June 17, 2019
Have you ever met someone who has pushed you to the limits of your patience, annoyed you so effortlessly, and drained your energy due to frustration and exasperation?
In fact, you’ve been so annoyed that even just thinking about that person already agitates you. It could be because of his attitude, personality, or preferences, or it could simply be that this person embodies all of your pet peeves.
That person may be your classmate, neighbor, or a friend of a friend. And you’ve probably found yourself asking God, “Why me? Why do I have to deal with this person?”
I used to be too picky when it comes to hanging out with people. I only hung around people I liked and stayed away from those I didn’t like. Later on, I realized there was no escape from dealing with “difficult people.” They are inevitable.
I used to just avoid interacting with people who I think are difficult to deal with, not because I disliked them, but because I didn’t know how to deal with them. Not until I encountered this verse:
Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves.
Romans 12:10 (NIV)
How do I deal with people I find difficult who God let me encounter? Should I just try to avoid them, or are they actually being used by God to change me and grow my character? One thing I realized is that I didn’t have to like them instantly; I just need to love them regardless of their flaws.
Here are some practical tips that might help you deal with people you find difficult.
A major source of our frustrations is unmet expectations. Unconsciously, we put certain expectations on how people should behave, respond to us, and treat us.
When dealing with people, it’s best to suspend our judgments and expectations, and to exert real effort to get to know the person more. When we release people from our expectations and prejudices, we will begin to understand their character and appreciate their good qualities.
When we quickly jump to conclusions and make judgments on people based on our personal standards and convictions, we open ourselves up to frustrations and we close our doors to people we can learn from because they are different from us. Instead, we should reach out to them, listen intently to their stories without prejudice and expectations, and find qualities that we can appreciate about them.
My personal rule is not to put labels on people based on their physical appearance or external behavior. Instead, I try to dig deep through conversation and try to understand them.
It’s possible that these people are not aware that their behavior is not pleasant to other people. Maybe God can even use us to help them grow as individuals and mold them to become better people.
I remember having a conflict with a friend because I wanted to show her how annoying she was. We ended up hurting one another, and it took years for our relationship to be restored.
I nearly lost a friend because I acted on impulse—without understanding where she was coming from. I was too arrogant, thinking that I was right. I focused too much on proving that she was wrong and that she needed to change her ways.
It would have been an entirely different story if I had chosen to listen to her and tried to understand her better. I realized the need to give people the benefit of the doubt, since we all have different personalities, backgrounds, life experiences, and therefore, have different values and responses to situations.
As Paul wrote:
For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you.
Romans 12:3 (NIV)
What qualities are you looking for in a friend? Think hard about it and strive to be that kind of friend.
At one point, we may have also become a difficult person to deal with. We may have also challenged other people and tested their patience. But there were people who showed love and understanding; people who helped us grow and mature.
I’ve been in full-time ministry for ten years already. I have spent years re-tracing my actions, trying to win back some of the friends that I had lost along the way. If I were to talk to my 21-year-old self, here’s what I would tell her:
“The world doesn’t revolve around you. If you think you were misunderstood by people, give them the benefit of the doubt and fight for your relationship. Don’t give up on people. Make an effort to understand them better.”
Dealing with seemingly difficult people takes a lot of energy—it can drain you, keep you up at night, or make you feel helpless.
The good thing is that every day is a new day. God renews our strength, renews our perspective, and helps us regain energy to love even the most unlovable person.
After all, we are all recipients of the unconditional love of God. While we were still sinners, He sent His only Son Jesus to die for us (Romans 5:8). He loved us at our worst and transforms us every single day into the kind of person that we are destined to be.