After spending almost an entire day in my office at work thanks to the end-of-semester schedule, here is a list of things I wonder:
Why do people think it’s a good idea to microwave things like tuna and eggs in the communal office, where the scent not only lingers but pervades the hall and all the offices thereabouts?
Do people really not know that, in an office setting, it’s polite to turn off your phone notifications and sounds so that the constant ting!-ting!-ting! of your texting does not give the other people sharing your office a nervous tic?
Why is it always the person sitting nearest me who feels compelled to a) sigh loudly and do audible deep-breathing for half-hour stretches, b) wear 80 gallons of perfume, or c) hold an entire cell phone conversation 2 inches from my ear?
And why, in this season of peace on earth, do I allow these things to annoy me?
Because they do. They always do. The small things always carry more significance than they should. In fact, Tish Harrison Warren has a wonderful passage on it in Liturgy of the Ordinary:
Small things go wrong. …these unbidden unveilings in my day are insignificant compared to the immense suffering in our lives and in the broader world. There are people who face profound agony every day: chronic pain, heart-wrenching loss, desperation. In my own life there have been seasons of deep sorrow. But this is not that. This is not the Valley of the Shadow of Death. This is the roadside ditch of broken things and lost objects, the potholes of gloom and unwanted interruptions.
It’s the little things, isn’t it? We can endure a mighty conflict without flinching, without wounding, without giving in to anger or resentment – but we lash out after a careless comment by a loved one. We persevere in grace and faith through the loss of a loved one or a devastating diagnosis, but forgetting where we parked the car or having to sit through a rude co-worker’s behavior spikes our rage and bad attitude.
It’s the little things. They trip us up every time.
And it’s worse at Christmas, perhaps because the intensity and the demands of the season overwhelm people beyond what they can bear. In a season often directed at and appreciative of children, I’ve seen more than share of parents having angry, despairing meltdowns in the middle of stores when their child engages in that one tiny act of disobedience one more time. People freak out over whether their gifts are going to ship on time or over whether or not the choir will finally get it together for the cantata. A zit becomes a tragedy for the teenager with a Christmas formal to attend. So much emotion, so much feeling, and sometimes so much sin over the most minor of issues.
But really, that’s precisely why the little things are such an indicator of where we are spiritually. Many of us have the reserves for a big crisis or a significant ordeal – we know how we ought to be in those circumstances – but we lack the consistency, the discipline, and the closeness with God to really maintain that in a meaningful way through all the speedbumps and traffic jams of day-to-day living. And when I find myself getting irritated in my office over the lingering scent of tuna or the constant ting! of my coworker’s texts, it’s an invitation to me to consider that: to evaluate where I am spiritually, to apply all the big-picture principles I know to the smaller, more mundane rhythms of daily life.
The life we’ve been given on earth is blessed, glorious, and full of freedom in Jesus. It is also stocked with random annoyances, inconveniences, and small but irritating problems. When you encounter these this holiday season – and you will, I assure you – use them as a place to meet God again, to evaluate your attitude, and to adjust accordingly.
And maybe bring headphones to the office, too.