Changing Difficult Relationships
by Dianne Barker
“If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone” (Romans 12:18).
The Apostle Paul wrote that—one of those key relationship truths he likely had learned from experience, having encountered much conflict in his ministry.
Do you know people who enjoy conflict? They seem to live and breathe dissension. I call them “cantankerous people.” We encounter them along life’s way—in school, at work, in the neighborhood, and occasionally in the family.
Living in peace calls for that going-first, laying-down-your life, covering-love our Lord extended to us.
“We love because he first loved us. Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen. And he has given us this command: Anyone who loves God must also love their brother and sister” (1 John 4:19-21).
That tells me I have a responsibility to go first—taking the initiative to establish and maintain healthy relationships, even with the difficult people in my life.
Jesus said, “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (John 15:13).
After speaking these words, Jesus illustrated them by laying down His life, setting a precedent for sacrificial giving in our relationships.
“Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins” (1 Peter 4:8).
Love covers, allowing us to see and appreciate the good in others—though sometimes we must look long and hard to find it.
Before urging us to live in peace with everyone, Paul wrote this: “Love must be sincere…Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Honor one another above yourselves…Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse…live in harmony with one another…Do not repay anyone evil for evil…” (see Romans 12:9-7).
That’s a huge assignment, but the grace of God enables us to live out these principles.
Here are the major truths I’ve learned about enduring relationships:
- One person in the relationship willing to obey God and apply His Word can, by His grace, change the relationship.
- The relationship is more important than the last word.
- Loving most (beyond what I receive) is a Christ-like thing; He laid down his life.
- When it seems I do all the giving, I can be sure the Lord is multiplying my blessing.
- The quality of this relationship is determined by one radical decision: I, personally, individually, will obey the Lord, putting into practice what He says, no matter what.
Jesus gave us a simple formula that applies to all relationships. “Make it a practice to love your enemies, treat well (do good to, act nobly toward) those who detest you and pursue you with hatred. Invoke the blessings upon and pray for the happiness of those who curse you. Implore God’s blessing (favor) upon those who abuse you (who revile, reproach, disparage, and high-handedly misuse you)” (Luke 6:27-28 Amplified).
Love, do good, bless, and pray (implore God’s favor). Simple, yes…but gut-wrenching! Why bother? “So I always take pains to have a clear conscience toward both God and man” (Acts 24:16). I bother so my conscience is clear.
Who can forget Jesus’ words about turning the other cheek, giving away your coat, and going the second mile?
“If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. If someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles” (Matthew 5:39-41).
That isn’t easy, but we can choose to practice second-mile living, assured our doing so will bring blessing—to us and to our relationships.
“Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good,” Paul said in Romans 12:19. Overcoming evil with good is my choice. It’s an obedience issue.
Years ago a personality conflict with an older co-worker made our relationship challenging. As the tension increased, I had no escape—and I had no choice but to change the way I related to this overbearing, insolent person who had authority over me.
The Lord enabled me to see this man’s good qualities that I could appreciate. I also realized the way I reacted to his arrogant and domineering personality had contributed to the conflict.
And then the Lord gave me grace to change what I could. I began speaking to him kindly, expressing interest in his interests. I found him to be knowledgeable, enabling me to verbalize genuine appreciation. He began responding to my God-inspired relationship-building gestures in a friendly manner. Although we still had differences, we were able to work together in peace.
The Lord taught me a great lesson through that experience: he honors our obedience in amazing ways. Don’t hesitate to go first in establishing or healing a relationship with difficult people, and do your best to live in peace. That cantankerous person could become a cherished friend!
Dianne Barker is a speaker, radio host, and author of 11 books, including the award-winning I Don’t Chase the Garbage Truck Down the Street in My Bathrobe Anymore! Organizing for the Maximum Life. She’s secretary and blog coordinator for Christian Authors Network and a member of Advanced Writers and Speakers Association. Visit www.diannebarker.com.
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