There is somebody who sets your teeth on edge, just the sound of their voice as grating as finger nails dragged on a blackboard! Human relationships are complex. Some people, for reasons beyond our ability to fully understand, just push our buttons. When they appear, our blood pressure goes up along with feelings of anxiety or anger. Maybe it’s a neighbor who leaves his yard unkempt and piles of junk in his driveway. Maybe it is a demanding co-worker who expects everybody else on the team to carry the load while she keeps on whining about how hard life is for her. Maybe it is that person who is the perpetual ‘star’ in her own show, always needing – no, make that demanding – to stand in the spotlight of recognition. Maybe it’s your in-laws who always ‘know’ how you should be raising your kids. Maybe it is that guy who thinks he’s charming, but who is really an insensitive bore.
So, what’s the natural way to deal with irritating people? Shut them out, right? Just ignore them and hope they go away. If you see their number on caller ID, let the voicemail take the call. Build a fence so you can’t see their junk. Or move three states from your family to prevent them from meddling in your life more than once a year. These all work fairly well, if our goal is to protect ourselves. But, are they the Christ-like way?
What would Jesus do?
We don’t have to guess. He told us exactly how we are to relate to others, even the difficult people in this world. Take a look.“To you who are ready for the truth, I say this: Love your enemies. Let them bring out the best in you, not the worst. When someone gives you a hard time, respond with the energies of prayer for that person. If someone slaps you in the face, stand there and take it. If someone grabs your shirt, gift-wrap your best coat and make a present of it. If someone takes unfair advantage of you, use the occasion to practice the servant life. No more tit-for-tat stuff. Live generously.
“Here is a simple rule of thumb for behavior: Ask yourself what you want people to do for you; then grab the initiative and do it for them! If you only love the lovable, do you expect a pat on the back? Run-of-the-mill sinners do that. If you only help those who help you, do you expect a medal? Garden-variety sinners do that. If you only give for what you hope to get out of it, do you think that’s charity? The stingiest of pawnbrokers does that. “I tell you, love your enemies. Help and give without expecting a return. You’ll never—I promise—regret it. Live out this God-created identity the way our Father lives toward us, generously and graciously, even when we’re at our worst. Our Father is kind; you be kind. ” (Luke 6:27-36, The Message)
Tough words, aren’t they? He does not give us much of an excuse to be unkind, critical, or even neutral! Jesus demands that we take active steps to love those people we naturally would avoid. He shows us how to start- with prayer! No, not the ‘get’em God’ prayers that we are tempted to pray, but the “Lord, help me to understand them, to know how to meet their needs, to have the right words that help them grow in grace, to be a loving friend to them today.” Truthfully, it is next to impossible to continue to hate someone for whom you are actively praying everyday. The Lord continues in that passage by reminding us that difficult people provide us with an opportunity to be a servant. Yes, they serve God’s purposes in our lives by teaching us to surrender our rights, drop our defenses, and do what needs to be done for others. “Well, if I do that, they will just keep on being the way they are.” Perhaps that is true.
But it is also true that genuine love (not the fake air kisses variety that pretends politeness while thinking, ‘drop dead!’) is life’s most powerful change agent. God loved you and me to wholeness while we were still rejecting Him, doing our own thing, and ignoring His offer of grace. Can we do less for others?
Are you feeling anger or even outright hostility towards another person? How about confessing that feeling to God, without excuse or justification right now?
Tell Him how you feel and ask Him to change your heart. Then, take that step of praying for that person you really do not like. Keep at it.
In time, you will discover that the best change happened in you!
“We can understand someone dying for a person worth dying for, and we can understand how someone good and noble could inspire us to selfless sacrifice. But God put his love on the line for us by offering his Son in sacrificial death while we were of no use whatever to him. “ (Romans 5:7-8, The Message)