Love is not Irritable
Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable… 1 Corinthians 13:4,5a,b,c
Some people seem to have a natural ability to annoy me. I can name several people who cause my blood pressure to rise just by entering the room. You can probably do the same. Whether these people cause irritation intentionally, or whether it is a natural byproduct of the way they are is a mystery to me. What I do know is that something about them causes me to become irritable. Okay, let me be honest – something in me becomes irritable in their presence. This is an important distinction because the people who annoy me may have no such impact on you. In fact, you may enjoy their company. This is a humbling fact. It means the source of the irritation resides within me.
The origin of the word irritate suggests an arousal to anger, excite, or aggravate. Irritation can be emotional or it can be physical. For example, I like to tell others that shopping for too long – particularly for clothes or (ugh) shoes – gives me a rash. Of course, I do not get a physical rash, but the emotional toll on me is similar. What I mean is that I am likely to display irritable behaviors when shopping for too long. An example of a physical irritation in nature is the annoyance caused by a grain of sand in the body of an oyster. The irritation causes a reaction within the mollusk that creates a pearl.
The famous 20th Century psychiatrist, Carl Jung, observed, “Everything that irritates us about others can lead us to an understanding of ourselves.” Personally, I find this quote irritating. When someone annoys me, I do not want the finger of guilt pointing back at me as the one with the problem. But of course, that is exactly what is happening. When we are in a relationship with another, the other is often a mirror for our deepest, most repressed characteristics. The weaknesses, insecurities, and annoyances we recognize so clearly in the other are most likely reflections of our own weaknesses, insecurities, and annoyances. It is much safer and easier to project our shortcomings onto others than to have them exposed in ourselves. Is it any wonder we feel so irritated at times, with others holding up mirrors reflecting our most secret inner failings?
The bottom line is that when I am irritable, I am neither patient with nor am I kind to others, which are the first two traits the apostle Paul names when describing love. My blood pressure rises, my vision constricts, and my head hurts. Being irritable is not a loving behavior toward others. It is also not consistent with self-love. Acceptance of the shortcomings of others may be the first step to being more accepting of ourselves.
Let us make 2016 the year of love, as love was meant to be.