For a time, I had daily interactions with her. Perhaps it was the difference between our personalities, maybe it was that we valued different things, maybe she just didn’t like me.
All I knew was that interactions with her included eye-rolls. I would ask a question, and she would offer no response.
There were days she’d smile at me, but they were rare. Interactions with her were difficult, and more than once, I cried after seeing her. I found myself dreading the days our paths would intermingle.
For the majority of my life, I’d managed to not ruffle many feathers and could relate to most people in some way or another. I liked being liked, if I was honest. Why was it so hard with this particular person?
As I was praying about this one day, God reminded me of what He’d taught me through another difficult person in my life years before. He reminded me of the life-changing things He did in both of our lives over time as a result of asking Him for help. He promised me He could do it again.
Perhaps you are reading this because you have difficult people in your life now, too. If not presently, maybe you have in the past. I’m certain we will both encounter more in the future.
Difficult people are a part of life. We are all flawed (James 3:2) but I believe God uses our people problems as one of the greatest paths to teach us more about Himself, to slowly rub some of our rough edges smooth.
God’s Word is here to help us. Here are 7 steps to help you to not just deal with but love the difficult people in your life.
1. Love your enemy. Pray for them.
I remember the moment I was literally crying to God about a difficult person in my life. “She’s my enemy!” I said to Him, shocked to have an enemy, because I didn’t think I did. I surprised myself at the word. Was it wrong to have an enemy?
Though as I read the Bible, I am reminded that having enemies is a normal part of the human experience. David, in the Psalms, prayed to God about his enemies, asking the Lord to “arrange an evil person to turn on him. Send an accuser to bring him to trial. When his case is called for judgement, let him be pronounced guilty. Count his prayers as sins. Let his years be few; let his position be given to someone else” (Psalm 109:6-8).
Was I really allowed to pray that about someone? David did. He regularly prayed honestly to God about the hardest things, including his enemies and the difficult people in his life. Rather than taking matters into his own hands, however, he is asking the Lord to do these things.
So, I told God what I honestly felt toward this person, and then I asked, “I know You are the One who fights for us, but what am I supposed to do about this?”
“I say, love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you! In that way, you will be acting as true children of your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:44-45).
If we want to obey Him, to act like His children, we have to choose to act in love even if we don’t feel love toward them.
This is really easy to do…until you actually have to do it.
How do we love them? Pray. Pray for those who roll their eyes at you. Pray for those who bulldoze you. Pray for those who don’t listen to you. Pray for those who act in ways that offend you. Pray for them to know Him. Pray for them to learn of His peace and His love and His acceptance of them. Pray for their families. Pray that they would have fun, that something would delight them that day.
So, I decided to pray. Let me assure you, every part of my human-self did not want to pray for this person. I wanted to be angry. I wanted to resent. I wanted to hold on to my loathing. But as I slowly heard the words slip through my lips to God about her good, my heart started to soften.
She was no longer my enemy. She was someone whom I wanted to know His love, too.
2. Know the real enemy.
So, we have enemies. That’s part of being human. It’s easy for us to look at a person’s behavior and think they are The Worst. It can feel like a battle. But the greater truth is this:
“For we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:12).
One of the ways our Enemy works is influence. He whispers lies into our minds that make us act in ways that hurt people. He says things like, “If you admit you have needs, you’ll look weak,” or “power and position will make you happy,” or “if you hurt her, you’ll feel better” and our “enemies” believe it. They act the way they do out of their thinking…and so do we.
When your enemy acts in a way that is hurtful, remember that it comes out of what The Enemy whispered to them. Let us remember that our battle (in ourselves and with others) is not actually with this human being before us, but with the Enemy of God.
3. Find hot coals.
Once I started praying for my enemy and against the Enemy on her behalf, the Lord reminded me of another step. He didn’t want me to stop at prayer.
If your enemies are hungry, give them food to eat.
If they are thirsty, give them water to drink.
You will heap burning coals of shame on their heads,
and the Lord will reward you (Proverbs 25:21-22).
Once we can pray for our enemies, He asks us to take care of them – to give them food to eat and water to drink, for instance. This is not an exhaustive list; rather, it is to show us the point that we need to offer our time, resources, and attention to their needs. My enemy had no physical needs. So, I asked the Lord to show me: What are her needs?
Remember her family trouble? He reminded me. She didn’t have physical needs, but perhaps she had emotional needs. Perhaps she needed someone to listen.
