Putting up with things that irritate us builds character. I think that is because when we are in a situation we can’t change, the only option is changing ourselves. “This is a good life skill,” I tell my kids. It is also a good skill for developing the spiritual life because it’s good training for the mind, for self control and endurance. Besides it’s no fun to freak out all the time. What does it get us…. but a lot of freak-out? And there’s nothing you can’t make worse by more of THAT!
Here are some things I have tried to help me not freak out.
Paying bills can be stressful. You know how when you are paying bills your shoulders get really tense and sometimes your back too, and if anybody says anything to you, you say, “Leave me alone I’m paying BILLS!” I decided that attitude needed work. I tried a change of venue. I picked a place that it seems silly to pay bills. Then I could be amused. I try to amuse myself as often as possible. It helps a lot with life. So I paid bills in the tree house. I kept smiling because it was a goofy thing to do.
I wrote, ” thank you so much,” on each bill. Thank you for the electricity. Thank you for the car. Thank you, veterinarian, for helping when my dog was sick.
Thank you, God, that I can pay these bills. Thank you. Gratitude is an even better tool than self -amusement.
I enjoyed puting rose petals in the envelopes of each payment. I imagined the various possible reactions to this. “Made my day? Is it anthrax? Who’s does that?” This also amused me.
Loud neighbors can be annoying. I had neighbors last year who screamed at each other and honked car horns several times a day. One time when the screaming and car horns started, I thought. “I HATE THIS!” This is a red light for me mentally. I usually don’t allow my mind to think, “I hate this,” about anything since that thought never leads to anything good. I took a deep breath, and I remembered St. Therese the Little Flower and all she did to train her mind in the face of annoyance to leave it free and peaceful for God. What could I do?
I told my family that from now on that screaming and honking was code for, “Smile, Jesus loves you!” It worked. From then on whenever the yelling started, one of us would say, “Smile, Jesus loves you!” and we would start laughing. I’m glad we learned how to let that frustration go. When my husband was sick, those very people came over and helped me when I needed it. If I had stayed mad at them all the time and just thought of them as “the screamy neighbors,” I would never have gotten to know them. They had some wonderful qualities.
The young people who live next door now play very loud music at times. I was enjoying a quiet fall day on my front porch one time when they started that noise. First I amused my self with the thought that I can out blast them any time. I have some enormous speakers. What got me laughing and letting go was the funny thought of getting a recording of a nice, quiet fall day and blasting that. Suddenly the young people would be overcome with an unaccustomed sense of inner peace, and they would be stunned! That made me laugh. They turned it off after a while. I diffused my inner volatility with a series of funny images and thoughts. I win!
Waiting in line or being stuck somewhere can be maddening. One wild grocery store day, stuck in line, I tried looking at the covers of magazines by the register to entertain myself. These seemed not good for anyone to look at ; you know- magazine covers about who looked bad in her bathing suit this week, or with titles like “Potato Juice Keeps You Young and Sexy.” My other choices seemed to be lighters, candy and soda. I asked Jesus silently, “What would You look at if You were here?” The thought came to me that Jesus would look at the people. “Look at the people and love them.” So I started working on that. I looked at each person around me and noticed how they seemed to be doing. I mentally blessed each one or prayed for each one. I felt very peaceful and entertained.
During long, boring trips to Lowe’s with my husband, Bob, I always had a rosary in my pocket. I thought I may as well try and be useful to the world while I suffered. Another thing I tried was to ride in the cart and have him push me around. That helps too. He wanted to bring me, after all. It made us both laugh for me to do this. He enjoyed throwing his items into the cart on me too.
Being overstimulated makes it difficult to think.
If there is too much going on and I need to concentrate, I go within myself as I would for prayer. I close my eyes, and I go to that dark interior center of myself where God is. Staying there even for a second can restore me to sanity and renew my perspective. I might imagine resting my face on Jesus’ chest for a minute. I may go someplace calm in my mind momentarily. It helps.
We Catholics have a great array of “mantras” of our own; prayer words, short prayers, and litanies that are useful when we feel overwhelmed. I have a little note up that says, “Keep calm and say a Hail Mary.” Or I repeat the Jesus prayer or the Holy Name, or one of those one-liners like “May the Sacred Heart of Jesus be praised adored and loved.” Saying over some memorized Scripture is helpful too in times when I feel a sense of overload, frustration or impatience.
When somebody pulls out in front of me in traffic, my daughters know I will growl, “RAWR!” Then right away I will say, “God bless you have a nice day and I hope there is a happy surprise for you when you get home, maybe cake, maybe puppies….,” and I’ll go on with this stupid list of things until either I’m laughing or my girls are.
Being interrupted is irritating. When I am interrupted, it helps if I interpret the interruption as the Holy Spirit’s action in my day. Sometimes I plan one kind of day but it works out totally differently. It can be jarring to be interrupted when I am busy or to have my day go “out of control.” It helps if I let go and let God order my day. I ask Him to show me what He wants. I try to forget what I wanted to do and just be with who ever I am with, pay complete attention to what’s happening in the moment I am in. Often when I get to the end of a day that could have been exasperating, I will see the grace in the interruptions. It is usually the demands of love and relationship that interrupt us. At the end of the day that’s what matters most anyway… the love and the relationships.
Philippians 4:8 tells us to fill our minds with beauty and we will know God’s peace. Jesus said peacemakers are children of God. Sometimes temple tables actually need to be over turned or some Pharisees stood up to. However most of the time, I think I should tend towards a more peaceful, elastic, accepting mind that God can work with. My brain believes what I tell it. Usually I tell it stuff is funny and that everything is in Divine Order. Sometimes I say to myself, “This will make a great story some day.” And it does.
By the way, as I wrote this article, I was interrupted twice by each of my kids and also had to listen to some music I didn’t really like and the kitten would not stop mewing. But I didn’t freak out. 😉