“It’s Hard to Love Difficult People”
“If you love only those who love you, why should you get credit for that? Even sinners love those who love them!”
Luke 6:32 (NLT)
My dad stands at 5-foot-6 and wears a size 6‑1/2 shoe, but when my siblings and I talk about him, you’d think he was Goliath. We have stories … like the time Dad was walking the dog in the neighborhood and the dog stopped to sniff the grass. A neighbor came barreling out of his home and said, “Hey, don’t let that dog do his business on my lawn.” My dad’s fists curled, ready to take on the taller man if necessary.
I love this man fiercely. He married my mother and took on two little girls as his own. He’s a good man, but when he was younger things weren’t easy. He wanted us to be protected, so he taught us to be tough. Early on, we learned lessons about dealing with difficult people that my dad was proud of teaching, including these:
Don’t put up with nonsense.
The person with the quickest fists wins.
The problem with these lessons is that difficult people aren’t always strangers.
Sometimes it’s your child. Sometimes it’s your spouse. It might be a coworker. In nearly any job or ministry, difficult people are almost guaranteed to be in the mix.
When we live with our fists (or our words) ready to fly, we can become the difficult person and not even know it.
In Luke 6:27-29, Jesus describes things difficult people might do: “But to you who are listening I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. If someone slaps you on one cheek, turn to them the other also. If someone takes your coat, do not withhold your shirt from them.”
Then, in the next few verses, He offers three radical ways to respond.
1. Give extravagantly.
“Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back.” (Luke 6:30, NIV)
Our first step is to become acutely aware that Jesus loves us right where we are.
He loves us when we’re prickly. He loves us when we fail to think before we speak. As hard as it is to understand, we don’t always deserve a loving response, but our Heavenly Father gives it in generous measure.
Being loved by Jesus allows us to love others. We are free to give a measure of mercy, even as we work through conflict to resolve differences.
2. Treat them the way you want to be treated.
“Do to others as you would have them do to you.” (Luke 6:31, NIV)
When we treat others the way we want to be treated, we give up the need to control them or the situation. We stop looking for flaws, as we realize how deeply flawed we are as well. We hold back verbal karate chops, choosing words that heal rather than heat up the situation, because that’s exactly what we’d desire if the tables were turned.
3. Love unexpectedly.
“If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them.” (Luke 6:32, NIV)
My pastor once asked this question: What if you made it to the end of your life having loved only those who loved you back?
Loving difficult people is a harder path of faith, but it’s also where His greatest work begins in our own heart. It’s where we begin to learn new lessons like, “getting them before they get you” doesn’t make us stronger. Or that living on the defense all the time leaves us little energy to battle what really matters.
I love my dad. He’s an awesome man and I’m grateful for him, but I’m also thankful for a Heavenly Father who frees us to love others with an open heart rather than curled fists.
Lord, I’ve struggled with loving difficult people. I live constantly on the defense and I’m tired of it. I am well loved by You, and I ask that You help me love others in the same way. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.
TRUTH FOR TODAY:
1 Peter 3:15b-17, “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander. For it is better, if it is God’s will, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil.” (NIV)