People are difficult. Everyone. No exceptions.
Even the people you like have at least one “quirk” that bothers you. They usually don’t annoy you on purpose (barring, of course, younger siblings [insert laugh and smirk here]). But there is something – an action, a catch phrase, a behavior – about everyone you know that just makes your skin crawl or your nerves rattle.
Why? Because we all have layers – our past, our present, our mistakes, our victories, our shame, our freedom, our hope, our hoplessness, our fear, our faith, our beliefs and ideaologies, our choices, our regrets. And we’re all convinced that our layers are OK (right) and other people’s aren’t.
And when our sense of being right bumps into someone’s difference of opinion, life gets interesting. Possibly challenging. Maybe stressful.
We can convince ourselves that we just need to get through – the day, the encounter, the dinner – and then our difficult people will fade into the fabric of our past. But victory doesn’t come from just getting through. Progress isn’t made by walking backwards or standing still. Change doesn’t happen when we don’t alter our behavior.
And what if that person or behavior is the final step to achieving my victory? What if that person or behavior is the attitude adjustment I need to reach my next level of glory (revelation)? What if that person or behavior is part of God’s preparation for my next assignment or overall purpose?
I am fully convinced that sometimes it is part of God’s purpose to use that difficult person to be sandpaper in my life. Why sandpaper? That person is put in my life to “sand away” at my rough edges, the areas where I am judgmental or impatient or unloving. God wants to use the difficult people to give me a more loving perspective and teach me how to love without rules and restrictions.
So the difficult people will always be there – at work, at the grocery story, at the mall, in your home, on the roadways, and anywhere you go. God won’t let you escape or ignore them (for long). Because He can’t shape you into the person you were born to be without these sandpaper people. And part of His being is love. 1 John 4:7,11 says “7 Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. … 11 Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.”
How easy do you find it to love or even tolerate your sandpaper person in difficult moments? I am quick to admit that a lot of the time I have great difficulty loving people. I find it sometimes impossible to obey Jesus’ command to love:
Matthew 22:35-40 – 35 Then one of [the Pharisees], a lawyer, asked Him a question, testing Him, and saying, 36 “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the law?” 37 Jesus said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the first and great commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.”
What does it mean to love? 1 Corinthians 13:4-8a says: 4 Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up; 5 does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil; 6 does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth; 7 bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. 8 Love never fails.
So how do we become the “always” people who walk in love? Especially when someone disagrees with you or is disagreeable. We’re human, so are we even capable of “always” love? God seems to think so. And He requires us to try. 1 Corinthians 13:1-3 says without love we are not full followers.
Not love by society’s standards, which is usually a hollow or requirement-based love. But God’s agape, all-consuming, all-forgiving, all-accepting right where you are love. Especially with difficult people.
So how do we become “does not” and “all” people who walk in God’s love? Philippians 4:4-8 gives us several clues: 4 Rejoice in the Lord always. Again I will say, rejoice! 5 Let your gentleness be known to all men. The Lord is at hand. 6 Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; 7 and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus. 8 Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy—meditate on these things. 9 The things which you learned and received and heard and saw in me, these do, and the God of peace will be with you.
What are the clues in this passage? Just remember to “be”. We are to:
- Be full of joy – “rejoice” about all the good things in your life, and “rejoice” for the opportunity to grow in hard times or with difficult people
- Be gentle – let your patience and graciousness be your go-to emotions when dealing with a difficult person or situation
- Be not anxious – don’t focus on the (possibility of) bad outcomes when dealing with a difficult person but look to and at God for the provision and strength He is providing
- Be praying – be honest with God about your emotions and feelings and reality you have because of the difficult person, then be open to changes He wants to make in you
- Be thankful – there is no time where we don’t have at least one thing to be thankful for, so be watchful for and be verbally grateful for His blessings in your life; and be mindful that there is beauty in the difficult people
- Be of good (positive) thoughts – find things that are praiseworthy and noble about the difficult people instead of rehashing the bad things again
So how can I love difficult peopIe? I can change my negative comments into positive, life-affirming statements. I can be purposeful in looking for the good and goldy in people instead of focusing on the hurtful and sad. I can choose to look at people with God’s perspective of being creative and purposeful and wonderfully made.
Or I can go the opposite way of love and choose to look at the flaws, the mistakes, the cracks in the armor. But what good does this do? Looking only at the bad things only hurts the relationship and prevents it from growing or developing. Looking only at the rough edges keeps us from truly loving the person as a creation of the Master Craftsman. Looking at the imperfections keeps us from looking at and dealing with the issues in our own life.
What choice will you make today? Will you focus on the conflict or will you choose to have peaceable relationship (or reconciliation)? Will you focus on being right or will you choose to let it go to walk in love? Will you focus on the differences or will you choose to see the difficult people as “fearfully and wonderfully made” (Psalm 139:14) to be “His workmanship (poem), created in Christ Jesus for good works” (Ephesians 2:10)?
Our life is continually before Him because “I have inscribed you on the palms of My hands” (Isaiah 49:16). How are you living? Are you choosing to love people or are you choosing to be self-righteous and right? Are you choosing to speak positive, life-affirming things about the difficult people or are you choosing to rehash the bad things repeatedly?
And just remember this humbling thought: YOU are the difficult person in other’s people lives. How do you want them to treat you? How do you want them to interact with and react to you?
Allow people to sand off your rough edges. Be gracious and humble and open to God’s change. Choose to love people, especially when they are the least lovable.
And if you fail, recognize your error, ask God to forgive you, and get up and try again. Stop standing in the valley staring at Goliath and take action. Don’t let a failure stop your willingness to try. We can reprogram ourselves to react differently. God will give us many opportunities to practice and chances to do better. Each victory changes our relationships and strengthens our resolve. Be determined to be an “always” person who is “all” in for your relationships. Change the attitude within you to change the atmosphere around you.
LOVE. Can you love like God? Can you forgive like God? Can you be merciful like God? He gives these things to you without measure in your most loveable, likeable, and difficult moments. Are you willing to do the same for the people in your world? Can you look at, react with, and walk in love with the difficult people in your life?
Be the person who can “be” a loving witness, a loving friend, a loving co-worker, a loving family member, a loving stranger. Be full of love, and watch how God changes the world around you as a result.
Marie Fremin, 10/25/14