God’s Mercy, Trolls, and a Bag of Dog Poo

God’s Mercy, Trolls, and a Bag of Dog Poo May 8, 2015

brownpaperbagMost of the comments I receive on my blog posts are benign.

I would say the vast majority enhance my thoughts about what I write whether they are kind, encouraging, thoughtful, critical or even hopelessly pedantic.

What is not so run of the mill is to get startlingly nasty comments like the one I recently received from a reader with the inappropriately innocuous, cutesy name of “niknak.”

niknak wrote:

Some priests and nuns are special. You desperately want to be. It’s not the same thing at all. It’s not even a path towards it.

After reading this delightful jab I thought, “Wow, no wonder some of my fellow bloggers have banned the combox.”

But then, like a prickly thorn in my thoughts, I began to be prodded by this ugly comment. I thought, “Is this person right, do I desperately want to be special? If I am honest with myself I do want to be considered special…and sometimes I do desperately want to be special, depending on what is going on in my life at that moment….”

Here lies the art of trolling.

There is always a seed of truth in the most vicious of comments, a seed that is sewn in the same way a false psychic predicts the future, a seed that burrows into the writer’s mind far after they hit the “delete” button. A seed the troll hopes will bloom into a bitter poisonous flower in the other person’s soul, a twin to the dark blossom in his or her own.

At first the question rolled around in my head as I beat myself up for the ways in which the troll’s observation was true. But then I brought my question to prayer knowing that God would not treat me as badly as I treat myself.

And I received a pretty quick answer:

“You do want to be special Theresa, just like every other human being the world. And guess what? You are special.

And so is niknak.”

And so is niknak.

I repeated that sentence in my head with the mocking anger of a two-year old.

So is niknak.

How incredibly annoying.

I suppose this can be one of the most frustrating aspects of the spiritual life. When  I bring my problems to God, he always has this offensively empathetic and generous perspective of the person I find to be quite intolerable.

Of course, when I have really been seriously wronged by another person, I do feel that God “takes my side” in the sense of what is just. But then, I still know that no matter what that other person has done he or she still has the opportunity to repent and receive God’s forgiving and compassionate love.

God’s merciful attitude can be annoying, or in the case of persons who have seriously wronged us, downright maddening.

But I suppose in truth we have to be grateful knowing that there is a little niknak in all of us.

Or at least most of us.

When one of my superiors in the convent did not have a working hearing aid, she would vocalize her thoughts aloud to the chagrin of everyone around her. She would even go through her examination of conscience out loud. To my surprise however, even when the sister was totally unaware that she was thinking out loud, her thoughts were always incredibly kind and generous. She would whisper things like, “Oh sister is snoring in chapel. She must be so tired, poor thing.”

I remember commenting to my sisters that if I had the unfortunate habit of thinking my thoughts out loud I would lose all my friends in less than a day.

I may not leave my most icy, bitter and merciless thoughts to burn like a bag of dog poo on the internet porch of my unsuspecting enemies, but I do think thoughts like this—everyday.

So in the end, I am glad that God thinks that both niknak and I are special.

If you are still in need of some encouragement to consider trolls with more empathy, I highly recommend listening to this episode of This American Life. Changed. my. life. Warning, there is language. If you prefer the bleeped version, it’s here.

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  • Oh i hope you don’t change your combox policy. I completely understand why others have changed; I’ve seen the trolls. I’ve wished I could block certain replyers to my comments. Unfortunately that option doesn’t exist for visitors. Perhaps at your end you can block certain problem people. Someone said that they look at those comments as thorns in a crown of thorns that brings one more in sympathy with Christ. Anyway, here’s a prayer for you: May the wounds from those thorns be healed and blessed.

    • Sr. Theresa Aletheia Noble

      Thanks Manny, that prayer is beautiful. I definitely won’t change my combox policy. Too many good people in the world like you; I don’t want to miss out on hearing from them!

      • Victor

        Sister… I’m not sure that I should give you all the credit but while reading your post…. believe “IT” or not… I had tears in my eyes recalling how often I’ve been a so called nicnak who was looking for attention while blaming sinner vic who doesn’t really exist…. Right? … Actually sinner vic was and is very special… in GOD (Good Old Dad) Eyes that is….lol :)… When I said “IT” “I” was not just thinking out loud about my countless comments here and there on the net…

        Long story short… Lately I’ve been trying to stay away from thorns by not reading Daily Gospels, Saints of The Day but… Worst of all I don’t say The Rosary anymore… Longer story short her… I’ve even opened UP my old Facebook account trying to provoke God but HE just keeps giving me, me and me more from His Well of Endless LOVE…

        God Bless Peace

  • Rob B.

