“Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins.” 1 Peter 4:8
Do you ever have anyone who just rubs you the wrong way? You know who I’m talking about. That person at church who you feel is undermining you, someone in your family who wants to run your life for you? Or perhaps a ministry partner that doesn’t see things eye to eye with you, or someone who demands all of your energy and attention?
Of course you do, because you’re human. We all have people who are difficult for us to interact with and relate to. They get on our nerves and sometimes we can feel infuriated by interactions with them. This often leads us to try to avoid them at all costs, constantly try to fix them, or confront them, depending on our personality. In my flesh, I’m mostly an avoider. I would just rather not deal with them or speak my mind to them in order to avoid conflict all together. But that doesn’t actually solve anything. In fact, it just increases my anxiety and depletes energy that could be much better spent.
So today I would like to look at some ways that are healthy in dealing with these difficult people, and contrast them with what is not healthy. Hopefully we can all find greater development and progression in the Lord and in our human relationships.
I have been a missionary for over a decade now. When I was first starting out on my journey to Northern Uganda, I heard an alarming statistic. It said that the number one reason missionaries leave the field is because of conflict with other missionaries. Not because of cultural issues, not because they miss the luxury they left behind, but because of others who have followed God’s call on their lives and live and work amongst them. There has been some debate as to whether the information gathering was complete when they (whoever they are, I’m not quite sure) came up with this information. Nonetheless, it’s safe to say that many times missionaries leave due to frustrations with others. How sad this was for me when I first heard it, and how terribly sad it is today as I have seen it fleshed out on the mission field again and again. Divisions, split ups, irreconcilable differences. Some people run from the field, others just go their own way. Some of this is natural, of course, as not everyone is supposed to work together or has the same calling and objectives. But it should not be the way it is now. It must deeply grieve the heart of God to watch His Body torn apart down here, holding up petty little offenses against each other when He already died for each one of them, including ours. (Next week we will look at dealing with the difficulties within us personally.)
The Bible tells us that love covers a multitude of sins. Jesus literally did this for us, clothing us in His Righteousness and washing us in His shed blood. This verse doesn’t mean "cover" like we excuse sin, lie about it, or pretend it’s not there. Because that’s not love. The term is used repeatedly in the Bible to talk of forgiveness. God covers our sins= He forgives them. We are called (actually, commanded) to forgive the sins of others as well.
That being said, It is not love to tolerate or stay in a situation where there is any kind of abuse. You are priceless to God. He doesn’t want His most precious creation trampled in the mud. So if the difficult person in your life is being abusive, this verse doesn’t mean that you sit there and take it. You don’t. You stand up for God’s creation (you) just as you would for someone else.
But there are times when doctrinal differences, differing styles of doing ministry or life, or just personalities that don’t meld well can get in the way of our peace and our effectiveness as children of God. I don't want that, and I'm willing to bet that you don't either!
Below is a list of some Do’s and Don’t’s that have helped me as I have started to put them into practice in different areas of my life. I hope they help you as well, as you deal with those who rub you wrong.
1) Stand up for what’s right, in love
If the difficult person is behaving sinfully, then God’s heart is to restore them unto Himself and get them on the right track. This will probably require you confronting them in love. The best way to do this initially is one on one, but only if it is safe and appropriate. It may require that you seek counsel from your pastor, a missions leader, or someone who is discipling you in the Lord to help step into the situation.
2) Set good boundaries
If the difficult person is requiring too much from you, and you feel overwhelmed, take a few steps back. Let them know your boundaries (for example- I can sit on the phone with you for only one hour a week. I have family responsibilities, a job, etc..) Be clear, respectful, and firm. Make sure to follow through on your boundaries. The person may get offended and want nothing to do with you. That’s okay, because it’s not your responsibility. They may try to push the boundaries, but stand firm. Be loving and available to the extent that you are able (both physically and emotionally), but set good boundaries and keep them.
3) Pray- for them and for your heart
The person may be difficult because they are going through something. Or they may have a blind spot (or several) that they haven’t yet been able to face. Pray for them, and pray that you will have God’s heart of love for them. This is really the most important thing that we can do in dealing with difficult people.
4) Accept the differences
Recognize that we are all different. They may seem difficult to you, but it might just be personality, style or something innocuous. So recognize that you’re two different people, and appreciate the differences that both of you are able to bring.
5) Part Ways when Appropriate
Not everyone is meant to work together, hang out all the time, and so forth. So it may be appropriate in your situation to put more space between yourself and the difficult person, or to cut off the relationship completely. This should be a last resort, except as noted earlier- when there is abuse going on.
1) Bury your head in the sand and ignore sin
This is not loving. God’s glory is at stake. This person’s spiritual health and potentially many others who are in their circle of influence is on the line.
This should go without saying, but sadly in Christian circles there seems to be just as much of a problem with this as there is in the world. We justify it, of course, and even make it seem spiritual. Do not bring up in a prayer meeting that this person needs prayer because of “a”, “b”, and “c”. Don’t talk behind their back. Vent to God, journal, and share perhaps with one close friend or counselor who will keep things confidential and hold you up in prayer for how you respond to this difficult person.
3) Be rude to them or try to get even
Don’t invite everyone from church or your fellowship group to an event except for them. Don’t speak unkindly to them. Just show God’s love, with the boundaries that you have set in place.
4) Judge them
You may not know the things they have battled or are in the middle of wrestling through. We all have a story. We have all gone through painful circumstances in our lives. You can’t fully understand them. Thankfully, God can. And God is their judge (and yours). He will sort it all out. It’s not your job to be their Holy Spirit or jump to conclusions or judgments. The exception would be if they are doing harm to others and have not confessed or changed. Then, what is being done must be exposed and stopped, for the sake of those being hurt. But even then, this should be done according to Jesus’ instructions to us outlined in Matthew 18:15-17.
No doubt, there are many more things to do and not do. Hopefully this list has helped to get you thinking and meditating on what the Lord would have you do in your situation.
If you have any more to add to these lists, please share them with the rest of us in the comments below, and let us know your thoughts!