My son goes out to do his grocery shopping weekly as many of us do. He is a gentle soul, somewhat timid and anxious, so he goes early before the stores are crowded. Last week he came home and asked if we could chat for a minute. Navigating life with a brain injury is not easy for him but he has some effective techniques he uses daily to cope in his world. He writes copious notes.
On this particular morning he had made notes on his phone as to how many people were nasty and sharp with him. He thought without these notes I wouldn’t believe just how many people he encountered were grumpy. Although hurt by this treatment, being the understanding person he is, he also noted how short-staffed businesses are. Yet, he didn’t understand their irritability at a simple question.
We often start out our day with high hopes and then something shatters that possibility: the coffee machine jams, you burn your toast, you forgot to get gas yesterday so now you know you’ll be late, your mate is not exactly peaches and cream, and your children are not compliant. Your day doesn’t really improve much from there.
For other folks there are far more challenging and serious situations to be faced: maybe a season of cancer treatment or chronic pain, maybe addiction or abuse lives in your house, maybe you just can’t make that paycheck stretch any further, maybe that work assignment is overdue. You are not feeling very cheery yourself and then someone you encounter is irritable making you feel even worse. Is irritability more prominent since covid? Is it the new residual pandemic?
And aging holds unique challenges that may indeed have the potential to make us irritable: we awake with pain in new places or we didn’t sleep well in the first place from an aching knee or hip, what will we do if there is no facility available to take mom or dad, do they have sufficient funds to cover this, will I when my time comes, will the caregiver be late again or even show up today. I know my family and friends are busy, many rationalize, but I’m so lonely. Maturity is no surety of living an annoyance-free life. In fact, sometimes older folks have the reputation of being cantankerous and unfiltered, hurting anyone in their path using age as an excuse for rudeness. Remember Grumpy Old Men? Seniors, we are the only ones who can change that stereotypical notion. Is irritability a sin?
You know, everyone faces some sort of challenge, from the oldest to even the youngest. We may indeed have good reason to be irritable. Parents who are struggling and hurting often hurt others including their own kids. And no matter who you are, there is always an audience. So, our attitude matters, it matters profoundly each and every day.
To be honest I don’t think being irritable is a sin, but it is dangerous ground. It may even be justified in certain situations but it is not the attitude Christ wants us to display. Remember, as Jesus-followers we are held to a higher standard.
“Love… is not irritable” 1 Corinthians 13:4-5.
Irritability can lead to anger and God is very slow to anger so we must be too. We see that over and over in the Bible. Guard against it! Irritability occurs when we do not get what we desire. We want things to go smoothly and according to our expectations and when they don’t irritability shows up. This is where we need to apply the brakes and examine our own irritable behaviour. It isn’t easy. Besides underlying causes, many of us have an Achilles heel, something, some area or subject, which will trigger our annoyance. Plus, if someone was sharp and irritable with me, I need to remember that they may well have their own battle raging that I know nothing about.
Try this if irritability is often chasing you.
1. Acknowledge your attitude. Give it to God. Tell him how you feel and ask him to forgive you.
2. Ask God to change your heart and your perspective so as to stave off anger.
3. Ask God to replace your irritability with his grace and patience.
4. Ask God for wisdom to deal with the situation in a Christ-like manner.
5. Remember what you should be grateful for because gratitude and irritability cannot co-exist.
We need to take our irritability much more seriously especially if it is chronic. It is not a small thing. Remember the enemy is very subtle and clever. We are the picture of Christ in this world so check your irritability at the door. Don’t allow it to fester into anger. Although sometimes valid, anger must not lead us to sin.
“Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity to the devil.” Ephesians 4:26-27