    Sister, niknak does this to everyone. Please keep going! 🙂

    • Sr. Theresa Aletheia Noble

      Thanks Rob!

  • Justin

    Taking on a public ministry is a rare form of bravery- the ability to be nasty in the anonymous world of the net is far too attractive to many people. I hope we’re all trying to be special. I know your writing has made you special to me and many others. Even niknak, I imagine, is trying to be special by being noticeable- I guess we all have to be on guard against aggrandizing ourselves by scoring little triumphs against others in service of trying to be “bigger”. Personally, I feel defeated today- a few things at work have me feeling like I spend my whole life fixing other people’s mistakes, but I don’t get recognized for it, I don’t get to be “special.” Reading this has reminded me that I’m trying to fix things for special people, and it’s special enough to succeed in that (though it will take awhile for the logic to catch up with the emotions!). Btw, I appreciate being able to benefit from all the productive comments that turn up on Pursued by Truth, and I hope the good in that continues to make it worthwhile!

    • Sr. Theresa Aletheia Noble

      Comments from people like you definitely make it worthwhile Justin. I hope that your work day improves and that you are reminded in the gentle way God reminds us that you ARE special. I will offer my rosary this afternoon for your intentions. Bless you!

  • Norman

    Great article Sister! However being special is a two way street too. One can be special for being bitter or a narcissist without any wonder, and another for being helpful and loving even if rigidly so.
    It may be true to some that being human is so natural that it isn’t special; only how can one not wonder at the idea of there being seven billion beings exactly like them, but each a little different… It’s so common, yet we can tell each other apart for some reason, even though we don’t have the mental capacity to memorize seven billion faces and names, let alone that many entire lives, memories, and relationships of each. Some ignore this, only you’ve taken time to get to know the being that made it all possible– how special is THAT????
    It’s becoming a norm for people of a certain amount of wealth or knowledge to be narcissistic or arrogant. The current wealthiest country in the world (the US) had a set of highly intelligent theoretical psychologists the attempt to remove narcissism in the DSM a couple years back, clinical psychologists almost lost it as that was America’s main mental issues and the disconnect between people who thought about people and people who work with people became apparent. There was a woman in the IT field amongst all of this wealth and technology who saw a much better way to help people and “took the higher road” so to speak, perhaps parting ways with some intelligent people asking “are you crazy????”…
    Well I for one, think you’re special enough to have answered “No, I’ve been pursued by truth!”…
    That’s a good, fresh breath of air special. Having the inspiring relationship with God that you’ve chosen to have is especially wise. Sharing your very soul is a special thing that only someone like yourself could understand and do.
    Yes; some are special for having their name printed on a list of notorious criminals or serial killers, being popular, or especially shallow or hurt, funny or loud. Others are special for being recorded in the Book of Life in the Alpha and Omega’s library, compelling others to do the same. One of the many beautiful things about it is that we have a great deal of choice in the matter, but people come here more for God and you, less so for discouraging comments towards either. So thanks for making that choice, I want to ESPECIALLY… Thank YOU!
    Keep writing Sister!!!

    • Sr. Theresa Aletheia Noble

      I agree Norman, very interesting points. It’s true, we are all special but we can misuse the unique gifts God has given us in terrible ways.

      And THANK YOU also Norman for your comments and encouragement!

  • Sophia Sadek

    Wanting to be special is not a problem. The problem arises in wanting to be normal.

    • Sr. Theresa Aletheia Noble

      Ha! I love that Sophia.

  • Patrick Joseph Wells Jr

    great article. my personal favorite of yours so far. thank you for posting it! 🙂

    • Sr. Theresa Aletheia Noble

      Thanks Patrick.

  • Charles

    I think I would be more inclined to stop blogging altogether! I’m very glad that you have persevered, Sister, walking past the bags of poo. I laughed out loud over you being glad your thoughts are not audible (almost woke up my sleeping spouse!). Again, thank you.

  • niknac

    I like this post. It shows insight and compassion. Believe me, I do not think I am a better person than anybody else and certainly not you. My point is that there are not leaders or followers on God’s path. There is just the path and we are all fellow travelers.

    • Sr. Theresa Aletheia Noble

      Thanks niknak 🙂

      • Dee Dillinger

        You are way too gracious 🙂 There is a reason that you wear the habit. Also, I love that you changed one letter of nicnac’s name for the sake of anonymity.

