by Steven Norris


     How do you deal with difficult people and circumstances in your life? We all have them and they cannot be completely avoided. So, what do we do about them?

     Recently, I came across a teaching from a pastor and counselor who teaches a number of marriage seminars with his spouse. He shared an analogy that I haven’t been able to get out of my mind for the past couple of weeks.

     He pointed out that a speck of sand in the human eye first causes irritation. Left untreated, it could easily cause an infection that could ultimately lead to blindness. The same speck of sand in an oyster, however, causes irritation followed by concretion that leads to the development of a pearl.

     He asked, “Did the sand cause the results in the human eye and the development of the pearl in the oyster? Or did the grain of sand reveal the inner properties of the eye and the inner properties of the oyster?” The answer is, of course, the latter.

     Each one of us will undoubtedly have irritants in our lives — angry spouses, cranky neighbors, difficult co-workers, rebellious children, or the jerk that cuts you off in traffic on Taylor Street at 5:00 in the evening. Too often, we like to think of ourselves as the victims in these circumstances, insisting that the other person or situation caused us to respond in a certain manner. Instead, a healthier approach would suggest that these circumstances merely reveal who we really are beneath the veneer of our own self-deception.

     These experiences (no matter how frustrating or infuriating) did not cause you or me be angry, shocked, bitter, hurt, enraged, or vindictive. Those are all choices that we make in response to the stimuli of our day-to-day lives. On the contrary, such reactions often reveal a heart that is struggling with a lack of forgiveness, peace, and love.

     Often, such responses reveal a heart that has not grasped the gospel of grace and forgiveness. As the old saying goes, “Hurt people hurt people.” The corollary is also true: “Forgiven people forgive people.”

     I’ve always been struck how Jesus modeled for us a healthy response to irritating people and circumstances. When Thomas doubted, Jesus didn’t blow up at him, but offered his pierced hands and side. After Peter’s three-fold denial, Jesus responded by restoring him with the thrice-asked question, “Peter, do you love me?” When Jesus looked down from the cross at those who had unjustly nailed him there, he did not respond with curses or insults. Instead, he uttered, “Father, forgive them; they don’t know what they are doing.”

     The ancient Greeks often appealed to the aphorism: “Know thyself” which was inscribed over the entrance to Apollo’s temple at Delphi. Paying a little more attention to the ways our mind and heart react to irritating people and circumstances might help us to truly know ourselves more accurately. Maybe it would help us to take ownership of our actions and remember the slogan of that marriage expert: “My response is my responsibility.”