So, within the week, I sought her out when I knew she would be free for a moment. I made small talk about the weekend, and then when her family was brought up, I asked, “What has it been like lately? How are you doing?” I sat on a table so she’d know I was sticking around for her real answer, not just the happy one. I wanted to hear the truth.
Then, she told me the vulnerable reality of her situation, and the Lord allowed me to have empathy for her. I understood what she was working through when she was at home. Soon, I even had a tiny pocket of compassion for her and a small understanding of why she reacted the way she did to things.
When we take time to care for our enemies needs, we just may get a window into their hearts.
4. You can’t do it. He can.
So, I started praying and listening, and I felt I was making progress. Then, she did that thing that made me so angry again, and I was back to, “Lord, I can’t do this. Why is she in my life? Why is she so rude? I can’t do it.”
The gentle Whisper came again, “No, you can’t. But in Me, you can. I will help you do it.” Sometimes, the best thing we can do is admit that we can’t. It was not in my capacity to show love to someone so rude to me.
“My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness,” said Jesus in 2 Corinthians 12:9. When we admit we can’t, we are ready to receive what only He can do. So I continued to pray, “Lord, I can’t love her the way You want me to. Help me. I need You to give me love for her.”
Once I quit trying to scrounge up some love for her on my own power (which was never going to happen), I was ready for Him to give me a supernatural love for her. And over time, He did.
5. Take on the form of a servant.
A few days later, I read: “Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourself…You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had. ‘Though he was God, he gave up his divine privileges; he took the humble position of a servant’” (from Philippians 2).
If God was willing to leave his high position, then I needed to leave my pride. This was the hardest part for me, because I thought I “deserved” to be treated a certain way, but Jesus demonstrated how we can let that go. In letting go of how we think people should speak to us or respond to us, we are freed to love them better.
“Be humble,” He whispers. “Let them win. Let them have the high position. Let them have the better answer. Let them have the last word.”
“Serve them,” He whispers. “Bring them a treat, encourage them, take on one of their responsibilities, and while you do, pray for them.”
I didn’t not want to hold my tongue and let her have the last word. I did not feel like doing the task she was supposed to do. I knew she wouldn’t thank me for it either. But could I trust Jesus knew what He was doing?
So, I said, “Lord, I don’t feel like doing this for her, but if you tell me to serve her anyway, I want to obey You. I’m doing this for You. I know You see it, and You appreciate it. Please change my attitude.”
And as I did the task she was supposed to do and prayed for her while doing it, He put more love in my heart for her. But only AFTER I started doing the task.
Obeying God by serving others when we don’t feel like it always produces good fruit.
6. We plant. God grows.
I wanted fast results, and that wasn’t happening. I wanted her to change, and she wasn’t. It took years for me to see any softening. And during those years, God softened my hard heart, too.
During those years, I read 1 Corinthians 3:6-7 where Paul says to the people, “I planted the seed in your hearts, and Apollos watered it, but it was God who made it grow. It’s not important who does the planting or who does the watering. What’s important is that God makes the seed grow.”
What’s important is that God makes the seed grow. We get to plant seeds of prayer, seeds of service, and seeds of our sacrifice, and others will come along and encourage what we have planted…but God is the one who makes them grow.
We plant, and we leave the rest to Him.
7. Remember you could be someone’s difficult person, too.
The easiest thing for us to do is focus on how difficult others are. However, we must remember that we are someone’s difficult person, too.
Perhaps our personality rubs them the wrong way, maybe the sound of our voice angers them, or maybe our sudden presence in their lives is unwelcomed for some reason.
I cringe at the thought that I could frustrate someone to this end, but I am certain I do. With that in mind, let us approach one another with grace and mercy and humility. God is growing all of us.
So, what happened with these difficult people?
God’s grown ALL of us over the years – both our love for Him and for each other. One difficult person started doing Bible study with me, and she became a dear friend. I genuinely love her and want the best for her. Only God could surprise me by having those words come out of my mouth!
Another difficult person later told me the impact my faith had on her life. We are not best friends, but we have more love and respect for each other now. I continue to pray she will come to know Jesus in a personal way some day.
There will always be difficult people in our lives. And God is always growing all of us. We don’t have to be stuck in our hurt, anger, and frustration toward people who are difficult for us. There are important things we can DO, now! What seeds of love can you plant today that, by God’s gracious kindness, will produce an unimaginable harvest in the future?
I believe He wants to blow our minds with the fruit of love He can produce regarding the difficult people in our lives. But we’ve got to start planting.
What Love Seeds will you plant today?