On Being Annoyed
There are some times in this world when Christ’s demands to love your neighbor make little sense. I am told that I am to be compassionate to those I really disagree with, to “outdo one another in showing honor,” to “bless those who persecute you,” and to “weep with those who weep” (Romans 12). I don’t know how else to say it, the vast majority of the time I do not want to do these things. My ideal world would not include any of the things mentioned above.
A couple of years back, during my Sophomore year of college, I had the incredible opportunity to spend a semester abroad in Vienna, Austria. The program was set up beautifully—I could take classes that contributed toward my major, I got to have every Friday off to travel to Italy or wherever, and I could live in a home provided by the university.
The last part of the program, however, turned out to be not as nice as I expected. The house, though large, housed twenty people, fifteen of which were students from my school. Within this single building, the students cooked their meals, attended class, studied for finals, and showered and slept. One can understand the day-to-day difficulties this situation can bring. Furthermore, only one of us knew the German language, thus insulating us from outside community, forcing every waking moment of our lives to involve each other.
Though I paint this picture as a horror story, it really was nothing of the sort. I grew to love the people I was with, and genuinely enjoyed their company. However, as every human can attest to these situations, there were numerous moments that arose in which I wanted nothing to do with the people I was living. Sometimes these moments were a result of real problems, as in when people did stupid things while drunk or when people simply decided not to do their dishes for the day. The vast majority of these issues, however, were due to day-to-day living with people that are different than you.
We all experience these annoyances each day. Someone is talking too loud on their phone, someone decides to drive the speed limit, a roommate wakes up way too early for a sane person, examples abound. The problem with being annoyed is that we all-too-often assume that these situations are a result of a grave injustice.1 We assume that someone has wronged me, and they need to be cursed at while we are at a distance, gossiped about to a friend, or confronted.
It was to my astonishment when I heard a stark comment from a pastor of the church I was attending in Vienna. After complaining about the social habits of a particular student in the house, he explained, “it is wrong to be annoyed at someone.” To be annoyed at the differences of someone to you, the idiosyncrasies a certain person performs, means that you believe that you are the model human being. The action of annoyance assumes that you yourself have nothing that could justifiably be annoying—no idiosyncrasies, no differences from others. To put it theologically, you assume you are the only one made in God’s true image, the only one worthy of the word “human.”
This truth continues to hit me like a ton of bricks. Every day, I am offered dozens of opportunities to be annoyed at those I come into contact with. Each time, I long for the satisfaction that comes from feeling superior to the person next to me. I believe this a small slice of what Jesus says when he exhorts us to “deny yourself and follow me,” or what Paul says when he longs for us to “die to sin” and to “crucify the flesh with its passions and desires.”2 Repentance and denial of self, the most unnatural things in the world for Christ to demand, are necessary every hour.
Christian Wiman, in his book My Bright Abyss: Meditation of a Modern Believer, writes,
“Modern spiritual consciousness is predicated upon the fact that God is gone, and spiritual experience, for many of us, amounts mostly to an essential, deeply felt and necessary, but ultimately inchoate and transitory feeling of oneness or unity with existence. It is mystical and valuable, but distant. Christ, though, is a shard of glass in your gut. Christ is God crying I am here, and here not only in what exalts and completes and uplifts you, but here in what appalls, offends, and degrades you, here in what activates and exacerbates all that you would call not-God.”3
Wilman argues that following Christ involves following a God that 1) celebrates your gifts and your humanity, 2) understands the sin that harms you from the outside, and 3) calls you to deny the sin within yourself that distances you from God. Focusing on the third point, following Christ means accepting this shard of glass in your gut, the pain that is necessary to wake oneself up from what feels natural. Being annoyed at those around us is simply how we feel the world works. We so often frame our days and define our identities based off what we aren’t, what irks us. Christ calls us into a renewed humanity that goes against this grain, a new natural that has us to see the true humanity in others.
To conclude, a life that persists in annoyance is a pitiful (or “grumpy”) one. It first cheapens true injustice in the world, opting instead to be upset at the meaningless. It second denies the humanity in others, as we define ourselves as being the ideal. Third and finally, it denies the interdependence of creation, seeing difference and distinction as an inherent negative. When one lives a life of following Christ, by contrast, one learns to see the true humanity of each other, the beauty of one’s difference from your neighbor. This vision of finding beauty in the other must be accompanied by daily repentance and denial of self, for so easily are we trapped in a “natural” world of being annoyed.4
View Sources 1. Please read my earlier post on social justice here. It seems that sometimes the lines can be easily blurred between what we should have “righteous anger” against, and that which is meaningless and harmful to be upset over. It seems to me that having a “critical mindset” or of being concerned about “social justice,” though these two are important, can sometimes warp the mind to be critical of any and everything. 3. Christian Wiman. My Bright Abyss: Meditation of a Modern Believer (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2014), 121 4. Grumpy Cat is thus a visual of all of us with unrepentant hearts, easily annoyed at whatever or whomever we come in contact.
1. Please read my earlier post on social justice here. It seems that sometimes the lines can be easily blurred between what we should have “righteous anger” against, and that which is meaningless and harmful to be upset over. It seems to me that having a “critical mindset” or of being concerned about “social justice,” though these two are important, can sometimes warp the mind to be critical of any and everything.
3. Christian Wiman. My Bright Abyss: Meditation of a Modern Believer (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2014), 121
4. Grumpy Cat is thus a visual of all of us with unrepentant hearts, easily annoyed at whatever or whomever we come in contact.