Monday, 22 June 2009

Seeing that of God

First, hello to Irene, who has recently found my blogs and read the archives - good to have you here! Check out some of the links below - there are so many good Quaker blogs out there.

Probably the most famous quotation from George Fox is his exhortation to Friends to 'walk cheerfully over the world, answering that of God in everyone'. It sounds so simple. Within our comfort zones, with other Friends/friends, it's easy to see the divine spark, to respond to it, to treat each other as children of God.

But what about the people who annoy us? I am asking for help with one particular person in my life. He's not a Friend, not even a friend, but someone I have known for a long time. The silly thing is that he has been very kind to me, throughout the time that I have known him - but I cannot hear him knock on the door without my teeth gritting and my hackles bristling. It doesn't make for easy encounters. I force myself to smile, to find things to say, to show an interest in what he tells me, but I greet his departure with enormous relief, and release of irritation.

Every time I see him, I feel guilty for disliking him. I know I am not alone in this - his family all find him intensely irritating, and he has no friends to speak of. He has a very pompous attitude, which tends to push people away, and he can be more than a bit of a smartass. But I know there is that of God in him. I can't see it, because I am too busy gritting my teeth, but I know it's there and I should respond to it.

I'm sure, too, that underneath his external posturing, and air of knowing everything, he is probably very sad and lonely. I want to be nice to him. I want to like him. I want to answer that of God in him. But I have no idea how to start.

Any ideas?


Alice said...

Dear Heather

I have been finding a way with blessing and praying for people who are particularly getting on my nerves. I'm finding if I can tolerate my discomfort about the person enough to really listen to it, I can often hear the message or lesson I need to learn from the situation.

I can be really judgemental but when I learn to see people In the cross they don't bug me in the same way, it's like I get why they were bugging me and act on it: either make changes myself or request them peacefully and assertively. What is the way of peace telling you? The costly kind of peace, that sometimes has to uncover a wound in order for healing to proceed? The divine power will reveal the truth to you, keep praying about it.

Loving people doesn't mean indulging them(us) - if people are sinning for example it doesn't help to assist them - I understand it is much more help if those who are strong in God are able to gently and firmly lay down boundaries. The way I get it we are meant to be directing each other's attention back towards the Light of Truth that will help them(us) mend their(our) ways? Of course we need help to do it and to remind each other of the truth, right? Have you asked other Friends to pray with you about this?

Lazygal said...

If you can find a way to do this, you're a far better Friend than I am!

Heather said...

Thanks, Lazygal, that raised a much-needed grin :)

Alice, this is the first tie I've faced up to the problem. Of course - I should be asking other Friends to pray with me! You write with great wisdom, and have given me food for reflection. I think just admitting the problem has helped - I had to see him today, and I felt quite calm about it.

I shall keep you posted!

Alice said...

I'm glad things are moving on for you already. I know there is a power in just bringing the things that are bugging us to the light.

Not sure about 'great wisdom', I struggle like all of us do but I think that's why we're given to each other - sometimes we can shed a little light for each other. This post of yours brought forth in my mind a lot of stuff I have been learning recently on my own spiritual path so I wanted to take the opportunity to write about it to you to see if I could share my understanding.

Jesus instructed us to love our enemies and pray for them, I think that's got deep wisdom in it. Not just for them, nor just for us! In psychological terms we can see that the practice allows us to reclaim disowned parts of ourselves, so that we can be whole through God's love. By praying for their well-being as well as our own we can be confronted with the interpersonal lessons we most need to learn ourselves, and granted in the incredible grace of God to learn those lessons to become more whole and servicable in our own way to the greater glory.

I've been reading through Paul's letters to the churches recently, and I am coming to see how he uses every disagreement as an opportunity to meet in unity on the ground of God's Love. I think the early church is a prototype for us - they are showing us that we too can use every disagreement, every difficulty, as an opportunity to meet together on the solid truth of God's love in a way that blesses every one of us and brings all of us to a deeper unity with God and each other. That's what I understand as the foundation of our christian nonviolence as Quakers.

Bless you. Looking forward to hearing more.

Purple Potter said...

Well, Heather, I am (as you know) not a Friend but I did attend MfW for 2 or 3 years a very long time ago, and this was always a favourite phrase of mine. I have to admit it has never been something I've found hard to see the good in everyone (sometimes to other people's irritation!) but perhaps the difficulty is in 'answering' it? You've obviously seen his kindness and helpfulness in trying to address your needs, but perhaps he also has needs that your company is addressing? Sounds as if so many people find him irritating that he's likely to be pretty lonely and his visits to you, with your good humour and tolerance, may be of great value to him. Lonely people can be a drain, on face value, but I've usually found that once I've taken on board their loneliness and accepted the time we've spent together as valuable to them, the time becomes more valuable to me. (I used to have a bit of a reputation for picking up 'lame ducks' but never quite saw it that way. Sadly these days I don't find as much time for other people as I used to.)
Just my two-pennorth!

Jan Lyn said...

Hi DearOne,

No real advice, but hugs and empathy. You are a dear to care enough to allow this person to visit! We are called to see "that of God" in people but to me that phrase means that God and potential for responding to God is within every individual. So, it is a much more difficult task when a person such as this has probably not responded to God. We are called to be example and to love but also not called to be doormats. Will pray that way will open more for you, but I see perhaps it has already!

For emergency will drop the title of a book that has taught me through the years how to deal with *many* precarious relationships in a more healthy manner, yet still with love, in my life. This book has helped me not drop relationships, but channel them a bit differently;kind of reframe the relationship situations. I've not arrived, to put it bluntly! Ha..... It is not Quaker, but I feel Q values are reflected there. It is entitled: Boundries, by Dr. Henry Cloud and John Townsond. Worn my copy thin.
Jan Lyn oxo
PS-Tell the Chap I said hi! :)

RichardM said...


I read your post when it first appeared and it struck me as one of those synchronicities. I'm slated to be the next clerk of the Yearly Meeting and as part of the preparation for this I am supposed to try to visit each of the Monthly Meetings in NCYMC. On Sunday I visited Virginia Beach MM. After worship my wife and I sat in on the adult discussion group and I felt lead to share something about the value of having to deal with annoying people. I said that this was a good thing because sometimes when we are alone with our thoughts we construct a picture of ourselves as being very good and holy. Encountering annoying people is the reality check. Just how patient, loving, joyful, etc. we are is revealed when we interact with these people. Hopefully we see that we have indeed made some progress and that some of the fruits of the Spirit are becoming manifest in us, but we also discover we have a long way to go.

I just got through teaching summer school and I had one boy in my class who was a trial. He is intelligent but has no people skills and was constantly saying things that annoyed people. It got to the point that when he would start to speak I would be able to see the other students grimace. I did my best to listen patiently to him. I know he is not a bad person and wasn't intentionally being annoying. He just didn't know how not to be annoying.

Being patient and loving with annoying people does not mean that we must act as if all is well. It is OK, sometimes even necessary, to tell the person that what they have said is wrong. There is a fine balancing act that we have to master of telling the truth without being cruel. I find that I cannot plan this out in advance. I have to rely on immediate inspiration in the moment to tell me just what words to use to avoid being a pushover without being cruel.

We need to thank God for the opportunity that annoying people present for us to grow.

Heather said...

So many helpful words - thank you all! I think this will form the basis of another post, but I have been greatly helped by you all. Richard, I love that insight -

"He just didn't know how not to be annoying."

That really gets to the heart of things.

I have a lot to think about.

Jan Lyn said...

Back again Heather. Listen, there is a blog award for you over at my blog. Come collect it when you feel up to it. :)
(No pressure to do it though!)