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Agitation seems like a negative word in general, but sometimes it’s actually a good thing. For instance, when my washer stopped its agitation cycle, it backed up and water overflowed onto my basement floor. I was able to fix it, but it made me wonder: what about the agitating people in our lives?  

Everybody’s got that one person in their life who believes they’re God’s gift to the world. You know the ones I mean. They’re opinionated and belittling. Utterly insensitive.

One such person finally pushed me too far and I told him exactly what I thought of him, that he was condescending and downright rude. It didn’t faze him at all. “When the Good Lord was handing out brains, I was at the front of the line,” he said. It was his way of saying, you go ahead and have your opinions, little lady. I still know what’s best.

My theory is that God put these people into our lives to teach various lessons. Sometimes it’s patience. Sometimes it’s perspicacity: when to speak up, when to hold your tongue. 

Of course, the best approach to someone contentious is not to engage, since they live to press your buttons. It’s been my experience that they’ll eventually find other people to annoy and waft away. Keep your eyes toward the sun, and you’ll realize how small those dark clouds really are.

About a month ago, I had to spend a couple of days with one of those people.  Patient though I try to be, she will eventually set me free. This time it revolved around a recognition plaque given to my dad.  “Help me hang it and we can take a photo for him.”  Dad couldn’t go so she was given the plaque for him.  The part that really stung?  We would have been there if she had told us but this ‘help me hang it’ was the first I had heard of it.

As soon as we left, I started griping.  How self-centered can a single human being be?

Finally my husband spoke up.  “I don’t think she did this to spite you.  I think you were right.  She’s just that self-centered.  She never thought of us at all.  So why are we spending so much time focused on her?”

What?  Whoa.

But he was right.  I can’t make other people be thoughtful or kind.  And while I can’t change anyone’s behavior, no matter how lovely that would be, I have some control over who occupies my thoughts.  It isn’t like I can keep them out completely, but I can take a deep breath and, as I exhale, let them drift away.

As Christians, we don’t often discuss mindfulness.  But if I focus on someone who is unfair and selfish, it makes me angry.  If instead I focus on someone inspirational that God has put in my path?  I am more inclined to look for ways to be kind and loving to others.  If I want to share God’s love with others, I can’t give too much head space to certain people.


A number of my friends are librarians and one of them recently told a story on herself.  No surprise, dealing with difficult library patrons is annoying.  She can’t just give them to another librarian.  She can’t find something to do in the back.  And she has to keep them from impacting how she deals with the next person.

While they are griping, she takes a deep breath and says to herself, “This is a child of God.  Remember that – child of God.”  It may not change how this person behaves, but it does change how she views them.  She says that she has actually felt the tension draining from her shoulders.

So many of us seem to embrace the aggravation and the anger that people bring into our lives.  We post about it online.  We retell the story again and again.  How different might our outlook, and our days, become if instead we said this small, high-impact prayer?

“This is a child of God.  Remember that – child of God.”


You can’t change someone else.  I think that’s one of the hardest lessons to learn.  I can’t make someone stop doing something that bothers me.  I can ask them to stop.  I can tell them why I don’t like it.  But make them?  That’s seldom an option.

It can make you feel powerless until you realize one more important thing.  You don’t have to engage.

90% of the time, you can walk away.  Oh, you want to argue about (fill in the blank) again?  Thanks, but no.

It’s that remaining 10% that is tricky.  How do you not engage with an argumentative family member? I faced this situation and it was something I prayed about quite a bit.  This person loved to belittle.  There were times where she would ask a question and I knew that if I said yes, I would get it.  If I said no, I’d get it then too.

I’d love to say that I solved this one with prayer.  That would be ideal.  While I can’t say I solved it, the situation did get better.


“I’m sorry you feel that way.”  “We’re just going to have to disagree.”  “Would you like me to go get you something to eat/drink?”

