I am challenged (sometimes) daily to get along with those with whom I disagree; I am challenged daily to get along with people with whom my personality conflicts; I am challenged daily to get along with people who are just plain difficult to deal with. Perhaps you too are so challenged.
Each of us would not be too hard pressed to recount instances of being challenged about dealing with a difficult person. In fact, some days it seems like they are everywhere! Crazy drivers, surly store clerks, inept service people, and telemarketers. Then there is the spouse who is driving the other spouse crazy,the kids are plotting a coup, the boss who is just plain insane, and that co-worker and the neighbors—well, don’t even get me started!
These are people who seem intent on making our lives miserable—irritating, obnoxious, controlling, demeaning, exasperating, and otherwise grating, get on your last nerve, people! Try as we might, we cannot escape them. They have this uncanny ability to “get on your last nerve!” Truth is, depending on the day and the circumstance, some difficult people are so gifted at being difficult that they cause you to transform and become a difficult (read, violent) person: you would like to just slap them; others, again depending on the occasion, you would like to feed a poisoned apple or at least a poisoned pen!
Even at your greatest point of exasperation what stops you is that nagging, usually unwelcome, thought that you are a Christian and scripture says, Love your enemies, do good to those who persecute you. This reminder of a Christian tenet competes with thoughts and fantasies of revenge. If only you weren’t a Christian, you lament repeatedly to yourself, most times silently and at other times audibly but barely so.
Don’t you just hate it when just at the moment your mind conjures up the fantasy solution, the Holy Spirit spoils the moment and pricks your conscience with the reminder…If someone slaps you, offer them the other cheek.
How we deal with difficult people can have a long-term and rippling effect on how we treat one another. It can have a negative effect on the effectiveness of our Christian walk.
In other words, a lot of people are unreasonable and, at times, difficult—even Christians. Each of us will run into (difficult) people who will just not get it; they will not listen, deal, resolve, or handle things God’s way. They only want it their way or the highway. Some people have hard hearts and are unwilling or unable, due to personality defects or chemical imbalances, to see another as God’s child. They only see matters, issues, situations, and circumstance from the perspective one has from looking at things not further than one inch from their nose—the me, myself and I perspective. This is very sad and there is not much you can do with individuals so oriented.
Such people are in the short and long run the ones who will be lonely and bitter because, if that is what they want, that is what being tied inextricably to such behavior will engender. However, and this is the point each of us must not only remember, but also practice: We are still called to pray and minister to them; in the end, it is best not to take their attacks personally.
Much of what we call discipline is nothing less than character assassination. We say to our disobedient child: “You’re a bad boy.” We say to a failing Christian brother or sister: “You’re not a good Christian.” Such statements don’t correct or edify; they tear down character and convey disapproval for the person as well as his problem. Your child is not a liar; he’s a child of God who has told a lie. Your Christian friend is not a thief; he’s a child of God who has taken something which doesn’t belong to him. We must hold people accountable for their behavior, but we are never allowed to denigrate their character.
Who is the most difficult person you ever encountered? Did that person have a personal story that eventually shed some light on why s/he was so difficult in their dealing with others? Did you ever confront this person about their behavior or did you, at the time, keep quiet and took the brunt of that person’s attacks?
When is a thief not a thief? A thief is not a thief, as Paul instructed the Ephesians, when s/he becomes a giver.
In other words, belonging to Christ involves repudiating an old life style and the old responses to things; it means replacing the old habits and automatic responses by deploying, embracing and practicing new godly habits.
Peter agreed with Paul, noting most clearly that retaliation is more often the inappropriate response to difficult people.
For this is a gracious thing, when, mindful of God, one endures sorrows while suffering unjustly. (1 Peter 2:19 ESV)
The HCSB translation is perhaps more clear: For it [brings] favor if, because of conscience toward God, someone endures grief from suffering unjustly. (1 Peter 2:19 HCSB)
The standard or determining criterion for our lives should, if fact must be the ‘call with which you have been called, that saving activity of God by which (through reading, listening to, preaching and teaching His word) He brings us into the experiential reality of His electing (why He called us) purpose.
And those He predestined, He also called; and those He called, He also justified; and those He justified, He also glorified. (Romans 8:30 HCSB)
God is faithful; by Him you were called into fellowship with His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. (1 Corinthians 1:9 HCSB)
All of us, that believe are children of God, all have gifts to share. We need to learn to stop looking for and rehearsing the infractions; instead we are to look for the gifts present in each of us. When we look for the gifts, we are offered insight into reconciliation. When we forgive, when we reconcile, we honor God.
Perhaps a most insightful instruction on forgiveness (insightful because it provides the fundamental context for forgiveness) is provided by Jesus in Matthew 13:24—30, a periscope known as the Parable of the Weeds:
24He presented another parable to them: The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a man who sowed good seed in his field.
25But while people were sleeping, his enemy came, sowed weeds among the wheat, and left.
26When the plants sprouted and produced grain, then the weeds also appeared.
27The landowner’s slaves came to him and said, ‘Master, didn’t you sow good seed in your field? Then where did the weeds come from?’
28 An enemy did this!’ he told them. So, do you want us to go and gather them up? the slaves asked him.
29 No, he said. ‘When you gather up the weeds, you might also uproot the wheat with them.
30Let both grow together until the harvest. At harvest time I’ll tell the reapers: Gather the weeds first and tie them in bundles to burn them, but store the wheat in my barn. (HCSB—underline emphasis, mine)
In other words, this parable acknowledges and tells us to not act out of surprise, fear or exasperation; evil exists!
Evil has been on the earth since Adam and Eve sinned. Their act of rebellion implanted rebellion within and encoded and programmed a sin nature in the DNA of mankind. In fact, given the current condition of the world and man’s fallen nature, within the earth realm, evil is inevitable and ever present, so much so that Jesus advised, let both of them grow together until the harvest.