As a Christian, being free from irritation is something we all want, right? We want to show goodness, kindness and patience towards others, even when they haven’t been so kind to us. But this isn’t always easy. We can think that we’re keeping our irritation well under control until, all of a sudden, something happens that just makes us lose all the control we thought we had.
I often got angry when I was growing up. It made me so angry and irritated when others didn't behave how I wanted, especially my brothers and sisters!
James 1:19-20 (CEV) says: “You should be quick to listen and slow to speak or to get angry. If you are angry, you cannot do any of the good things God wants done.” It’s clear that getting irritated with others is the opposite of what God wants. It causes division and bitterness.
When I saw the effect that my sharp answers and criticism had on others, I really tried not to have these outbursts of irritation. I didn’t want to carry on being the cause of division and bitterness.
I thought I had become good at showing patience and understanding until one weekend when I suddenly saw how far I still had to go.
A few unlucky events
That weekend, I went on a trip with friends, and on the first day everything seemed to go wrong. And I was blaming the others for it. Instead of reacting with patience and kindness, I kept making irritable comments and hurtful remarks. All I could think of was how the others were responsible for everything that had gone wrong. Why hadn’t they thought about these things beforehand? Why hadn’t they planned it better? They, they, they, they…
But then, when I took the time to think about it at the end of the day, the questions kept repeating in my head. Why couldn’t I do something about my own reactions? Why couldn’t I show goodness, even in a difficult situation? And then it became clear to me: I was getting irritated because I expected that the others should do things better. I was getting angry, just as I had done when I was younger, because I couldn’t stand the fact that they weren’t doing things exactly the way I wanted them to. I had no love!
What is love?
1 Corinthians 13:4-7 (NLT) speaks to us about what it means to show love: “Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. It does not demand its own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged. It does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance.”
Over a very short time, I had been guilty of going against almost everything in the verse above. It became very clear that my actions were closer to the opposite of love.
The first part of the verse reads: “Love is patient and kind.” There are no exceptions to this. It doesn’t say: “Love is patient and kind, unless…” If I am not reacting with patience and kindness, I am not showing love.
I am tempted by the sinful desires in my own human nature
James 1:14-15 (NCV) says, “But people are tempted when their own evil desire leads them away and traps them. This desire leads to sin, and then the sin grows and brings death.” Others can do things that stir up my “desire” to become irritated, because this sinful desire lives in me. But I don’t have to give in to this.
When I saw that I had given in to my irritation that day, I decided to take up a battle against it – to change my attitude about the others around me. Instead of accusing them, I decided that I was going to be thankful for them.
For the rest of that weekend, there were many times that I was tempted to be irritated, but now it was different. Now I understood that I didn’t need to let my irritation rule over me. I could rather decide to react with patience, with kindness. As I did this, I noticed how the rest of the weekend became much more peaceful and enjoyable for all of us.
How can I become completely free from irritation?
People around us often do things that don’t make sense to us at all. In such situations it’s easy to be tempted to become irritated or angry and think, “If only he acted differently, it would be easier for me to be around him.” But think about it: Does my spiritual development depend on my own actions or on the actions of the others around me?
I can’t control what others do. I can only control myself – it is I who choose whether to show kindness or irritation when something happens. To wait for someone else to change and to think, “I’ll become a better person only after he or she becomes a better person,” doesn’t make sense at all.
We can also be tempted to use the excuse: “I just have a quick temper. I get irritated easily.” Maybe this is true now, but does it need to stay that way? Isn't my goal as a Christian to be completely finished with irritation, or am I okay with being controlled by it?
“Stop being bitter and angry and mad at others. Don't yell at one another or curse each other or ever be rude. Instead, be kind and merciful, and forgive others, just as God forgave you because of Christ." Ephesians 4:31-32 (CEV).
Kindness. Mercy. Forgiveness. That’s our goal! Even during a weekend when things don’t go according to plan.