Most of us would not have to try very hard to make a good-sized list under “things that irritate me.” It seems that as technology is ever more adept at making life comfortable, we’re ever more ready to be annoyed with anything that isn’t “just right and right away.”
As we see ourselves more and more annoyed with plain ol’ living, it’s a good idea to take some saintly advice on dealing with irritation.
In this effort, St. Therese offers support.
She famously writes about one of the nuns in her convent who managed to push all her buttons, as we’d say today.
I prayed for her whenever we met and offered all her virtues and merits to God. I was sure that Jesus would be delighted at this, for artists always like to have their work praised, and it pleases the Divine Artist of souls when, not stopping at the exterior, we penetrate the inner sanctuary where He dwells, to admire its beauty.
Now admittedly, St. Therese was talking about one of her fellow Carmelites, who undoubtedly had plenty of virtues and merits to contemplate. Perhaps we feel we won’t find quite as much “beauty” in our spouse or children or workmates — and yet, therein might be the problem. God undoubtedly IS working in everyone we meet, and with a little effort, we might surprise ourselves and find that there is much to praise in nearly everyone.
The Holy Spirit as Divine Artist
What if the irritation isn’t caused by a person though? What if it’s this ghastly weather? Or the traffic? Or the lull in the internet?
Irritations are a chance for us to practice patiences and grow in grace; and when you think about it, that’s really the smartest and most efficient way to handle them. If we can’t do anything about an irritating situation (and that’s often the case), we can at least make sure we derive some spiritual benefit from it — by turning it into a prayer.
This is the wise advice of Father Joseph Esper in Saintly Solutions to Life’s Common Problems.
My own confessor gave the same recommendation once. He told me that I would never consider purchasing something and then intentionally leave the merchandise on the counter as I walked away.
In other words, if you’ve gotta put up with it anyway, you might as well at least take some grace from the situation. Offer it up and make it a prayer.
“Offering it up”: Is that still a thing?
St. Francis de Sales has a way of changing our perspective on tribulations, and that’s often all we need. He points out how the rod of Moses’ brother, Aaron, when lying on the ground, was a serpent. When Aaron had it in his hand, though, it was powerful. “Consider [tribulations] in themselves, and they are horrors; consider them in the will of God, and they are joys and delights.”
Again, Father Esper notes that St. John Bosco recommended to St. Dominic Savio to treat all his companions kindly. He says that following this advice begins with deciding to get along with people who irritate, and “in practical terms, this is very simple: Merely apply the same excuses you use for your own bad behavior to those persons whose behavior annoys you.”
Find more on this theme and many other vices we face in Fr. Esper’s book Saintly Solutions to Life’s Common Problems: From Anger, Boredom, and Temptation to Gluttony, Gossip and Greed.