It may not be a universal experience, but most of us are forced to interact with a difficult person in either our personal or professional life.
There are a variety of sources for the difficulty.
- Some are difficult because they don’t perceive feedback about how they impact others. This is the person who continues the story when all the people in the room give indication of being bored or hostile. This is the guy who thinks he’s doing well in the presentation when all the attendees are checking their smart phones, chatting or sleeping.
- Some are difficult because they are so worried about offending others that they are amorphous, it is hard to discern the real person inside them. These are so tuned in to feedback that they often overreact to it. They are hard to interact with because anything you say might prove overwhelming to them.
- Some are difficult because they are self-absorbed; it is indeed all about them. The self-absorbed take every difficulty that arises as a personal attack. If a friend is distracted for an unrelated reason, the self-absorbed will take that as evidence of rejection. The self-absorbed will latch on to any sympathetic ear and fill it with a catalog of injustices done to him.
- Some are difficult because they are unabashedly selfish. These are similar to the self-absorbed, but this self-absorption is intentional. These will do whatever they think they can get away with to get what they want.
I’m sure there are other categories of difficult people but these four come immediately to mind.
Jesus tells in Matthew 5:44 that we are to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us. John 13:35 tells us that love is to be the mark that identifies us as Christians. In Ephesians 4:15, Paul tells us we are to speak the truth in love.
Nowhere in my Bible does it give me any indication that this is easy to do, nor does it give any indication that love is optional. I am called to love difficult people, people who often do not want, or struggle to receive that love.
How do we go about this then? I think that the evangelist gives us a clue when he describes Jesus as “full of grace and truth” in John 1:14. In his dealings with mankind, the difficult and the loving, Jesus was both gracious and truthful. He always told the truth but the truth was softened with grace and acceptance.
Jesus’ ability to do this is directly attributable to his being God. His divinity and sinlessness gave him the power to maintain this balance perfectly. I, on the other hand, do this imperfectly at best and often do not maintain the balance at all.
In our imperfection and based on our personality, we will tend to err on one side or the other. Some of you are more likely to err or the side of truth. “He had it coming to him” may be your motto after imparting a dose of truth to someone who you thought desperately needed it. Others, like myself, will try to avoid the difficulty, erring on the side of grace.
Grace without truth leaves the difficult person in his difficulty with no-one to guide him out. Truth without grace often makes the truth-giver feel a little bit better but the lack of grace can impede reception of the truth.
The two combined, grace AND truth, as we see it modeled by Jesus can be used by God to positively impact the difficult person. We love best when it is done with both grace and truth.
Question 1: What other types of difficult people have you encountered?
Question 2: Do you have any stories of how the combination of grace and truth positively impacted the situation?