On My Nerves

She is easily offended. Folks who don’t share her political beliefs offend her. If you don’t have the same religious faith as she does, it offends her. She’s mad at anyone who owns a gun or who eats meat or who eats meat killed with a gun. She likes letting other people know that they are offending her, too. She proudly stands on what she believes is the moral high ground. She likes the view from up there. But she doesn’t seem very happy or contented.  

We all have people in our lives that get on our last nerve. Maybe they’re family or maybe they’re a friend. Maybe it’s someone you work with every day. Maybe it’s one of your neighbors who plays their music too loudly. Maybe it’s me. Whoever it happens to be and whatever it is that they say or do to upset us, we allow them to suck the joy right out of our day. Most of the time, the person is just as joyless as they try to make others.  

There’s a Saint who wrote about people that we react to with annoyance. He’s one of my favorites because he cuts right to the heart of things. He’s a 20th century Saint who died in 1975 and his name is Josemaria Escriva. He was a Spanish priest and one of the very first quotes of his that I read in college has stuck with me throughout my life. “Don’t say: That person gets on my nerves. Think: That person sanctifies me.” What? Even that annoying guy who cut me off in traffic? And that overbearing lady who thinks she knows everything? That neighbor who is constantly doing things to disturb my peace and quiet? Yep. That person. And your sister who still gets on your nerves and your in-laws who think you’re not good enough and your boss who never has a kind word for all your hard work. Every one of them is in your life for a purpose—to test you, to refine you, to help you to grow in grace. 

In contrast, a contemporary of St. Josemaria was the French writer and philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre. He famously wrote: “Hell is other people.” Unfortunately we see so much of this world view around us these days. Folks are easily offended, quick to become angry, always ready to place blame. Sounds hellish, doesn’t it? But think how different things would be if we accepted the daily annoyances and offenses as St. Josemaria advises us to do. Our little gripes can be seen as promptings of the Holy Spirit for us to practice virtue. We can be transformed by the very people and circumstances that we usually react to with anger, impatience, selfishness, and pride. Cut off in traffic? Say a quick prayer for patience and for the safety of the other driver. Annoyed by a neighbor? Ask for compassion and understanding. We never really know what the other person is going through. Feeling ignored by your boss? Pray for humility. Jesus never sought the approval of others and neither should we. Pride is a sin which goes against the humble heart of our Lord. For all the flaws our human nature exhibits, there’s a corresponding virtue which God will provide the grace to heal, if we only ask Him.  

Do you believe that hell is other people? If you do, life will be a pretty unhappy journey for you and the people around you. But if you allow the Lord to put people and situations in your path to challenge you and to offer you the opportunity to grow in grace, you’ll become more and more like Him. Ask for grace each and every day, each and every hour. Beg the Lord to show you His face in every person you meet. In this way, we can help to sanctify one another. We, as followers of Christ, prove just how wrong Sartre really was. Hell isn’t other people, it’s failing to see how connected we are to one another. We’re the Body of Christ, not the separate individuals of Christ. We’ll transform our hostile and dysfunctional culture when we place our hearts and souls at His service, in humility. We’re all in this together, after all.

If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other.”

      —–St. Teresa of Calcutta

4 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Trish O'Connor
    Aug 11, 2019 @ 15:13:59

    And sometimes, when we are the “annoyance,” it can help to think, “I am sanctifying this person” instead of “I am not good enough.”


  2. Mary
    Aug 12, 2019 @ 11:00:26

    This is absolutely beautiful and I thank the Holy Spirit for prompting you to write it. God knows, I needed it – badly. It resonates strongly with something my confessor recently told me. I will be keeping this in mind as I go through my days.


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