Saint Theodora had a long list of people in her life who tried her patience. Her mother superior, her first chaplain, several of the sisters, and most especially, her first bishop in America caused her tremendous stress and heartache. Saint Theodora handled them with grace and prayer. (See Seven Principles of Sainthood Following Saint Mother Theodore for more on this.)
In a letter consulting a sister on how to handle a difficult person, Saint Theodora wrote, “Believe me, dear sister, always and everywhere you will find people who will try your patience, and you yourself will try theirs – except in heaven” (Journals and Letters, 401).
There are so many reasons why people are difficult or even intentionally hurtful. Most often their words and actions have little to do with us. Rather, it is their need to satisfy their own insecurities, jealousy, loneliness, and anger. They are not happy and therefore, don’t want others to be either. Unhappy people make people unhappy.
So what can you do to stop someone from causing you grief? You can begin with a non-confrontational conversation that presents your interpretation of the situation. You also can treat them more lovingly. My grandmother used to tell us to “Kill them (meaning their hurtful behavior) with kindness.”
Saint Theodora believed in this. She advised one sister to be kind to someone who hurt her. She said it was good for the soul and repayment to the Almighty for the mercy shown to us (Journals and Letters, 365).
She also cautioned against letting the pain from that situation affect other relationships. “Indeed it is very difficult, and it requires an uncommon virtue, not to make others suffer when we suffer,” she said.
Personally, when someone repeatedly verbally attacks me after attempting to hold a rational conversation, I don’t engage in another discussion with them. It is pointless to do so with someone who has no intention of honestly exchanging thoughts and feelings, who only cares to force their own way and perpetuate an endless ping-pong game of assaults. I will not participate in a battle with no end in sight.
I also keep my distance from them. I am polite and gentle when I see them, but if I do not have to be with them, I don’t. I don’t provide opportunity for them to cause me pain.
However, I do pray for my persecutors and send them love as Jesus instructs us to do (Matthew 5:44-45). It is amazing how in time, my feelings change toward them because of this practice. The opposite of love is not hate but rather indifference, and without the prayer and deliberate effort to send love, I would be indifferent, which is unchristian.
As Saint Theodora said, there always will be people who try your patience, no matter how loving and understanding you are toward them. Praying for people who hurt you is difficult but with time not only will the pain subside, your feelings toward that person will become more loving. It doesn’t mean that you may trust them, want to spend free time with them, or like them any more. But your love will increase and provide a sense of peace, because wherever there is love, there is God.
©Mary K. Doyle
(Photo: Interior of Church of the Immaculate Conception, St. Mary-of-the Woods, IN)