I am introverted by nature.
Do you remember that shy, bespectacled kid from elementary school with their nose always in a book?
Yeah, that was me, and in a lot of ways, that is still who I am.
As a preteen, I often referred books to kids my age. School was easy and other people were complicated. By age 12, I had felt “other” for years. I was left out of games, chosen last for sports (which I hated with all the passion I possessed anyway), and teased regularly by other kids at church and at school. My lunch was hidden, and my book bag was stolen more than once a week before exams. All of this cemented my growing conviction that other people were not worth the effort. I did not want to understand them; I just wanted to be left alone!
As I got older, my solitude afforded me the opportunity to observe those around me. There was a classmate who had been in my orbit for years. She was also a good student but known for her boisterous and even aggressive behavior. She seemed to find joy in teasing and annoying others, especially those who would not speak up for themselves. I avoided her attention studiously and would say a prayer of thanks every time her gaze passed over me and landed on another victim.
It was not until high school was almost over that I got insight into her personal life and understood a little better why she was the way that she was. I wished I had befriended her earlier instead of seething in quiet hostility all those years. As a Christian, wasn’t I supposed to extend God’s love to everyone and not just those who were like me or those I considered worthy?
“Do all that you can to live in peace with everyone.” Romans 12:18 (NLT)
“If you love only those who love you, why should you get credit for that? Even sinners love those who love them!” Luke 6:32 (NLT)
We all have persons in our lives that we might label as “difficult.” The intrusive relative. The overly critical coworker. The gossipy or judgmental church member. The neighbor who regularly makes noise or disregards your property. The child who never listens.
It is human nature to seek peace and comfort, and the easiest way to deal with a difficult person seems to be not to deal with them at all.
Social media is filled with quotes about cutting negative people out of your life and getting rid of anything and anyone that disturbs your peace. As freeing as that sounds, is it truly the right approach to take?
I once heard a friend compare herself to a piece of paper. “God uses other people as pencils and erasers in my life,” she said. “Some help me to grow in areas where I’m deficient. They can write patience or compassion or diligence onto me. Others erase nasty things that shouldn’t be in my heart, like pride or selfishness. Things I wouldn’t have realized were there if they hadn’t rubbed me the wrong way.”
There are three things I try to remember when interacting with difficult people in my life.
Jesus loves difficult people.
The Gospels are full of stories of Jesus loving on people that certainly were not easy to love. James and John were known for being loud and aggressive, so much so that Jesus called them “sons of thunder” (Mark 3:17). These were the brothers who asked Jesus if they could call fire down from Heaven to consume the people in a village who would not let Him pass through! They are the men who when told by Jesus about His impending crucifixion, immediately asked for a position of honor in His kingdom (Mark 10:33-37). They said what they felt and probably added no softening grace to their words. Yet, they were among Jesus’ closest friends. They were transformed by Christ’s love. James became the first Christian martyr (James 12:1, 2). John wrote a gospel, never calling himself by name but simply referring to himself as “one Jesus loved.” This love compelled the cheating tax collector Zaccheus to remedy wrongs he had committed and turned an outcast Samaritan woman into a bold missionary. This is the love Jesus wants us to extend to others.
Love is a choice.
It is easy to love those who love us and treat us well. In return we get their friendship and affection. It feels worthwhile. How do we love those who reject us or make us feel small? God’s standards of love are so lofty it can sound impossible, and in our own strength it is.
“Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. It does not demand its own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged. It does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance.” 1 Corinthians 13:4-7 (NLT)
Only God can put love in our hearts to flow out in acts of kindness for others. With our sinful natures, loving without expecting anything in return is not our first instinct. It is a choice that must be made each day, and sometimes several times in a day. It is a choice that God honors. He longs to give us hearts like His, and as we surrender to Him, He does the work in our hearts.
I am the difficult person in someone’s story.
Our memories are subjective. It is easier to remember the times where we have felt hurt or wronged by others than the times we have caused others pain. As a matter of fact, there are undoubtedly situations where we have been the “villain” from someone else’s perspective, and we were not even aware of the impact our words or actions had. The truth is, we are all difficult people greatly loved by the same God. He wants us to extend His gracious love to others. That difficult person is worth the trouble. And in God’s estimate, so are you.
“Most important of all, continue to show deep love for each other, for love covers a multitude of sins.” 1 Peter 4:8 (NLT)