Irritating People and Why they Irritate

Today I was praying, and for some reason started to think about someone I know who irritates me. (I admit that I’m too easily irritated, but that’s for another post.) When I had this thought – about this irritating person – I remembered a question from Geri Scazzero that I’m learning to ask:

“What does my response to [fill in the blank here – in this case,
the person’s name] say about me?”

And before I answer, let me clarify. I’m referring to people who are loud (I’m quiet.), people who are pushy (I’m accommodating.), people who are messy (I’m organized.), people who are crude (I’m usually fairly well-mannered.), people who talk too much (I’m often quiet.), people who are confrontational (I’m conflict avoidant.), people are all emotional (I’m subdued.), people who are arrogant (I’m ever so humble.), people … well, you get the picture. (I’m sorry if I offended you, my friend, please read to the end before you dismiss me entirely.)

So, “What does my response to a person who irritates say about me?”

Well, that question led to others:

Why do certain people bother me so much?

Is it because they’re not like me?
Do I think it would be better if they were like me?
Do I think it would be better if they were at least a little more like me?

And what exactly is the problem? Why is what irritating people do so irritating or frustrating to me?
Why am I so critical and often so judgmental?

Is it because I’m forgetting God’s “signature” in all his creation – the amazing diversity?
Is it because I’m fooled by the “disguises” that people come in? (Mother Teresa talks about how Jesus himself appears to us regularly in the disguise of the poor.)
Is it because I’m forgetting what a poor template I would be for this new humanity?
Am I threatened by people who are different from me for some reason?
Am I resentful of the extra work it takes to engage in a relationship with and love these people?

Oh, wow. I think perhaps this is where we were headed from the start. It could be that. I suppose that’s what God wanted to say to me today. This is why we started with irritating people in our prayer time. Ouch. Don’t you just hate it when that happens?

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“If you love peace, then hate injustice, hate tyranny, hate greed –
but hate those things in yourself, not in another.”
Thomas Merton

“Until we have seen someone’s darkness,
we don’t really know who they are.
Until we have forgiven someone’s darkness,
we don’t really know what love is.”
Marianne Williamson

Henri Nouwen, Richard Rohr, Peter Scazzero, Pope Francis, Jesus – and The Big Bang Theory

Bob Newhart appears again as Professor Proton in the most recent episode of CBS’s the Big Bang Theory. In a private conversation with Leonard, Professor Proton decides to ask Leonard something he’s been wondering about when it comes to his roommate Dr. Sheldon Cooper – “Why are you and Sheldon friends?” It’s a natural enough question, but particularly easy to understand in this episode where others and Sheldon all agree that he can be very “annoying.” Sheldon’s “quirks” shine through in every episode.

Sheldon exhibits a strict adherence to routine, a total lack of social skills, a tenuous understanding of humor, a general lack of humility or empathy, and displays textbook narcissistic behavior. He also has a very hard time recognizing irony and sarcasm in other people although he himself often employs them.  … Despite speculation that Sheldon’s personality traits may be consistent with Asperger syndrome, obsessive–compulsive personality disorder and asexuality, co-creator Bill Prady has repeatedly stated that Sheldon’s character was neither conceived nor developed with regard to any of these conditions. (Wikipedia)

It’s in this context that Professor Proton wants to know, “Why are you and Sheldon friends?” When I heard Leonard’s answer, I was in a mild state of shock. “He’s broken, and he needs me”, he said, “… and I need him.”

Leonard doesn’t explain how or why he needs Sheldon. Is it because he’s broken too? Is it because of what he learns from Sheldon about himself? about life? about loving well? about what really matters?

Does he learn from their relationship how to look beyond the shell of a person? past the dysfunctions? past the brokenness? past the likely diagnoses? Does he learn not to insist, like so many of us do, that others ought to “be like me” or be “normal” in order for us to accept them? welcome them? truly love them?

If you’ve read much of what’s been written by Henri Nouwen, Richard Rohr, or Peter Scazzero  (among others) you’ve been reminded how much God means for us to learn from marginalized people (children, the poor, the dying, the elderly, the despised, etc.). If you’ve heard Pope Francis lately, or seen what he’s done, you’ve seen him living out the love of Jesus towards people like Sheldon who don’t fit in.

