Last year, I wrote a book on the topic of forgiveness, and lately I have been thinking about a separate but related topic: how do we cope with the human reality of hurt feelings? It’s a bit different from the question of forgiveness, because I can be the kind of person who forgives easily but also still feels hurt easily.
In this case, I am not thinking of the big moments of human suffering, the ones that require a long process to work through. I’m thinking of the ways that I can get annoyed by the smallest things. For example, yesterday I took a shower after a hard workout, and when I reached for my towel, I found that it was soaking wet. There was no dry towel in reach, either. Why were there three wet towels at 8 a.m.? Later, I asked my family who had used my towel instead of their own, and everyone denied. “Maybe it was the humidity from the window,” suggested one. (Nope, too wet.) “I never use anything but my own towel,” said another. On the larger scale of things, the wet towel doesn’t really matter. I know it! Yet I still can get annoyed and even can feel hurt that my personal items are not being respected if it happens over and over again. Doesn’t anyone care that I want a dry towel? I wonder. Poor me.
Monks who live in community with the same people year in and year out are in the same situation as those of us living in family life, I am told. A friend of mine who is a former monk told me about how he used to be really upset by another monk who used to leave only a few tablespoons of orange juice in the refrigerator container rather than making a new batch. I’m not sure what my friend thought, exactly, but I can imagine what many people facing the tiny dribble of juice at the bottom of a container might think. The other person is too lazy. Doesn’t he care about sharing the work around here? Or, Grr, he knows that this annoys me, and he is doing it on purpose!
I confess I can be bothered by the smallest things, like the community microwave at work with splatters still left in it by the last user or the seemingly entitled driver ahead of me who continually shifts lanes to get ahead of the traffic. Some days it rolls off of me, and other days, when I am stressed or tired, not so much.
We know intellectually that this is the “little stuff,” the stuff that we are not supposed to sweat, but how do we get there? I am no saint, but as a fellow pilgrim, I suggest a few helpful Ignatian principles.
St. Ignatius counsels directors in the Exercises to always put a good interpretation on what another says. We can also try to put a good interpretation on what another does. Maybe someone was trying to wipe up some spilled water on the bathroom floor with that towel.
Reflect and discern the best way to respond. Maybe it is worth bringing up that everyone should share the work of making the orange juice, but what is the best way to raise this with the family or community? I know I am better off when I am not reacting in the moment but take time to reflect first on an effective means.
Remember that most people are doing the best that they can to live a human life, and life can be hard. Maybe I’m easily bothered by something because I am tired or stressed, but maybe the other person is, too. I can have compassion for myself and my feelings of annoyance or fatigue and then share that compassion with others.
Ignatius recommends one strategy for a larger decision-making is imagining one is on one’s deathbed and considering what one wishes that one had chosen. This can also apply to what categories of things we decide to let go of. At the end of my life, it’s not the towels or the orange juice that matters, but the hugs and kisses my husband always offers me at the end of the workday. My husband likes to make me breakfast. My family laughs together, a lot. That matters more than dry towels. Love matters more. Let’s look for the love, because we are blessed with so much of it.