Loving difficult people
A devotional by Jessica Brodie
They’re everywhere, aren’t they? That critical coworker always on your case. That backstabbing neighbor who pretends to be your friend yet gossips behind your back. That passive-aggressive family member or drama-hungry colleague always stirring up emotional chaos. Even your sweet child or spouse, who also happens to know exactly how to push all your buttons and drive you bonkers.
Whatever label you attach—rude, mean, judgmental, antagonistic, snide, or just plain annoying—“difficult” people aren’t always easy to love. Maybe they’ve always been difficult, but you’re forced to interact with them because you are closely connected, such as a relative. Or maybe they’re normally just fine, but they’re going through a rough patch, such as a breakup, death, mental health crisis, or job loss, and not dealing with it well.
These are the folks whose phone calls send that “oh, no” dread into the pit of your stomach, who you’re tempted to find out have RSVP’d before you accept that party invitation, who you avoid when you see coming so you don’t have to interact with them in the hallway. Sometimes, they have the ability to turn your sunshiny day into a gloom of despair. Sometimes, it’s a nonstop fight.
Over the years, I’ve known a lot of difficult people. Truth be told, sometimes I’ve been that “difficult person,” myself. I’ve had dark phases where I was filled with insecurity, envy, ambition, greed, fury, and wildly unrealistic expectations. I didn’t even like my own company very much, and I imagine others didn’t either.
As a Christian, how do we deal with “difficult people”? Jesus commands us to “love thy neighbor” (Matthew 22:36-40), but does that mean we have to like them, too?
The short answer: Yes.
Here’s the thing—difficult people are nothing new. We’ve grumbled, complained, lusted, lied, thieved, and envied our way through relationships since the days of Adam and Eve. People can be wonderful, loyal, loving, and supportive companions, but we can also be real jerks to each other—even (and sometimes especially) to those we love. Now, if that difficult person in your life is abusive in some way, that is different. Abuse is illegal, dangerous, and by no means permissible or explainable.
But for those “regular” difficult types, I offer two key things that can help you as a Christian love—and even like, or perhaps just tolerate—that person better.
The first is looking within. Are their behaviors a little too “close to home”? Many times, I feel an aversion to someone who reminds me of myself in some way—and particularly of things I don’t like about myself and strive to push past. Maybe you have far more in common with that “annoying coworker” than you think you do. Maybe she’s just an earlier version of you, and you could help her evolve just like someone else helped you.
In Matthew 7, Jesus said, “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye’” (Matthew 7:3-5 NIV).
Think about it. Pray about it.
The second is grace. Other than Jesus, I’ve never met a single perfect person—myself included. God made every one of us, and He loves every one of us in spite of this. Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ died on the cross to pay the debt of our sins so we could have eternal life, and He did this not because of anything we accomplished, but because of the vast and inexplicable love He has for us. We are to model that, too, as best as possible, including when that is not easy. That’s called grace.
As the apostle Paul wrote to the early church in Colossae, “Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity” (Colossians 3:12-14 NIV).
Remember: Love is quite often a choice, not an emotion. It’s deciding to accept a person, flaws and all, and walk beside them. It’s choosing to care for them as much as or even more than you care for yourself.
Choose to love. Choose grace. Choose compassion.
And live in the full freedom of Christ.
Jessica Brodie is an award-winning Christian novelist, journalist, editor, blogger, and writing coach and the recipient of the 2018 American Christian Fiction Writers Genesis Award for her novel, The Memory Garden.
She is also the editor of the South Carolina United Methodist Advocate, the oldest newspaper in Methodism. Learn more about her fiction and read her faith blog at http://jessicabrodie.com.
You can also connect with her on YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, and more. She’s also produced a free eBook, A God-Centered Life: 10 Faith-Based Practices When You’re Feeling Anxious, Grumpy, or Stressed.