Dealing With Difficult People (God’s Way)
Note: Tara Barthel and Judy Dabler, authors of Peacemaking Women, want women to experience “shalom-filled relationships” in their lives, meaning that their relationships are reconciled and are “much more than merely the absence of conflict.” “They reflect the positive qualities of love, kindness, trust, and compassion,” the authors write. But how can you be a woman of peace when people rub you the wrong way? Dealing with difficult people isn’t easy, and it needs to be handled God’s way.
by Tara Klena Barthel and Judy Dabler
As we strive to develop relationships of shalom (peace), we may come across the uncomfortable situation of having to deal with a difficult or unpleasant person. It may be a family member, coworker, or member of our church. Whoever it is, we have a great opportunity to respond to this unpleasant person in a way that sets us apart from non-Christians. After all, what other faith than in Christ would ever motivate a person to show kindness to people who are abrasive and unkind?
Destroy ’em. It is always shocking when we are attacked, especially by a Christian. Once I received a telephone call from a professing Christian who was astoundingly rude to me. He verbally attacked me. I was frightened and angry and called Judy for advice on how to respond. Judy’s advice was simple: “Destroy him. Take out the A-bomb of Christianity and blow him out of the water.” My initially enthusiastic reaction showed that I did not know what she meant. But Judy’s advice on dealing with difficult people is based on Romans 12, so she asked me to turn there with her. Together we read:
Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices… For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought… Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Honor one another above yourselves… Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse… Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone… Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
Verses 1, 3, 9-10, 14, 17-18, 21
As difficult as it was for me to hear, Scripture is clear. As Christians, in light of all we have received in Christ, we are bound to a different standard when it comes to relating with unpleasant people. The world may say, “He hurt you, so hurt him back.” But God’s Word says that we are to “destroy them” with love. In my case, this meant that although I wanted to use my verbal skills to defend myself and prove him wrong, I was instead called to consider diligently the truth in his accusations and respond in humility and love. I also looked for ways to encourage him through emails and calls, even though my preference would have been to avoid him. God’s grace enabled me to speak carefully of him to others, even though in my pride I would have wanted to slander him and bring disrespect on him.
Fill the chasm between you with love. It may help to think of relating with difficult people in this way: out of gratitude for God’s love toward you, fill the chasm in the relationship with love. Do your best to listen patiently. If you simply cannot reconcile your perspectives or even find common ground on which to stand, then you have a choice. Will you fill the gulf between you and them with bitterness, rage, malice, anger, and slander? Or will you fill it with love? God’s grace enables you to remember that God sovereignly ordained that difficult person to be in your life, and he is working all things together for his glory and your good. God calls you to fill the chasm with the fruit of the Holy Spirit, beginning with love (Gal. 5:22-23).
Don’t focus on being right. We may be tempted to verbally attack an unpleasant person in order to show that we are right. But even though she may indeed be in the wrong, we are called to remember that being right is not the most important thing. As Christians, being loving is the most important thing. God cares that we have a holy heart and reflect his character in this world. One day, the Righteous Judge will reveal to us the truth—for he is Truth. Every wrong will be righted. Between now and that day, God’s grace enables us to focus less on defending ourselves or our position and more on testifying to God’s mercy and greatness. Being treated rudely is stressful. Often we do not know why God allows tension in our relationships. But one day it will all become clear and what will have mattered is this: Did we love God? Did we love others? Did we focus on being right, or did we walk in mercy, grace, and love?
Always rely on the Lord. We easily love people who love us (Matthew 5), but it takes a work of God’s Spirit within us to enable us to love those who intentionally hurt us. When we love our enemies, we are radically obeying God. Whole-hearted biblical love involves our thoughts, emotions, and wills. As fallen people in a fallen world, our love for others is never fully whole-hearted. That is why we sometimes have a difficult time liking (engaging our affections and emotions) difficult or annoying people while at the same time we are committed to loving them (with our minds and wills).
Praise God that he will one day transform our halfhearted love into whole-hearted love. Until then, out of obedience to Christ, we are called to rely on the Lord and persevere in doing good to the difficult people in our lives. We may not call them up every day or hang out with them regularly, but we are called to be patient with them (just as God is patient with us), suffer well, and love them (out of gratitude for God’s love to us).