I remember early in my first year of Bible College, seeing one of the jocks – a really handsome guy, sitting and talking in the Snack Bar with someone who was a “reject” by most standards. You know – not attractive, not athletic, not particularly smart, not cool – not popular! I’m ashamed now to say that I still remember that incident because, at the time, I couldn’t understand it. “Why was he doing that?”

I’m sure that jock was not only more athletic and handsome than me, but also a lot more spiritually mature. Maybe if I would have asked him back then for an explanation, he would have said, “He’s broken and he needs me … and I need him.”

I hope I’ve grown enough since that day that I wouldn’t be so confused seeing something like that now. I want to be like that jock, and like Leonard Hofstadter in his love for Sheldon Cooper. I want to love someone who doesn’t fit in, who isn’t cool, who others ignore – or despise. I want to love someone who, as I love them, God uses to teach me about myself, about life, about what really matters – even simply about what it mean to love in the first place.

Remembering Isaac – a prayer

May you rise from the place where you are bound
as Isaac did from the altar where he was bound –
as one forever changed.
With a new sense of self
a new love of life
a new understanding of God’s love for you
a new sense of God’s presence with you.

And may you rise from the trauma of your altar –
the loss of control
the fear
the pain
the despair
As Isaac did,
resurrected to a new life
a changed life
a life redeemed again
in a second, more powerful, deeper conversion.
To a life transformed
an experience transcended
a place not known before.
To a deep place of satisfaction in God
confidence in his care
and in his love for you.
To a body profoundly healed.

– for Tina, and for all of us

Richard Rohr On Downward Mobility

“The path of descent is the path of transformation.
Darkness, failure, relapse, death, and woundedness are our primary teachers, rather than ideas or doctrines.”

“The soul has many secrets. They are only revealed to those who want them, and are never completely forced upon us. One of the best-kept secrets, and yet one hidden in plain sight, is that the way up is the way down. Or, if you prefer, the way down is the way up. In Scripture, we see that the wrestling and wounding of Jacob are necessary for Jacob to become Israel (Genesis 32:26-32), and the death and resurrection of Jesus are necessary to create Christianity. The loss and renewal pattern is so constant and ubiquitous that it should hardly be called a secret at all. Yet it is still a secret, probably because we do not want to see it. We do not want to embark on a further journey (the second half of life) if it feels like going down, especially after having put so much sound and fury into going up (the first half of life). This is surely the first and primary reason why many people never get to the fullness of their own lives.”

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“Soul knowledge sends you in the opposite direction from consumerism. It’s not addition that makes one holy, but subtraction: stripping the illusions, letting go of the pretense, exposing the false self, breaking open the heart and the understanding, not taking my private self too seriously. Conversion is more about unlearning than learning. In a certain sense we are on the utterly wrong track. We are climbing while Jesus is descending, and in that we reflect the pride and the arrogance of Western civilization, usually trying to accomplish, perform, and achieve. This is our real operative religion. Success is holy! We transferred much of that to our version of Christianity and made the Gospel into spiritual consumerism. The ego is still in charge. There is not much room left for God when the false self takes itself and its private self-development that seriously. All we can really do is get ourselves out of the way, and honestly we can’t even do that. It is done to us through this terrible thing called suffering.”

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“Some have called this principle of going down to go up a “spirituality of imperfection” or “the way of the wound.” It has been affirmed in Christianity by St. Thérèse of Lisieux as her Little Way, by St. Francis as the way of poverty, and by Alcoholics Anonymous as the necessary First Step. St. Paul taught this unwelcome message with his enigmatic “It is when I am weak that I am strong” (2 Corinthians 12:10). Of course, in saying that, he was merely building on what he called the “folly” of the crucifixion of Jesus—a tragic and absurd dying that became resurrection itself. You will not know for sure that this message is true until you are on the “up” side. You will never imagine it to be true until you have gone through the “down” yourself and come out on the other side in larger form. You must be pressured from on high, by fate, circumstance, love, or God, because nothing in you wants to believe it, or wants to go through it. Falling upward is a secret of the soul, known not by thinking about it or proving it but only by risking it—at least once. And by allowing yourself to be led—at least once. Those who have allowed it know it is true, but only after the fact.”

