It was only a three-minute escape. Listening to my name being chanted over and over, louder and louder, with greater urgency, along with pounding on the door, you might imagine me to be a rock star.
But in reality, I’m the mother of a toddler who has decided he is only content when he is in my arms. My escape was merely a trip to the bathroom in which I took a deep breath behind the locked door before re-entering my world of diapers, blocks, and Daniel Tiger. And even though I love this little guy with all my heart, at times he can definitely be a difficult person to keep showing love to, especially in the midst of tantrums and tears.
Difficult People Are Everywhere
It probably isn’t hard for you to think of a difficult person in your own life. In our broken, sin-filled world, they are everywhere. The coworker who is willing to do anything to get ahead, including taking credit for your ideas. The in-laws who always seem to be peering over your shoulder, critiquing your parenting skills, and offering “suggestions” for improvement. The child who knows exactly how to push your buttons to leave you exasperated and flustered again. The person in your ministry who is constantly complaining about your leadership, who thinks he has better ideas and communicates them with a sharp and biting tongue. The passive-aggressive friend who is kind one moment and gives you the cold shoulder the next. The list can go on and on.
So, what do we do with these people? With constant strained relationships? Our natural tendency is to want to run the other way, to avoid them as much as possible. But is that what honors God in these hard situations?
Difficult People Have Been Around Forever
Moses was no stranger to leading a group of difficult people. Even after rescuing them out of slavery and leading them safely away from the Egyptians, the Israelites were not happy with him. Instead of being grateful for their new freedom and provision from God, they were shedding tears over the menu (Numbers 11:4–6), grumbling about not having water (Numbers 20:2–3), wishing they had died in Egypt and could choose another leader (Numbers 14:2–4). Even Moses’s own siblings were jealous of his leadership (Numbers 12:2) and complained to God about their brother and his Cushite wife.
Yet what amazes me about Moses is that he didn’t retaliate against this annoying group of people. He didn’t even defend himself against the harsh accusations. Instead, he demonstrated amazing humility and compassion on those he led, repeatedly interceding for them.
Moses pled with God to heal Miriam’s leprosy (Numbers 12:13). He begged God to forgive Israel’s unbelief when it was time to enter the Promised Land (Numbers 14:19). He lay prostrate before God, fasting forty days and nights after Aaron and the Israelites had made the golden calf to worship (Deuteronomy 9:13–18).
Admittedly, there were moments when the Israelites’ constant complaints drove Moses to the brink of despair (Exodus 5:22; Numbers 11:14–15), yet by God’s grace he persevered. And even at the very end of his life, he was still lovingly leading the disobedient Israelites.
Keep on Loving
Moses remained steadfast to his last days and made sure God had another leader in place to take over. He didn’t want his wandering sheep to be without a shepherd (Numbers 27:16–17). Moses never stopped loving them, even at their worst.
By God’s grace, we too can keep loving the difficult people God has placed in our lives. The easy thing is to cut the troublesome person out of your life when possible, or just avoid them at best.
But I suggest we are more like our patient and loving Savior when we bear with each other and seek to show mercy and kindness, no matter how we are treated.
Here are six practical ways, among many others, to show love to a difficult person God has placed in your path.
1. Pray for your own heart.
Ask God to soften your heart towards this person, to put off anger and irritability, to put on meekness and kindness, to understand this person’s struggles and meet them with compassion (Colossians 3:12–14).
2. Pray for them.
Ask God to be at work in their hearts, drawing unbelievers to himself and sanctifying believers to become more like Jesus (Philippians 1:9–11).
3. Move toward them, not away from them.
Although our tendency is to want to steer clear of people with whom we have strained relationships, they are exactly the people we need to be intentionally moving toward. Find ways to engage them in conversation, meet them for coffee, send them a text.
4. Find specific ways to bless and encourage them.
Write them a note of appreciation. Buy them a book that has been an encouragement to you. Tell them you are praying for them.
5. Give them grace, just as God extends grace to you.
Remember God’s lavish grace poured out for your own daily sins. Ask God to help you bear with them, forgiving them, as he has forgiven you (Colossians 3:13).
6. Realize that you too could be the difficult person in someone else’s life!
You might not even realize that you are a thorn in the flesh for someone close to you. Don’t be oblivious to your own shortcomings and sins.
So, when that child has you on the brink of tears, or you’ve just received a harsh and critical email about your ministry, or you’re confronted with that extended family member who drives you up the wall, ask God for grace not to run away, but to keep engaging that hard-to-love person in love.
God will be honored and our hearts will find deeper satisfaction as we seek to love people just as Christ loved us when we were his enemies.