My assumption is that everyone has difficult people in their lives. We have people with whom we must interact for one reason or another, but much of that interaction is unpleasant or draining. I’m thinking of coworkers, family members, church members, neighbors, etc.
The Apostle John described Jesus as being “full of grace and truth” (John 1:14), and as I think of these relationships, I think of the balance between these two attributes.
But as I’ve mentioned in earlier posts, this balance is somewhere between difficult and impossible for me to maintain. Whether it is by personality or by training, I think that each of us tends to gravitate toward one or the other. Some of us are gracious to the point where the truth gets lost. Some of us are ungracious in our application of truth to the people around us.
While listening to the Psalms recently, two verses in Psalm 34 captured my ear:
“Keep your tongue from evil and your lips from deceitful speech. Turn away from evil and do what is good; seek peace and pursue it.”Psalm 34:13–14, CSB
The last phrase especially challenged me where the Psalmist says, “seek peace and pursue it.”
I would rather just avoid the difficult people in my life. And when they are unavoidable, it is so much easier to tune them out and look for an excuse to escape the interaction.
But when I read the gospels, I am challenged that this is not how Jesus operated when he encountered difficult people. Jesus always spoke the truth in the way it was needed to be spoken. To the Pharisees, Jesus’ speech seems harsh, but such speech was needed to break through their hard-boiled religious shell.
Jesus sought peace with them, but peace had to be on the basis of truth.
So, how does this challenge me? It challenges me to hang in when relationships get difficult. I know I can do a better job of seeking peace with the difficult people in my life without compromising who God has called me to be and what God has called me to do.
As I write this post, two categories of difficult people come to mind:
- Those who feel authorized to place expectations upon you.
- Those who are overly or severely critical of you.
In category 1 are those who will be happy to tell you God’s will for your life and authoritatively tell you how your life needs to be changed.
In category 2 are those who constantly criticize and find fault with you. For a humorous illustration of this, check out the Geico “We have Aunts” commercial.
My guess is that each of us could name at least one person in our lives that falls into each category.
Yet, I am challenged by the Psalm 34 to seek peace with these people, a thought that is also echoed by the Apostle Paul:
“If possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.”Romans 12:18, CSB
For me, this seems like a challenge to hang in on these relationships and be more willing to be hurt by the difficult people in my life. I don’t need to act on the unrealistic expectations placed upon me and I don’t need to allow the unfair criticism to make me defensive or hostile.
One caveat needs to be mentioned. If the level of criticism or “direction” reaches the point where further interaction is detrimental to your well being, it is certainly acceptable to temporarily or permanently distance yourself from that person. Neither the Psalmist or the Apostle Paul give us any indication that we are called to be doormats.
That being said, I am challenged to be slower in pulling the withdraw and avoid card. I am challenged to be willing to encounter the hurt so that I can be used by God in that difficult place.
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