Difficult People

Some people get on my nerves. It feels so “un-Christian” to write those words or say them out loud.  There are those people who have a special gift for unnerving or creating an intense emotional response in us.
 I struggle with individuals who require additional patience, gentleness, and care.  At times my solution is a hand physically placed over my mouth to prevent the toxic mess of words which could escape at any moment.

 Somehow I am supposed to love these folks!

 To make matters complicated, these “difficult” people are unavoidable at times.  Maybe a co-worker, church member, family member (yours or in-laws) gets the better of you.   I want to treat them like an annoying mosquito, but my social setting prevents me.

Moment of honesty:  I’ve failed to love…badly.  I continue to move forward, but have not attained any type of perfection!
 Over the last few years God has been renovating pieces of my heart.  This area full of damaging thoughts and hostile feelings towards others who rub me like sandpaper or refuse to see it my way, became a learning experience.

 As with any part of myself which slides under God’s magnifying glass, I felt the need to explain my cruel responses and thoughts away.  My argument often sounded like, “But God, did you see what he or she did?  This person is annoying, hurtful, manipulative…”  The list could go on, as well as the excuses.

 Painful and slow, God met me in the imperfection and began showing me what it would mean to create a new way of thinking.

 It all began with accepting only God could create the necessary change.  I would have to do my part and lean in, but only through grasping onto my Creator would I be fully capable to apply the concepts and scripture necessary for my transformation.  This may seem straightforward but cleaning out your old habits is daunting.

 After I accepted my need for God, the focus turned on who to watch.   In his time on Earth Jesus encountered those who approached him with:

  • Fear (Mathew 8:34, 9:8)
  • Jealousy and Malice (Mark 3:2, Matthew 21:15)
  • Ridicule (John 1:45-49)
  • Cynicism (John 6:26, 7:1-6; Matthew 13:53-58)
  • Betrayal/Abandonment (John 16:32, 18:2-5, 18:25-27).

The Son of God was an expert on people similar to the ones I was so clearly struggling with.  As I was reading through scripture, two very clear realizations became essential to my metamorphosis.

First, Jesus was able to see past others words and actions to the true motivation.  The religious elite of Christ’s day are an instant choice for this particular interaction.  Their deceitful motives were fully known to Christ, but their actions were meant to hide these selfish intentions behind the guise of religious virtue.

Outward self-serving behavior can easily stem from inward insecurities and failings.

We live in a hurting and broken world.  Most of the people we encounter are carrying a burden.  This doesn’t excuse their behavior, but it requires us to alter our perspective.

 If we become consumed with their “unfair” actions or words, there isn’t a place for us to process how God wants to use this situation.  Jesus was able to reveal God’s heart through these negative encounters.

 A telling example of this exchange came in John 8, when a woman caught in adultery was brought before Jesus by the teachers of religious law and Pharisees.  It was an attempt to trap Jesus.  He saw their inward heart and motive, and used this moment to reveal God’s grace.

 “‘All right, but let the one who has never sinned throw the first stone!’” (v. 7) Jesus carefully removed the evil of their intentions by showing abundant grace to the woman and surrounding crowd in his response.

We have the same choice.  When someone has cruel intentions or harmful words/behavior, we can choose to flip the circumstances to show abundant grace to the individual and others who may be watching. Responding with spiritual fruit (Galatians 5:22) will diffuse negativity for ourselves and others.

Secondly, Obedience is key to walking with God.  Welcome to my deepest struggle.  In order to walk with God, my obedience is necessary – not optional.

Christ showed his followers there was a true need of obedience when working with difficult or undesirable people.  The woman at Jacob’s Well (John 4) was one such instance.  She was considered unclean as a Samaritan, living with a man outside of marriage, and a woman alone in public. All of these factors added up to why Jesus shouldn’t have talked with her.

If we are honest there are people in our lives which are hard to love because we’ve adopted a social stigma towards their outward appearance or life choices.  It could even be the reason why they get on our nerves or we have conflict with them – they are different from us.

 What if Jesus had decided to allow the social constructs to change his interaction with this woman?  He clearly stated the impact of obedience in verse 34, “‘My nourishment comes from doing the will of God, who sent me, and from finishing his work.’”  He is sustained, like food would sustain the body, by obeying the Father and doing what He’s planned.

 Christ impacted this woman and so many others of her village because He was obedient to show her the need for a savior.  Obedience often requires we lay down our initial perceptions and opinions to go deeper with those around us.  We need to ask ourselves, what inside of me pushes back when this person interacts with me?

 What is truly at the root of my dislike of this individual?  Be honest with you answer, Friends! The problem can be more than just their attitude or a difference of opinion.  As I mentioned earlier, there is always “heart work” to be done in a woman seeking positive change.

 The person you disagree with, who annoys you, or seems to dislike you; they are your charge.  God has called us to love and serve our everyday people, even the ones who exasperate.  While they are difficult and our initial response is not always positive, how can we draw them closer to God and impact them so deeply they ask questions which lead them back to our Maker?

 What is one way you can make a lasting change in your interactions with a person who rubs you like sandpaper? 

(Note:  In the above discussion I am not talking about abusive relationships. These are a completely different condition, the rules for engaging others in those relationships require special approaches and safety measures.)

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