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Adapted from Falling Upward: A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life,
pp. xxiii-xxiv and pp. xviii-xix, and from Radical Grace: Daily Meditations, p. 46, day 49
(Available through Franciscan Media)

The Daily Meditations for 2013 are now available
in Fr. Richard’s new book Yes, And . . . .

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My “Ministry”

I’m anxious to do.
You’re anxious for me to be.
I feel like rushing.
You refuse to be rushed.
I feel unfairly deprived and overlooked.
You want to humble me
to make me appropriately small
to sit with me in my losses.
I want to be of use to others.
You want to search me
to come to me in my obscurity
changing me.
You want to see if it’s love for you
or love for myself
whether it’s love for others
or love for honor
that motivates me.

It often seems unfair,
but in your love you are saving me
granting me this daily death to self
giving me what I most need
but don’t know I need,
changing me.
And in your love you are embracing me
that I might know that if I have you
I will want for nothing
that you alone suffice.
And in the end, I will know
that everything I thought was me,
and everything I held onto so desperately
was finally nothing.
I will know that
you have given me over to death
that Christ may live in me
and that my inner dying might grow
to reach my death from without.
I will know that you are everything
that in you alone I have all I need
that you alone suffice.

10 Qualities of an Emotionally Healthy Wedding: The Couple’s Version

1175393_10153168582575121_1374684387_nA pastor friend recently blogged about his daughter’s wedding, and how he and his wife worked to make it an “emotionally healthy” one. That great article inspired me to see what I could write along the same lines – for the couple. If you’re planning a wedding, this is for you.

1. Consider whether less could be more.

A big crowd. A huge expense. Tons of food. A DJ, steel band and an orchestra. Many thousands of dollars spent for flowers. It’s hard to know where to draw the line when you’re planning such a momentous day, but it never hurts to purposely stop and think: Will it put you in debt? Are you trying to make an impression, or have a great celebration? Simplicity can be beautiful as well as practical. Ask you parents about their wedding. Haven’t things changed! But ask yourself, has it been only for the better? No one can tell you what to do for your wedding, but be intentional. Don’t just let it happen to you. Be aware of your motives. Be clear with yourself about your goals, and consider whether in some way less may actually be more.

2. Keep your perspective.

In spite of what you may have heard, this day is probably not the most important day of your life. It’s a big day, but there will be other big days too. Don’t set yourself up for disillusionment or disappointment by having unrealistic expectations. Unexpected and unplanned things have a way of happening. Corsages are forgotten, limos are late, a ring is dropped – the chicken is dry, someone gets drunk, people don’t show – whatever it is, it wont spoil your day if you focus on what really matters: by the end of the day, you will have celebrated a momentous event with the people you love the most.

3. Know yourself.

Are you cranky when you’re hungry? easily overwhelmed, tired or angered?  Are you a crier? a confirmed introvert? Do crowds make you nervous? Do you sometimes drink too much?  Don’t be surprised if you are just like yourself on your wedding day. Why would you be otherwise? Prepare accordingly. Bring tissue and a snack, but more importantly, approach the day mindfully so that you can bring your “best self” to the celebration. Think through the possible pitfalls and take wise, preemptive action.

4. Know your limits.

If there ever was a day for to enjoy yourself and have exactly what you want, this is the day! Plan the day around what you want and what you can do, and stick to that. Don’t let someone else hijack your day with their agenda, however well-intentioned. Don’t be afraid to say “no.” You can’t possibly make everyone happy, and you shouldn’t try.

5. Listen to your emotions.

Anxiety, tension, anger, impatience – these are probably unwelcome but nevertheless helpful signals from your body, advising you to make adjustments – adjustments that will help you maximize your enjoyment of the day. Keeping a positive attitude, staying centered in a peaceful place within [If you’re a person of faith, than simply rest in God.] – these and other practices will definitely make for a more memorable, beautiful, enjoyable wedding day.

