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October 1, 2018

Dealing with Difficult People

The only people with whom you should try to get even are the ones who have helped you. John E. Southard

How do you handle the people in your life that rub you the wrong way?  They may be hurtful and annoying. Some of them may even live in your house with you!  Often, it’s the people we love the most who irritate us the most.  But, how often do you stop to think about how you bother those around you?  You may be as irritating to them.  We all irritate other people at times, and that’s part of God’s plan for our lives.

Yes, you read correctly.  Irritating people are part of God’s plan for your life.  He allows them into your life so that He can develop your character for His purposes.  Paul explains, 

“For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”  (Ephesians 2:10)

In the Greek, the word for “workmanship” literally means “a work of art or a masterpiece.”  God is crafting you into a perfect work of art, a masterpiece to accomplish His amazing plan for you.

This puts a fantastic twist on those relationships that annoy us.  They are allowed into our lives for our own good, to make us more like Christ.  This sounds wonderfully spiritual, but the problem is, how do we get along with all those irritating people.  Some folks seem to rub us the wrong way no matter how we try to work together.  If only they were more like us, then we’d all enjoy complete harmony, right?  Other than being completely unrealistic, such bliss would also rob us of becoming all that God wants us to be.

The Bible provides us with a guiding principle for not only getting along with the people in our lives that annoy us, but even having a lasting impact in our relationships.  It’s not easy, but implementing this principle can dramatically change our relational dynamics.  If we are not only to tolerate but to grow in these relationships, then we need to gain Christ’s perspective on people and performance.  We must learn to see the difficult people in our lives in a new light.

The first step in this process is to identify how other people bug you.  While every individual is unique and every relationship special, I’ve found some categories helpful in thinking about our relational irritants.  The first group are insatiable perfectionists; they feel compelled to set the standards for everyone else.  They judge by their own standards of righteousness.

Another type of person you may recognize are the drivers.  They are always pushing their own agenda on others and forcing their way. They can be loud and demanding or subtle and manipulative, but they’re stubbornly committed to using the force of their own will to get their way.

Next, we come to those people who seem naturally gifted at cutting others down.  In an argument, they know just the thing to say that will hurt the most.  The words may be sarcastic or straightforward, but these people have an uncanny ability to cut to the quick and leave others bleeding on the floor.

Then there are those people who are like leeches.  They can suck the life right out of you.  They are extra needy.  These folks have no clue when it comes to social and relational boundaries.  They bounce from one crisis to the next, needing constant support and affirmation.

You may also encounter people with explosive personalities.  Like a volcano they are just waiting to blow and send sparks flying.  Next to them are those who tend to be negative, always grumbling and looking for ways to tear down the hopes and plans of others.

Last but not least are those spineless irritants who have no backbone or consistency.  Eager to please and always agreeable, they change like chameleons so that you never know who they really are or what they really think.

By now you may be wondering, How in the world am I supposed to get along with so may irritating types?  Or you may be thinking I just described everyone in your family to a T!  In either case, we must learn to see beyond their irritating traits and determine how we can construct a meaningful relationship.

You may not like it, but the place to begin is to face the reality that nobody is normal.  You’re not normal. I’m not normal.  We all come from the Adam’s family.  We’re all unique.  There is no one else in the world like you.  Even though we’re vastly different, we’re all in the same family.  And, instead of working together to build lasting relationships as God intends, we’re often tempted to criticize.  It’s always much easier for us to point out someone else’s faults and flaws rather than look at our own.

Jesus talks about this in Matthew 7:

“Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?  How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye?  You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.”  (verses 3-5).

We have sharp vision when it comes to finding the sawdust in everybody else’s eyes. We see this little speck of sawdust, this fault, problem, sin, or character flaw in someone else’s life, and we can’t wait to point it out.   We exclaim, “You’ve really got a problem there!” “But,” Jesus says, “Here’s the real issue.  You’re trying to get the sawdust out of someone’s eye when you’ve got a two-by-four in our own eye.”  There is a whole lumberyard of two-by-four people walking around saying, “Man, did you see that problem in their lives?  My goodness, I’m glad I’m not like them.”  They’re so fixated on pointing out everyone else’s splinters that they totally miss the planks sticking out of their own lives.

Notice that Jesus doesn’t say to ignore the sawdust.  Many people today think that whenever you point something out as sin, you’re being judgmental.  This isn’t the case at all.  We’re to look at the sawdust in people’s eyes and help heal them with Christ’s power.  Our role is not to judge but to be healing agents.  However, sometimes we come up to them and say, “Hey, you know you’ve got some sawdust in your eye.  Let me help you with that,” and then we hit them over the head with the telephone pole sticking out of our own eye.   They end up thinking, Thanks, but no thanks. I’d rather have the sawdust in my eye than get hit upside the head with that thing. 

God intentionally places annoying people in our lives to work on our own character, so that we may become more like Christ. Even our critics can teach us and help us grow.  Not only that, but God has placed you in their lives for a reason as well. He wants you to reveal some of His love, His patience, His mercy toward them.  You may be the only face of Jesus they’ll ever see.  God wants you to surprise them with His love in ways that only you can.

Personal Challenge:

  1. Of the different types of irritating people you read about, which one best describes the way you sometimes come across to those around you?
  2. Describe one person in your life who consistently rubs you the wrong way. How have you attempted to relate to him or her in the past? If you knew you only had one month to live, what would you want to tell this person?