Learning to love difficult people
Love is easy with people we like, but much harder with people we don't.
What about the really difficult people? Surely I don’t have to love them?
The Bible’s pretty clear. As Christians we are to love each other. But what about those Christians who just seem really ‘difficult’? How do we love them?
There are different types of difficult people.
The personality clash
One kind is the difficult character, the ‘person-I-just-dont-get-on-with’. You might simply have a personality clash and see things very differently. Or they might unconsciously remind you of someone you’ve had a run-in with in the past.
If you are sure you’ve pulled all logs out of your eye, try seeing them in a different light. They have probably had various problems in their lives which have been really hard to live with. You might need to get a little bit of understanding into their situation. You don’t have to be their best friend, but don’t give up on them. See if you can find their good points – any good points at all! Thank God for their gifts and ask him to help you love them despite the things you find annoying. He will.
The awkward and unusual
The other kind of difficult people are the people who lack social awareness, or are a little bit weird, or hard to understand... or whatever.
I have a particular sensitivity to these people because I have an autistic son. I love my son desperately, but I often feel intense frustration with him when he finds it difficult to relate to others.
Why does this make it so hard to love people? Imagine it like playing tennis.
Relationships are like a game of tennis
Two people stand on opposite ends of the court. They hit the ball back and forth. To make it a game worth playing, they should both be able to hit back and forth pretty evenly.
There are always two players in any conversation. But if one player keeps dropping the ball, or doesn’t get what’s going on, the other must take on more responsibility to make sure the exchange doesn’t fail.
If you take on more responsibility in a conversation, you are ‘regulating’ for the other person. Regulating is not relaxing or easy. The more you have to regulate when you don’t expect it, the less comfortable the encounter or friendship. So if a person looks like she should be able to relate on a peer level, but you find that it’s not quite working and you have to change your game, it becomes awkward and difficult and you often want to leave or avoid that person forever.
Learning to love, like Christ loved us
There are definite Biblical principles to keep in mind here – being kind, seeing others as better than yourselves and submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.
You may never become best friends with a difficult person. However, you may choose (and I think it requires choice) to ask God to help you work with that person and actually be a friend to them.
I believe God gives us these people because we need to learn how to truly love. If we think about God’s love for us: he 'regulated' so much that he gave his son to die on the cross to fix up our relationship with him.
Loving difficult people can be painful and costly. It should be unconditional. You may not feel any benefits immediately. But you will learn to love the way God loves.