6. Be present for your ceremony.

What you feel or experience during the ceremony determines what you’ll remember later. You know those brides who say, “I don’t remember my ceremony. I can’t even remember my wedding! It was a big blur.”? Those brides weren’t present for their own wedding. They were in attendance, but they didn’t experience it. When it comes to the ceremony, this means you should focus on what you’re saying to your partner and what your partner is saying to you (vows, ring exchange), and what you’re feeling during these parts (and  other parts) of the ceremony. There may still be distractions during that time, and the adrenaline will be coursing through your body. You may have an “out of body” experience. You may temporarily develop “tunnel vision.” Deciding ahead of time to be mindful of your emotions will make sure you enjoy your ceremony and remember it later.

7. Be ready for your life to change.

Your wedding is a doorway through which you’ll pass from single life to married life. Even if you’ve been living together, and you think things aren’t going to change, think again. A transition like marriage brings with it lots of significant change. The relationship is legal now, and hopefully non-probationary, so even if you’ve been together a long time, that’s two differences. Officially, you have new relatives, new obligations, and probably new expectations. And someone else has new expectations for you. If you’ve been living on your own, with a roommate or with your parents, moving in with your new spouse is bound to be full of surprises – and some of them might be disturbing or confusing. That’s OK. That’s how this works. Just don’t be caught off guard. Don’t expect that your life after the wedding will be just a more fun version of your life before your wedding. You’re in the midst of a major life transition. Expect the unexpected – and remember than many have successfully navigated these waters before you. You’ll be fine. (I often remind couples during the ceremony with these words from a Country music song: “Give the heavens above more than just a passing glance.” If you call out to God for help, he will make himself known to you and he will help you.)

8. Remember it’s a day for love.

Don’t be a bridezilla. It’s you day, but it’s not your day to be inconsiderate, rude or to throw a tantrum. Take some time before you leave home to spend some time with God, asking for “a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.” (Colossians 3:12f) These virtues apply every day, but especially on a wedding day. Save yourself some regret and maybe damage to your reputation. Let your inner beauty shine through. In the end, that’s what people will remember the most – including the groom!

9. Pay attention to how God might be coming to you on your big day.

Christian mystics remind us that we do well to “look” for God in each day, because he is certainly there. Often we miss him because we’re so distracted or hurried – or just because we have no expectation that he will “show up.” Try to approach your wedding day with a sense of expectant wonder about what God may want to do for you, show you, or communicate to you. Remember that wedding Jesus attended in Cana? Do you think that young  couple expected Jesus to do a miracle at their wedding? To show up and save them from embarrassment? To make their wedding ten times as good as it would have been? No, they didn’t, but he did. On that day his “appearance” was dramatic, but it’s often much more subtle. Is God invited to your wedding as a guest? If so, then expect him, and look for him to show up. And remember, he will probably be in disguise. (You might want to particularly keep an eye on any children present, and the waitstaff.)

10. Embrace the joy.

This isn’t usually a problem at a wedding, but I write this for any “joy impaired” pilgrims like me. There is nothing spiritual about being a downer, in fact, quite to the contrary. Believe me, God wants you to be happy. He really does. Celebrate! Feast, drink, sing, shout, laugh, cry, make merry! Remember what Jesus did at that wedding in Cana?  He was relaxed, compassionate and fun-loving. Shoot for that.

Postscript: In closing, I’d like to share a wedding story with you.

The wedding was being “… produced on an epic scale by an unhinged character known only as the Mother of the Bride (MOTB). The logistics–from an eighteen-piece brass-and-wind ensemble to gift registries spreading across most of the continental United States to twenty-four bridesmaids, groomsmen, flower-petal-throwers, and ringbearers–were of a scale usually seen only during the military invasion of a sizable country. But the plans were all working–until the climactic moment of the processional:

