Emma writes for us today on how to do relationships with those people who we find hard, or who have hurt us. A great post to refer back to when you are finding it hard to practice forgiveness and grace with others, just like Jesus, and a wonderful reminder of how much God continually pours out His love on us, despite the ways we have hurt Him.
Ever meet someone you just don’t like? I have. Maybe because I’m a Christian and I’m supposed to love everyone I shouldn’t be saying that, but I just can’t deny it. There are people who just plain irritate me and annoy me, and I find it hard to spend time with them without wanting to roll my eyes or say something sarcastic.
But there are also people I don’t like because they have hurt me. There are people who are manipulative and mean. Some who are downright nasty. I can guarantee that you know some of these people too.
You might have heard these people being called ‘grace growers’. You know, because they take a liiiiittle bit more patience, and you find yourself quickly being reminded that God loves everyone. Even the anonymous person who ate your slice of cake (the one you’d been saving!).
Author Graham Cooke puts it marvellously:
‘Nasty people are our grace growers. They provide (unconsciously!) a shortcut into the nature of God’s kindness, love and goodness. Learn to spot the opportunity in the crisis and take advantage!’
It can be really, really hard to take advantage of the crisis. But it is possible. So how can we learn to love someone when we don’t like them?
1. Stand in their shoes
One thing that irritates me is when someone cuts me up when I’m driving. But one way I try to manage my annoyance is to imagine what it is like to be that person. I don’t know what’s going on in their head and I don’t know what’s happening in their life – a loved one could be in hospital and they could be anxiously driving to see them. The grumpy man at the supermarket checkout might be having a bad day at work. The new girl at school who I think is annoying might find new social situations difficult and be worried about how to make friends.
Ultimately, we don’t know what is going on in someone’s life that might be causing them to be angry, or irritated, or mean. Standing in their shoes helps us to feel empathetic and allows us to be more patient.
You will meet people who hurt you and disappoint you. It can be really, really hard to forgive, particularly if you feel that they are not deserving of your forgiveness. It feels unfair when the person isn’t sorry. But forgiveness is less about the person that has hurt you and more about you.
If we hold onto bitterness, not only will it poison us, but we allow the devil to breed resentment and anger within us. Understanding the reason for my irritation will help me to find a coping mechanism. It’s about changing the way you react. I cannot fix the person who hurt me or make them sorry; I can only change my attitude and control how I react towards the situation. The best way to react is to remember that we have hurt and disappointed God, not just once, but over and over again.
But God continues to forgive us, even when we don’t deserve it. And if we want to be like Jesus, then we need to do the same.
But sometimes, we encounter people who are not just a slightly irritating, but people who deliberately hurt you. People who, no matter how hard you try or how much effort you put in, never seem to want to do anything but be unpleasant towards you. God gets this a lot.
So what would Jesus do? It’s a phrase known around the world and put on T-shirts and wristbands and bumper stickers for a reason. The question ‘what would Jesus do?’ is a great reminder to consider how we can emulate Jesus in any situation. So when you encounter a deliberately nasty person, ask yourself ‘how would Jesus respond to this person?’
Jesus was constantly surrounded by difficult people, people who didn’t like him or understand him and even people who wanted him dead. American pastor Rick Warren says that there were four ways Jesus dealt with difficult people:
- He realised he couldn’t please everybody. (John 5:30) - He refused to play their game. (Matthew 22:18) - He didn’t retaliate. (Matthew 5:38-39) - He prayed for them and let God handle it. (Matthew 5:44)
3. Let go
It can be really difficult to not allow ourselves to get dragged into arguments and fights. I have found it difficult to let go and allow God to take care of things in some relationships with difficult people, because I felt like a failure and a bad friend. But I realised that a friendship with someone who treated me badly was dragging me down and causing me to behave in way that wasn’t loving or honouring God. The situation made me frustrated and hateful. The blame didn’t lie with the person I was angry with, because again, I didn’t know what was happening in their life to cause them to behave like that.
Jesus stopped himself from being distracted by crowds who wanted to see him, by removing himself and spending time alone with God (Luke 5:15-16). He didn’t remove himself as a reaction to their behaviour, but because he needed to focus and protect himself. In the same way, it is not wrong to end friendships that distract you from focusing on God, just as you would remove yourself from a situation that might tempt you or hinder you from being the person God made you to be.
We can approach friendships in a grace-filled way, always praying about how best to invest our time and energy as Christians with the people around us.
But there is another way that Jesus responded to difficult people: with love. Jesus loved everyone, even the people who killed him. The more you live in the knowledge of God’s grace for you, the easier it becomes to love other people. This is why it is important not to listen to what other people say about us and form our identity from that - but to spend time in God's word, embedding deeply into our hearts that God loves and cares for us.
It seems like it’s hard to love people you don’t like. But love is about actions, not about feelings. To love your neighbour is not about liking them. 1 Corinthians 13 lays it all out for us.
Love is about actions. To love someone is to be patient with them, to be kind to them, to not get angry and to forgive easily. In that way, it is possible to love someone and not like them. And that’s okay.
NB: If you are experiencing hurtful behaviour from others that you think might be bullying, always speak to your parents or somebody trusted about it, seek further advice and perhaps take a look at: http://www.bullying.co.uk/
Emma lives and works in the fabulous city of Leeds with her husband, Tim. She has a passion for encouraging those who are low in spirit and loves to hear stories of God's perfect timing. Her favourite things include a good latte, travelling, eating dessert for breakfast, dim sum and making people happy with food.
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