God created us to live in community and harmony with one another. The greatest gift from God that we can see and feel is the love we have for one another. When we feel the love, support and encouragement from those around us, we feel like we can get through our challenges in life.
But as human beings, the greatest gift can also become the greatest curse or source of unhappiness. Think of the times when you have been most unhappy: I’m sure that most of these moments stemmed from problems you’ve had with people. It might be your parents, your sibling, friends or even strangers. We human beings have a way of making life difficult for others.
In school, I know there are people who get on your nerves, who bring you down, are a bad influence and just overall don’t make you a better person.
So what do we do in those situations? What does our faith teach us about how to relate with difficult people? That’s what I want to reflect on today.
Let’s have some discussion first:
- Describe a difficult person you are dealing with or have dealt with
- How did this person make you feel?
In life, we will always encounter difficult people. When you encounter a mean person, or a person who brings you down, what is our first reaction? Our reaction is to react emotionally to that person.
We are seeing really bad examples of this behaviour from world leaders today. If someone hits me, I hit them back harder. Does that really solve anything? Has the situation not just gotten worse? Hitting back harder might feel good at the moment, but it just breeds more hatred and resentment. That is not the way that God intended for us.
Another reaction is to cut that person off from your life. Sometimes this might be necessary. If the person is actually causing harm to you and affecting you physically or psychologically, sometimes we need to separate and distance ourselves from that person. God doesn’t intend for us to just receive abuse passively.
But I think those moments will be rare. Often, running away from the situation won’t help you solve the problem. Cutting the other person off is the easy answer. But in reality, that won’t always be possible. This may be someone you work with or have to be with. But more important than that, I think learning how to deal with all sorts of people is the most important skill you need to develop. More than just career success, learning to deal with different people is the essence of what it means to be a human being.
I believe that our faith has a lot of wisdom to provide.
I asked in your discussion to describe how the difficult person made you feel. This is an important first step. Before you react or respond, as best as possible, try to pause and think about what it is you’re feeling. Am I feeling angry? Down? Hurt?
We need to be people who are in tune with our emotions and aware of how we feel.
Once we recognize our feelings, the next step is to ask why we feel that way. This is an important step. Think about why I’m feeling the way I do. This person said something mean about me, and because of that I feel angry. But why do I feel angry? Maybe what that person said makes me feel like I’m less valuable. So I feel angry, but what that person said has also triggered feelings of inadequacy in me.
This is a very important skill – to connect an action to your own emotion, and then to examine the cause of that emotion. If you can learn to do this, you will be a great leader wherever you go. This world needs people who are aware of their own emotions. The unfortunate thing is, with all the focus on technical expertise – being good at math, science, coding and skills like that – we haven’t learned how to be proper human beings.
So that’s the first step – being aware of our emotions and why we feel that way. But as Christians we are called to take a further step.
We are called to be people of compassion and understanding. Often, weird or destructive behaviour is caused by underlying hurt or insecurity. But normally we just focus on the outward, visible action. Why is he acting that way? Why is she like that? But underneath is a story of hurt, anger, insecurity or any other experiences that may have shaped him or her.
Try to see underneath their behaviour: what is it that is making them behave this way? This behaviour can be a way of overcoming underlying emotions. For example, why are people so mean to each other? Why do say mean things or spread rumours about others? Usually, it’s because the person has a low self-image and self-confidence. To make them feel better about themselves, they try to elevate themselves by bringing someone else down.
Have an attitude of compassion. Try to see what’s underneath it and find compassion for it.
If possible, try to build rapport with that person. Help them feel safe and comfortable enough so that they can start sharing what’s underneath. At the very least, demonstrate solidarity and support for that person. People are very good at excluding those who are different from us. We create walls and boundaries. If someone is acting out or considered “weird”, we like to shun them. Christians are called to go against that and demonstrate solidarity with those who are left out. It takes real courage to do this, because it will not be a popular thing to do. But as I’ve said, our calling is not to be popular, but to demonstrate love and compassion, especially for those who are left out.
This was the path that Jesus took and that we are called to follow. The main reason Jesus was executed on the cross was because he spoke out against the leaders and powerful people who were excluding those who were poor, considered “weird” and without power. He sided with those left out by society and spoke to truth to power. The powers that be didn’t like it. The more traction Jesus gained, the more uncomfortable they became. And so finally they decided to put an end to it by hanging him on the cross.
We are called on this kind of path – to live a life of love and compassion for the “difficult” people who are left out, and take their side against those who might try to exclude them. It takes tremendous courage to do so, and it can be a lonely road.
That’s why on the cross, Jesus cried out: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Why did you abandon me?
So it seemed like everything was for nothing. But then God raised Jesus from the dead. This means that while the path might seem like a lonely one, ultimately God shows that this is really the only true way to live, and that at the end of the day, God’s way prevails.
My friends, let us be people who are aware of our own emotions and not those who simply react to them. As mature people, let us then be people of compassion, who can see beneath the surface of people’s actions. Let us then take the final step of engaging with them and being in solidarity with those who might be left out and excluded.
This is God’s perfect will and calling for us, let us ask God to give us the courage, wisdom and humility to live out this calling.
- What can I take away from this message?
- Prayer topics:
- For wisdom and self-awareness
- Compassion to see what’s beneath
- Courage to be in solidarity with those who are left out