Ah, the bride. She had been dressed for hours if not days. No adrenaline was left in her body. Left alone with her father in the reception hall of the church while the march of the maidens went on and on, she had walked along the tables laden with gourmet goodies and absentmindedly sampled first the little pink and yellow and green mints. Then she picked through the silver bowls of mixed nuts and ate the pecans. Followed by a cheeseball or two, some black olives, a handful of glazed almonds, a little sausage with a frilly toothpic stick in it, a couple of shrimps blanketed in bacon, and a cracker piled with liver pate. To wash this down–a glass of pink champagne. Her father gave it to her. To calm her nerves.
What you noticed as the bride stood in the doorway was not her dress, but her face. White. For what was coming down the aisle was a living grenade with the pin  pulled out.
The bride threw up.
Just as she walked by her mother.
And by ‘threw up,’ I don’t mean a polite little ladylike urp into her handkerchief. She puked. There’s just no nice word for it. I mean, she hosed the front of the chancel–hitting two bridesmaids, the groom, a ringbearer, and me. [Robert Fulgham] …
Only two people were seen smiling. One was the mother of the groom. And the other was the father of the bride.

Fulgham explains how they pulled themselves together for a much quieter, gentler ceremony in the reception hall. And how ‘everybody cried, as people are supposed to do at weddings, mostly because the groom held the bride in his arms through the whole ceremony. And no groom ever kissed a bride more tenderly than he.’ [1]

Think about it.

[1] John Ortberg in The Life You’ve Always Wanted, pp. 78f., quoting from Robert Fulghum’s story in It Was on Fire When I Lay Down on It, pp. 10-15.

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Rev. William Britton officiates at about ninety weddings a year and has been doing so for the last ten years. Through Clergy On Call Ministries he cares for couples and families on their most special and difficult days (weddings, vow renewals, baby blessings and funerals).

Reveals & Resolutions re: Downward Mobility

God surprised me today with a list of things that need to change. I’m posting it here to keep track of it, and to be able to come back to it (both to review it and to modify it if necessary). I won’t be putting a link on FB or twitter, or adding categories or tags to this entry, or any ones to follow, in keeping with resolution #1).

In my life I need…

1. much less image management, and much more secrecy. [a]

2. less time spent in learning, and more time spent in doing. [b]

3. less learning from others (saints and scholars), and more learning from God.

4. less striving, and more relaxing “in the deep center.” (Scazzero) [d]

5. less releasing the heat within, and more cultivating and protecting it. [e]

6. less intensity, and more levity (celebration, wonder).

7. much less speaking, and much more listening (especially to God). [g]

8. less desire for honor (greatness), and more desire for holiness (goodness).

9. less concern for myself, and more concern for others.

10. less judging of others (less arrogance), and more forgiving of others (more love). [j]

11. less defending myself, and more humility (attempts to set opinions straight). [See #1 above!]

… and with that we’ve come full circle.

This represents the prayer of my heart, of my best self, of the image of God in me trying to rise up.

“Lord, help me to keep these things ever before me,
and to present them unceasingly to you
as areas of my life
where I need your healing.”

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I added these supplementary notes several days after writing the list. I don’t want them to distract from the simplicity of the list itself, or give an inappropriate weight to “saints and scholars.” I find them helpful though, and this list is for me, so I have included them here.

Notes:

[a] “Human conversation is largely an endless attempt to convince others that we are more assertive or clever or gentle or successful than they might think if we did not carefully educate them. … The practice of secrecy is Jesus’ gift to approval addicts.” John Ortberg

[b] “The path of descent is the path of transformation. Darkness, failure, relapse, death, and woundedness are our primary teachers, rather than ideas or doctrines.” Richard Rohr

[d] “In our religious striving, we are usually looking for something quite other than the God who has come looking for us.” Eugene Peterson

[e] The Desert Fathers had a saying, “If you want to keep the fire hot, you must not open the door of the furnace too often.”; “Silence is the discipline by which the inner fire of God is tended and kept alive.”  Henri Nouwen

[g] “Intentional silence serves as a necessary and valuable counterweight to a society filled with thoughtless and excessive words.” Peter Scazzero; “The silence of solitude is nothing but dead silence when it does not make us alert for a new voice sounding from beyond all human chatter.” Henri Nouwen

[j] “If you love peace, then hate injustice, hate tyranny, hate greed – but hate those things in yourself, not in another.” Thomas Merton; “Until we have seen someone’s darkness, we don’t really know who they are. Until we have forgiven someone’s darkness, we don’t really know what love is.” ~ Marianne Williamson