosses we must bear. We can benefit from thanking Jesus for these opportunities to grow in humility. This may seem counterintuitive, but it really works. A simple “Thank you, Jesus, for this opportunity for deeper conversion” works wonders. It gives thanks, in real time, to God for all of our blessings, including the small crosses we receive. It will help soothe our own ruffled feathers as well.
But What about the Other Person?
Some people do take a cheap shot at us from time to time. For those people, we need to offer up prayers. Pray for them. Many times, they’ve got some deep wounds, are hurt and unhappy. Praying for others will help lift the burden we feel from difficult interactions with them. We take the focus off of us, and place it on them and Jesus. Of course, someone’s unhappiness shouldn’t be a free pass to boorish behavior, but as Christians we don’t need to react in kind.
The Bull in the China Shop
The old idiom, “like a bull in a china shop,” refers to someone who is somewhat clumsy in a particular situation. It often refers to someone who has a low level of self-awareness. They don’t intend to aggravate anyone. It’s just that they are clueless about how what they did or said is being perceived by others. As a result, they may say things or do things that can cause people to raise their eyebrows, if not actually become upset. They just don’t know any better.
What can we do as disciples of Jesus for the bull in the china shop? Certainly, praying for them is always appropriate. However, unless we have the kind of relationship where we have permission to address the issue with them, that’s about all we can do. We may feel like we want to help them with some “charitable” input, but unless they’re open to our help, it’s not going to work.
It helps to remind ourselves that nothing happens by accident in this life. God permits all things to happen for our best interests. St. Augustine tells us:
Our pilgrimage on earth cannot be exempt from trial. We progress by means of trial. No one knows himself except through trial, or receives a crown except after victory, or strives except against an enemy or temptations.
So here we are, on our pilgrimage through this short life, with sundry trials, through which we may learn more about ourselves. The people that the Lord places in our path can help us to do just that and to progress spiritually. Encounters with these people include all sorts of experiences—the good, the bad and the ugly.
Both the pleasant and unpleasant incidents can be catalysts for our spiritual growth, if we are open to God’s grace. We are all works in progress. God is using these incidents to continually “sand off” our rough edges. Sometimes, I just wish that He was using a little finer grit, but He knows what is best for each of us.