Annoying people - and prayer
What do you do about people who annoy you? A reflection by Colin Sedgwick
What do you do about people who annoy you? Ignore them? Avoid them? Gossip behind their backs? Treat them with a frosty politeness? (I take it that if you’re a Christian – and very likely even if not – you would not stoop to do them actual harm.)
Just asking the question might cause us to smile, roll our eyes and heave a sigh. Well, that’s all very well as long as that annoying person isn’t actually present. But let’s be honest, annoying people can be, well, really annoying in the flesh – they “get our goat”, spoil our day - and then, grrr, we end up feeling guilty.
I knew somebody once who would routinely end a conversation with the words “See you then – I’ll give you a tinkle”. By which he meant “I’ll ring you some time” (though he never did). Every time he said that – it was, ridiculously, the word tinkle that did it - I felt that I could cheerfully smash his teeth straight down his throat (in Christian love, of course).
More seriously, I’m aware that some people have to live with really intense irritation hour after hour from, perhaps, a maddening family member or an obnoxious boss at work. Possibly, dare I suggest it, from somebody at church. If that’s the case it really is a problem, and no joking matter. Yes, annoyingness can cover a wide spectrum of seriousness.
The Bible tells us that we are to love one another, to be patient and forgiving towards one another. Love is patient, love is kind… 1 Corinthians 13:4
Be patient, bearing with one another in love. Ephesians 4:2
Be patient with everyone. 1 Thessalonians 5:14
I’ve put just three simple verses to that effect at the top. No Christian could possibly disagree with that – but, let’s be honest, it’s easier said than done.
I remember once struggling with negative feelings towards some people I met from time to time. They were perfectly nice people – sincere Christians, and probably far more Christlike than me (not that that’s difficult, of course). But there were things about them – opinions, mannerisms, tastes – which I found seriously difficult to cope with.
I felt bad; and rightly so. And then one day the thought came into my mind, “Why not put them on your daily prayer list?”
(I ought to explain that I’m one of those Christians who find it helpful to use lists for prayer. It’s not everyone’s thing, of course, and it’s not the only way I pray, but I find it helps me to be at least a little bit disciplined, even at risk of becoming rather mechanical.)
Whatever... what a simple, and obvious, idea it was! Why hadn’t I thought of it before? But… would it make any significant difference?
I can only report that yes, it did. The next time I saw these people it’s no exaggeration to say that I saw them with new eyes. Which is exactly what I had prayed for: “Lord, please help me to see these people as you see them, and so to love them as you love them”.
Almost immediately they ceased to be just irritating and exasperating, and became needy and vulnerable. I realised that they had problems – “issues” as they say these days – which explained a lot of what I had found hard to stomach. Quite simply, I began to feel a real sense of what I can only call compassion.
I don’t say it will necessarily always “work” quite that dramatically. But just in case you feel you are suffering this kind of torment, I can only recommend it as a good place to start: isn’t God in the business of changing hearts and minds?
Notice, though, please, that the people being changed weren’t the people I had a problem with. No – it was me. And isn’t that precisely the way prayer is meant to work? Prayer that leaves the pray-er unchanged is a mockery.
So I should mention too that God put another thought into my mind…
Could it be that, ahem, I am a person who sometimes drives other people up the wall? Oh, surely not! I’m such a pleasant, easy-going, easy-to-get-along-with person, aren’t I? No silly mannerisms or grating habits; no irritating little foibles… Mmm… I’m not so sure.
Could it even be that someone reading this blog has been tempted to smash my teeth straight down my throat?
Oh dear! What can I say but… SORRY! And thank you for loving me and being so patient with me. Please pray for me, even to see me as God sees me.
Father God, please help me to be loving and patient with people I find it hard to tolerate. Still more, help me to be aware that to many others I am just such a person myself. Amen.
Colin Sedgwick is a Baptist minister with many years’ experience in the ministry.
He is also a freelance journalist, and has written for The Independent, The Guardian, The Times, and various Christian publications. He blogs at sedgonline.wordpress.com
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