Poisonous Irritants

Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant  or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful;

it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. 

Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

1 Corinthians 13

As a volunteer at a retreat center, I did some weeding in the butterfly habitat along a mulch trail. Under the trees nearby were some Turk’s Cap that I wanted to transplant at home. Foolishly I did the digging up of the plants without realizing that there was some hidden poison oak in the underbrush. Although I had gloves on, the plant touched my arms resulting in an itchy dermatitis rash from an allergic reaction to the urushiol oil in poison oak. Unfortunately I was headed out of town on a beach holiday, so I quickly grabbed some Hydrocortisone cream at the pharmacy, which seemed to stop the itch. However, after a day in the sun and water, the small rash grew into a swollen holiday mood buster. Luckily, a doctor available at our beach resort gave me a big injection of cortisone. Thankfully, the swelling and rash reduced within hours.

Wouldn’t you know, the Spirit of God used the poison oak “irritation” to expose the poisonous results of my own irritable responses to people and circumstances in my daily life. Being of a temperament that likes things to be done the “correct” or “efficient” way, in my viewpoint, often results in stress or irritation when things don’t go “my” way. This can be exhibited in irritability, angry responses, swearing, and selfishness. O Lord forgive me.

The irritability rises up so quickly, that it is too late to avoid the resulting rash of offense and the itchy discomfort of my poisonous words, as these verses describe:

  • The words of the reckless pierce like swords, but the tongue of the wise brings healing. Proverbs 12:18
  •  Fools vent their anger, but the wise quietly hold it back. Proverbs 29:11 
  • The soothing tongue is a tree of life, but a perverse tongue crushes the spirit. Proverbs 15:4 (The definition of perverse is a deliberate and unacceptable action in spite of consequences.)

Why is it so hard to be patient and kind, especially with those I really care for and love? According to Stephen Kendrick in The Love Dare, stress and selfishness are the two main factors contributing to irritability. The stress of divisive relationships, or excessive work along with no rest or healthy exercise and nutrition quickly drain energy and crankiness erupts. The heart issue of irritability is selfishness, which could be hidden in many destructive patterns such as lust, bitterness, greed, defensiveness, and pride. Selfishness is wanting my needs met regardless of the consequences for someone else.

I could try to put some over-the-counter ointment on the problem, but what is needed is a big ol’ injection of fast-acting, Christ-character infused, Holy Spirit-empowered love. This kind of love calms me down, shows me the poisonous affect of my words and actions, and leads me to patience, kindness, humility, asking forgiveness, letting go, and sacrificing my way for the sake of another, or a loved one.

REFLECT. Where have you noticed the poisonous effects of irritability in your relationships at work and home? Can you identify the stress or selfishness causing unhealthy reactions?


“Jesus has given us a new commandment and that is ‘to love one another as I have loved you.’ This way of loving is much more demanding. It is not simply a movement of faith in the abstract. It is accepting each other in our individualities, in our opinionated-ness, in the things that drive us up the wall, in what seems physically or emotionally repulsive in other people. We accept people just as they are because Christ has accepted us just as we are – with our lengthy list of limitations, faults, sins, and hang-ups. God’s unconditional love poured forth in our hearts by the Holy Spirit goes on showing love, no matter what happens and even in the face of opposition and persecution.”
– Thomas Keating, Fruits and Gifts of the Spirit

PRACTICE. Solitude.

The practice of solitude is a healthy life rhythm of making space for silence and rest to reduce stress and pressure that keeps us on edge and irritated. We need to set an intentional time and place to be quiet, to be, to sit in the presence of God, listening, restoring.

A good way to start is with just five or ten minutes of silence. Say the words, “Here I am, Lord.” As distracting thoughts come to mind, imagine they are boats on a river and allow them to float on by. Return to God repeating, “Here I am, Lord.” Allow the Spirit of God to minister to you gently and peacefully. You can change the amount of time or words to fit your ability to be in solitude.

Without solitude it is virtually impossible to live a spiritual life…we do not take the spiritual life seriously if we do not set aside some time to be with God and listen to him.” Henri Nouwen

  • Spend time praying over the deeper issues that are making you irritable. As Jesus pointed out, “the mouth speaks what the heart is full of” Matthew 12:34.
  • Pray this breath prayer: Set a guard, O LORD; over my mouth. Psalm 141:3 Breathe in: “Set a guard, O Lord” and Exhale “over my mouth.”
  • Be vulnerable and accountable with a soul friend or spiritual director. It is foolish to not be truthful about our struggles, keeping them hidden can result in some pretty bad rashes! “Make this your common practice: Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you can live together whole and healed.” James 5:16 MSG

WORSHIP. The Porter’s Gate, Love Will Never Fail. https://youtu.be/m6P0YkzWuNM

One Comment Add yours

  1. jlowrimore says:

    I think your irritability experiences will find others who can identify with your experiences, Your sharing hopefully will help others to not only identify their reactions but want to modify/change their acting from this state of irritability. And you are right. Such responses are poisonous. Good sharing !! JAne

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