Found this thought-provoking blog post today on RC Spiritual Direction's Book Club website, where they are reading St. Frances de Sales' classic An Introduction to the Devout Life.
(This is a direct repost of the wonderful content there).
How to Overcome Day to Day Annoyances?
JANUARY 21, 2014
BY VICKI BURBACH
Read more: RC Spiritual Direction
…meekly endure all little evils, trifling inconveniences, and unimportant losses, which happen daily; for by using these little opportunities with a good and loving purpose you will overcome your heart and have it entirely under control. All such trifles, as the daily chances of life – this headache, toothache, or fever, the perversity of a husband or wife, the breaking of a mirror, this slight, the loss of a ring, handkerchief, or glove, the little inconvenience of going early to bed and rising early to pray and communicate, the little shame at being publicly noticed in certainly religious observances, – all these and similar trifling annoyances will (if they be taken and received cheerfully) please that Divine Goodness which has promised to the faithful an ocean of bliss in return for a cup of cold water; and inasmuch as these opportunities are perpetually occurring, their right use affords an abundant means of laying up spiritual treasures. – An Introduction to the Devout Life, Part III, Chapter XXXV, Paragraph II.
For me, small inconveniences, such as getting stuck in traffic or having a headache, are not bothersome at all. I seem to have little trouble offering them to God and moving about my day. On the other hand, I do struggle with those aggravations which happen over and over again, day after day. Exasperating habits of loved ones, for example. I often remind myself to accept those daily annoyances for love of Christ. Unfortunately, those reminders come too often just after I’ve had an incident wherein I allowed myself to become annoyed, or they come when all is well and I sit, peacefully in my favorite chair, sans all irritations, amidst my Bible and prayers, after spending time with Our Lord. But in the heat of the moment, the sheer weight of the cross bears down on me and I fall.
Wait a minute. Weight? But these are small trifles. Why then, do I fall? Perhaps when viewed in a vacuum they would be viewed as small. Toothpaste left in the sink, garbage on the counter, front door left wide open…But for some reason, I rarely view small trifles for what they are. Rather, they become irritations that have persisted for months, even years, and I find myself reacting (or over-reacting), not to a minor unpleasantry, but to moment upon moment of related past annoyances, connected as chain link upon chain link, until they become some mile-long leviathan that’s wretched completely out of control.
For example, there are two prominent places in our home that nobody seems to be able to locate: the laundry chute and the garbage can. But when I come across dirty clothes on the floor, I’m not merely annoyed because at that moment, I’ve found clothes on the floor, but because my mind automatically attaches that moment to all the other moments in the past, wherein I have found dirty laundry left on the floor, even less than two feet from the laundry chute. And more, to all the times I’ve followed up with “pleasant” reminders about household cleanliness.
Taking Saint Francis de Sales to heart, I could look upon each of these moments as an opportunity to grow in sanctity. And when I read the above passage, I was immediately reminded of another passage I read a couple of years ago. One written by St. Thérèse of Lisieux. The above offers great wisdom. The passage below provides an example of how one particular young lady used repeated annoyances to grow in love:
For a long time I had to kneel during meditation near a Sister who could not stop fidgeting; if it was not with her Rosary, it was with goodness knows what else…I wanted to turn around and glare at the culprit to make her be quiet, but deep in my heart I felt that the best thing to do was to put up with it patiently, for the love of God first of all, and also not to hurt her feelings. So I kept quiet, bathed in perspiration often enough, while my prayer was nothing more than a prayer of suffering! In the end, I tried to find some way of bearing it peacefully and joyfully, at least in my inmost heart; then I even tried to like this wretched little noise.
It was impossible not to hear it, so I turned my whole attention to listening really close to it, as if it were a magnificent concert, and spent the rest of the time offering it to Jesus. It was certainly not the prayer of quiet!
Another time, washing handkerchiefs in the laundry opposite a Sister who kept on splashing me with dirty water, I was tempted to step back and wipe my face to show her that I would be obliged if she would be more careful. But why be foolish enough to refuse treasures offered so generously? I took care to hide my exasperation.
I tried hard to enjoy being splashed with dirty water, and by the end of half an hour, I had acquired a real taste for this novel form of aspersion. How fortunate to find this spot where such treasures were being given away…– The Story of a Soul, pg. 180-181
How do I grow to love the inconveniences as opposed to allowing them to pile up until they become the size of Mt. Everest? St. Thérèse offers a great example. She used repeated irritations in her life to perfect her response to them. At first, they may have annoyed her, but she didn’t allow herself to react. Over time, she grew to love each and every incident. I think I’m going to follow the early example of St. Thérèse, who, as a child, used sacrifice beads, which she pulled each time she was able to offer a sacrifice, no matter how small. Offering small acts of love became known as her “Little Way” to God. St. Thérèse clearly demonstrated that it is in those small moments that we have the greatest opportunity to choose God. Each time I allow a situation to go by without making my frustration known, I’ll slide one bead. Every time I allow our Lord to conjure up joy in my heart for one of these moments, I’ll slide two. Eventually, with God’s grace and my diligence, perhaps daily annoyances (one by one) will cease to be bothersome at all.