Practical Peace: Dealing with Petty Annoyances
Petty annoyances come our way each day. The seventeenth-century writer Claude la Columbiere called these annoyances "tiny thorns":
"All our life is sown with tiny thorns that produce in our hearts a thousand involuntary movements of hatred, fear, impatience, a thousand fleeting disturbances that momentarily alter our peace of soul. For example, a word escapes that should not have been spoken. Or someone says something that offends us. A child inconveniences you. A bore stops you. You don't like the weather. Your work is not going according to plan. A piece of furniture is broken. A dress is torn. I know that these are not occasions for practicing very heroic virtue. But they would definitely be enough to acquire it if we really wished to do so."
As Columbiere points out, these tiny thorns disrupt our peace, but they also present us with an opportunity. If we let them, they can train us toward greater peace and confidence. Most of us think that peace comes from avoiding discomfort, frustration, fear and pain. But every life, to a greater or lesser degree, is fraught with such feelings. One of the keys to developing a greater sense of peace is learning how to deal with them. Feelings, of course, are neither right nor wrong. They just are. What we do with them, how we respond to them, is what matters.
So how to deal with all the tiny thorns in our lives? One way to handle life's innumerable disruptions, discomforts, and frustrations is by trying to escape them or by distracting ourselves from them. Sometimes our strategies work fairly well while at other times they develop into unhealthy patterns. We drink, we shop, we lose ourselves in social media--all to excess. Others of us respond combatively, blaming everything and everyone around us for the smallest offense. Inevitably, our dysfunctional strategies lead to guilt and not peace.
How should we approach the feelings we'd rather not have? We can begin by allowing ourselves to feel them. As we do, we can examine them carefully, looking for ways to understand ourselves and others better. Running from uncomfortable emotions like fear, hurt, or disappointment is not a way to create more peace in our lives. Instead, these emotions move underground, where they gain a greater power to control us. If we can simply let ourselves experience them, they are more likely to pass naturally in and out of our lives instead of lodging in hidden places in our hearts.
When my mother was a young girl, she had a recurring nightmare. In the dream she found herself ascending a steep stairway toward a door. With every step she became more apprehensive, terrified of what might lie in wait on the other side. Each occurrence of the dream heightened her fear. Finally, one night, she dreamed that the door opened, revealing a person at the top of the stairs. She doesn't remember who the person was, but she never had that frightening dream again. Similarly, facing our fears and hurts in the presence of God can greatly reduce or even eliminate their power over us. Remember that Jesus spoke of the Holy Spirit as the one who would be our Counselor (John 14:26). Christ has not left us alone to muddle our way through life. Right after promising that the Father would send the Holy Spirit, he said this:
"Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid" (14:27).