What the Bible Says About Leading Difficult People
Annoyance is not an attribute someone can possess; it’s a response we have.
Kids can be annoying. We can be tempted to think that they were born to irritate adults. It seems like the brief moments of sweetness that they display are the only things that keep adults from shipping them to their own island, where they can live out their days annoying one another as they descend into the climactic scene from Lord of the Flies.
But there is a problem with that statement. Annoyance is not an attribute someone can possess; it’s a response we have. Kids aren’t annoying so much as adults get annoyed. Deep down inside, we know this, despite how we usually phrase our annoyance: “You’re so annoying,” or, “Those people are annoying me.” In truth, we ought to say, “I’m annoyed.” Annoyance is our response to circumstances we dislike.
We can think of annoyance as a quiet form of anger. Anger is the feeling of “against-ness” at some perceived offense. Annoyance is a version of this — feeling aversion for someone who is not conforming to our standard for them.
Adults find children annoying largely because the children do not conform to their standards of decency. Children are louder than they ought to be, messier than they ought to be, smellier than they ought to be. All of this annoys adults, who generally do a better job of meeting those expectations. But annoyance is not limited to adult-child interactions.
What the Bible says
This post is part of a series that attempts to show how Scripture gives a framework for addressing different ways our hearts respond to the world that aren’t mentioned specifically in the Bible. The introductory post laid out our guiding principle: God designed people to respond from the heart to the unique situations in which He places them. So, our specific question to answer in this post is, how should we understand annoyance as a disruption of how God designed our hearts to respond?
What we find is that the problem with our annoyance is the same as the problem with our anger. Annoyance is an emotional indicator that we are judging others according to the standard of our own desires. If a person does not give us what we expect and think they ought to, we are against them. In the case of kids, we want peace and quiet or some modicum of humanity. When we don’t get it, our emotional temperature rises.
In the case of adult relationships, the standards become more difficult to identify. A professional who is annoyed with his colleague may want the basic courtesy of talking about something other than his colleague’s accomplishments in every conversation. A husband who is annoyed with his wife may want recognition for his efforts. An adult child who is annoyed with her parents may want space to make her own decisions. All of these are personal conceptions of what others ought to be providing.
But, as I stated earlier, the problem with our annoyance is the same as the problem with our anger. James writes, “Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God. Therefore put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls” (James 1:19–21).
Ungodly anger does not produce the righteousness of God because it is applying some other personal standard of righteousness to the people around us. My colleague talks about himself too much, and I am against him. My wife doesn’t see how much I’m trying, and I am against her. My parents don’t give me the space I want, and I am against them.
God’s standard of righteousness
But these are not the standards of God’s righteousness. Personal preference, not God’s standard, are at their centers. Even when I am able to baptize my own standards with biblical language—my colleague shouldn’t boast about himself, my wife ought to show me respect, my parents shouldn’t provoke me—my annoyance orbits my own inconvenience rather than the violation of God’s standard or the smearing of His character.
What’s the solution? Humility. James phrases this as “receiving with meekness the implanted word,” meaning that we do not insist on our standard of what others ought to be but instead submit to the Bible, the record of God’s merciful heart toward His people. If God were as easily annoyed as we are, we’d all be in deep trouble.
Poor kids. We get so annoyed with them. But maybe our teaching and discipline would go a lot further if our standards were shaped by God’s standards rather than our personal preferences. Maybe our relationships with other adults would benefit in the same way.
This article was originally published in Tabletalk magazine.