    • Dee Dillinger

      Let me get this straight, nicnac, your previous comment was meant to make a point? Do all of your ‘points’ come formatted as semi-coherent and mean spirited drive bys? If you want to be taken seriously as a human and not a troll, then perhaps you should take the time to express yourself in a way that won’t be interpreted by the rest of the world as petty and abusive. If you don’t have anything productive to add to the conversation, then please kindly stay under your bridge.

      • Dee Dillinger

        I realize that this may be your sad attempt at passing an olive branch, and that Sister Theresa may not appreciate me scolding you in her comment section, but I think the obvious thing for you to do is act like an adult and properly apologize for being so terrible.

        • niknac

          You are a tool

          • Dee Dillinger


          • Dee Dillinger

            and you are hilarious!!

          • Dee Dillinger

            I take that back. Anyone who is as obviously unhappy and confused as yourself is not funny. I feel sorry for you.

  • Sister: I am starting a ministry for small groups in the Church. Being up front leaves you vulnerable to the “slings and arrows” of others. I have found it a rollercoaster of emotions to be in ministry. Your article is such a WONDERFUL reflection on dealing with adversity. I don’t think any of us could stand broadcasting our thoughts before us. But God in His mercy gives us a chance to choose how we will translate those thoughts to others – in mercy or judgment. Thank you for choosing mercy as our Lord did and encouraging this person who doesn’t always think the most charitable thoughts. Maybe that “poo” can become healthy manure for some beautiful flowers! Thanks again for your helpful sharing. Bless your heart…

    • Sr. Theresa Aletheia Noble

      Thanks Paul, prayers for your ministry.

  • A J MacDonald Jr

    A troll isn’t someone who disagrees with you, a troll “is someone who posts controversial, inflammatory, irrelevant or off-topic messages in an online community, such as an online discussion forum or chat room, with the primary intent of provoking other users into an emotional response or to generally disrupt normal on-topic discussion.” (Urban Dictionary)

    • Sr. Theresa Aletheia Noble

      “A troll isn’t someone who disagrees with you” – I never said that?

    • Dee Dillinger

      You do realize that your provided definition pretty much sums up nicnac’s behavior, right? Did you even read the original comment from nicknac?

      ‘Some priests and nuns are special. You desperately want to be. It’s not the same thing at all. It’s not even a path towards it.’

      How can that possibly be interpreted as anything but off topic childish nastiness?

  • RachaelM

    Regarding criticisms, a teenager some 20 years ago told me he had received training for when he was criticized to ask himself if there was any validity to what was being said. If so, then he had something to improve. If not, the criticism was more about the speaker, and that he should let the comment go, that his name wasn’t on it. Wise advice!

  • Jim Dailey

    I like to go over to the atheist Patheos and point out when people say really stupid stuff. I think it is fun and funny, especially when they get furiously angry! Does that make me a troll?

    • Dee Dillinger

      Depends entirely on how you do it. If your point is simply to incite a negative reaction, then you are indeed a troll and possibly a bit of a jerk.

      • Jim Dailey

        Well, it never starts out that way. Basically I find dome post making some utterly ridiculous assertion about Catholicim or Christianity, and I point out the illogical conclusions reached by the blogger. Then the crazies start chiming in,
        I see our society bring ruled by these types ( sayBill Maher – but with even bigger mouths and even dumber and I think it is incumbent on me to give it back to them. I mean, if we don’t confront evil when we see it, what good are we?
        So, a good time is had by all, but I do feel like I need a shower afterwards.

  • Dennis Neylon

    Years ago, my late father told me that things that bother us most about others are reflections of ourselves. I do not always remember this when others bother me, but have found over the years that this is very true.

  • I loved this piece. Thank you.

    I found sometimes the best way to deal with antagonizing and fanatical message board posters (whether they are believers or non-believers – and I’ve had both treat me poorly) is just start agreeing with them – no matter what they say. They don’t know what to do with that.

  • Sr Marianne Lorraine Trouve

    What a great post! I especially liked the way you took the question to prayer, and listened for the response. Listening at prayer is so important.
    Dale Carnegie (How to Win Friends and Influence People) talked about how everyone wants to be important. I think that trolls are just trying to get their feeling of being important by needling others. Even if it’s negative attention, it’s still attention.

  • Barbara Ellen Barrs

    In a word, this is modernism: No part of real Catholicism with disrespect for the Almighty. Pick up the Holy Bible for absolute truth from the Holy Spirit. Our days on the earth are short and not a joke.

    • Sr. Theresa Aletheia Noble

      What are you referring to exactly Barbara?