Dealing with difficult people is challenging. We all have people in our lives that we have had minor and major disagreements with. We all know about personality conflicts and the complications that can arise from them. I’m sure each of us can point to a family member, co-worker, neighbor, or random stranger that rubs us the wrong way. This is a common problem in the human experience. We have all experienced it, but perhaps we don’t always know the best way to handle the experience. I’m going to give you some suggestions to help you manage the difficult people in your life.
But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven – Matthew 5:43
The first tip is to pray. It might not always be the first thing to come to our mind, but it is a quick and easy way to humanize the person that is causing difficulty for us. It is difficult to be angry with someone that we are regularly holding up in prayer. Praying is an act of love and kindness. It can certainly change their heart toward us, but more importantly, it can change our heart toward them. Pray for reconciliation, changes of heart and mind, and pray for repentance. If you are struggling to forgive, ask God to help you. Ask God to give you wisdom and to show you how best to interact with them. It is an exercise and discipline well worth the time.
With all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. – Ephesians 4:2-3
We cannot see into the heart of someone. We don’t know why someone is the way they are. They may have experienced great trauma, had a bad day, or were perhaps caught off guard and are having a bad moment. When dealing with difficult people, as Paul tells us in Ephesians, we need to exercise some humility, gentleness, and patience. It can be difficult to live that way because I don’t think those things are our natural inclination when we have been wronged. But, as we seek to be more like Jesus and the Holy Spirit draws us into being more like Jesus, these traits will become easier to live out in difficult moments.
Be Empathetic and Compassionate:
Let no one seek his own good, but the good of his neighbor. – 1 Corinthians 10:24
I have already mentioned that we can’t see into the heart or the past of someone we are engaging with. We don’t always know why certain behaviors manifest themselves in a person’s life. This is where empathy and compassion come into play. Being able to understand, share, and appropriately respond to people’s feelings and behaviors is an important component of dealing with people. It can be tricky, but empathy and compassion are key tools in helping us relate well to others. Empathy and compassion come from loving others. When we love people (our neighbor), regardless of their attitude or behavior toward us, we are going to seek out their good. Often, that means we are going to have to sacrifice so that good can be done for the other. Empathy and compassion are in part born from the notion that we are seeking the good of our neighbor over and above what is good for ourselves. It is certainly sacrificial, but that is the nature of love.
Seek to Bless:
“You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you. – Matthew 5:38-42
Admittedly, this suggestion is difficult. If someone in our life is being difficult, our first inclination is probably not to bless them. Blessing others, especially those that might hurt us, is at the heart of this passage. We like the idea of vengeance. We want people to feel the pain that they have caused us. We think we will feel better if those who make us suffer are made to suffer in kind. The hard truth is that inflicting, vengeance, pain, and suffering is never a path to peace and reconciliation. Jesus reminds us of that in these verses. He tells us that the best way to live is to seek the blessing of those who are difficult to get along with.
None of these steps are easy. They take time and practice to master. However, as the Holy Spirit works in us to be like Jesus, these things will become easier to do over time. May we all seek to pray, to be humble, to be empathetic and compassionate, and to bless others regardless of our circumstances.
Questions for Reflection:
- Who are the people you are struggling to get along with in your life?
- Do you struggle to forgive when someone is being difficult or has wronged you?
- Are you praying for them? Are you praying for yourself? Are you blessing them? Are you seeking their good? Are you handling the situation with gentleness, humility, and patience?
- Can you think of scriptural examples where people have put these things into practice (like Stephen being stoned in Acts 7:60)?