Niggling is a multipurpose word. (And I didn’t make it up, honest.) It’s a noun, a verb, an adverb and an adjective. All of its forms convey the same thing: pestering or being pestered by the annoying, small, and trivial things. Giving the small stuff more weight in our lives and thoughts than they deserve. It’s the straw that broke the camel’s back, the fly that won’t stop buzzing around your ears, and the itch between your shoulder blades.
One big problem with niggles is that, in getting wrapped up in our own problems, too often we become the “niggle” in someone else’s life. We are the rude customer, the spouse with the annoying habit or the careless driver on the highway. In our self-centeredness we forget about the people next to us, focusing on our own petty needs (or our own internal niggles), and as a result, we thoughtlessly bump into their lives.
Being human, we can’t help but deal with niggles. They are everywhere in our lives. Niggling little problems crop up at home, at work, even in church (like that guy behind you who can’t carry a tune…oops, that’s me; sorry!). Our humanity, which allows us to hunger, thirst, be bored and tired, thrives in a world of niggling. What’s a soul to do?!
Saint Paul had a niggle in his life. He never tells us what it is, so I don’t want to suggest that it’s a niggling niggle, but it is a “thorn in the flesh,” that annoys Paul. In his letter to the Corinthians, Paul said he asked God three times to take it away, but God told him to live with it, because God’s “power is made perfect in weakness.” Rather than continue to complain about whatever was niggling at him, Paul embraced God’s word, and tells us to be “content with weakness, insults, hardships, persecutions and constraints for the sake of Christ; for when I am weak, then I am strong.”
So the next time you’re being niggled, remember the words of St. Paul to his friends in Corinth, and “boast most gladly of my weaknesses, in order that the power of Christ may dwell within me.”