This is a talent that I’m still developing.  Fortunately, God has given me a gift.  There are numerous people in my life that are really good at dealing with people who want to argue and belittle.  In a culture that is growing increasingly argumentative, I know I don’t want to be part of the problem.  It’s up to me to learn from the people God sends my way.


“I had to break away from her,” my friend Alice tells me over the phone about someone she once called a friend. Alice isn’t the only one. Lots of folks lately seem to be dealing with toxic people. You know them. We meet them everywhere in the jungle of life. Some are outright predators; others hang back, like vultures, waiting to sink their talons into the weak and weary. The hardest part of dealing with toxic people is that maybe only you see that person for what they truly are. The rest of the gnus keep grazing, blissfully unaware. Yet God commands us to love everyone. It may take time to find a way to love our enemies — difficult things always do — but it also demands of us a certain primal common sense. To wit, the following poem:

This is not a litany of sins.
You have taught me things,
a veritable National Geographic
special. Some creatures,
for whom all touch is enemy,
strike — even if the stroke
is light, a caress.
Some people know pain,
and let it go, others
grow it and sow it,
sweat it from their pores
like tropical frogs or
hold it in their craws
like komodos who will
pursue you, slash you with their claws,
consume you or, in a pinch, lick you,
(a flick of the tongue, breathlessly quick),
let the poison in their maws do its work.
Whichever way they come for you, you die.
How do you love a komodo?
From afar, perhaps, and pityingly.

At the check-out line at the store a few years ago, a woman from the back of the line came and stood in front of me, hands on hips.  “Let me tell you something.  It’s people like you who make it hard for the rest of us.  This is an express check-out line. You have more than twelve items!  There are rules, you know!”  It actually crossed my mind to count the items in my little handheld basket out loud so that she – and the rest of the line – could see.  I only had ten items. But I could see that didn’t matter to her.  She was looking for someone to pick a fight with. She really had her cranky pants on this morning!

It took all the restraint I had in me to bite back the retort:  “Oh.  Forget to take your medication today, dear?” I landed on, “Yeah, that’s helpful,” and I waved her away dismissively. I realized that maybe, perhaps, possibly…she really did need some type of medication.  It just wasn’t normal to stand there, fuming, wringing your hands and muttering because you think (mistakenly) that someone else has too many items for the express lane.

I couldn’t help myself though, on the way out – I said, “Have a nice day, Miss!” with a very sunny smile, and I semi-saluted (not the middle finger/Jersey variety) as if I was in the military.  She said, “I will have a nice day!  Because I know how to follow rules!”

Sometimes you realize in Technicolor that you can’t help everyone.  It sounds terrible, but you have to realize this and just walk away.  My mild comebacks were not very mature, and I’m sure, only reinforced her persecution complex. In her mind, she was trying to make things right but ended up doing it the wrong way.

It reminds me of the way I gave my mother a hard time about her smoking habit.  She passed away years ago, but I remember how we went around and around through the years, with me trying to get her to quit, and her trying to get me to realize that it was her only vice, and in some ways, it was all she had to get her through the day.  If I had realized that I would lose her so soon, I would have stopped criticizing, because that’s what it really was.  The effect of my harping on her, every single time I saw her, was the equivalent of the effects of smoking cigarettes.

The impact on the spirit when someone tears you down is dehydrating, draining, suffocating, sucks the life out of you… kind of like the impact smoking has on the body. I wasn’t helping my mother with my obnoxious rants.  I was only satisfying my own need to stand on a soapbox and fight windmills.  Just like the lady at the store did to me.

Nowadays, when I want to offer my two cents on how somebody should live, I put those pennies in my own piggy bank.  I don’t think it’s possible to know what anyone else is up against, even if it’s your own family member. I’ll have to assume the best thing I can do for anybody – even a grocery-counting lady with her cranky pants on – is hold my tongue and send up a prayer.  It’s like Kevlar for the soul, and works like a charm every time.

Have a Mary Little Christmas

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