People can be difficult at times. No surprise. Spend enough time around certain people and, as one of my friends once put it, “you will lose your religion.” We all find times in our lives when we have to deal with people who have different values, methods, beliefs. Perhaps the words that they use are not words that we would use. Maybe the way that they do things is not the way that we would do things. The temptation might be to label that individual a “difficult person” and attempt to distance yourself.
This past week I was faced with dealing with a “difficult people” (I know I should have written person, don’t be difficult) It doesn’t get any easier just because I am a Christian or because I am a pastor. We do not become immune to the desire to strangle some people. What is different, or can be, is the way that I choose to respond or react to a person who is rubbing me the wrong way. In the past few days I was truly put to the test, and I’m not entirely sure that I scored very high.
As most of you know, the temperatures were soaring earlier this week. I am not built for heat and humidity. Working out in the heat has taken a toll on my physically and emotionally. I understand why when the mercury rises there is a corresponding rise in domestic dispute police interventions. Couple the heat index with people who seem to intentionally press the stress buttons and there is the makings for disaster.
There are many ways to respond/react to situations like that, and most of them would simply aggravate an already raw circumstance. My response this week was two-fold. First I prayed, and I prayed hard and sought strength and wisdom from God. I was at the end of my own resources physically, emotionally, and spiritually. Without God’s strength I was a sitting duck. (sounds a little like Ephesians 6.10-12) In addition I prayed for the “difficulty” I was facing. Honestly, there were times in my prayer that I asked God to intervene in a “biblical” way, thankfully God doesn’t take orders from me. Mostly, I prayed for myself to have the patience to maintain my composure and to be able to manage the stress the situation was causing. God answered!
The second thing I did was control my tongue. We learn so many little slogans in our lives, but some of them are really good ones to remember and employ. Among those is the slogan, “If you can’t say something nice, then don’t say anything at all.” The urge inside me was to lash out. I wanted to complain and say exactly what I thought of the difficult person. I could pretty easily justify my reaction and no jury would have convicted me. However, my reaction would not have honored God in my life, nor would it move the people I am working with any closer to knowing Him. Over and over again the slogan, “if you can’t say something nice…” played through my mind.
Finally, after I had walked a short distance from the situation, spent time praying, and remembered those words of wisdom, I was able to return and not be confrontational or complaining, rather cooperative and connected. The difficult person didn’t act any differently, but I was able to experience peace, indescribable inner peace that passes all understanding, and to continue to do what I needed to do.
Therefore, God’s chosen ones, holy and loved, put on heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience, accepting one another and forgiving one another if anyone has a complaint against another. Just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you must also forgive. Above all, put on love—the perfect bond of unity. And let the peace of the Messiah, to which you were also called in one body, control your hearts. Be thankful. [Colossians 3:12-15 (HCSB)]
I would like to say with confidence that I will always respond to difficult people and situations this way. I can’t, because like everyone else, the flesh is still a powerful force in life. So, I implore you to pray for me to respond as Christ in the middle of stressful and difficult situations, and to practice what Paul wrote here. To rest in God’s strength in the realization that my own strength will never be enough.
Oh, and to continue to remember that “If I can’t say anything nice…” because the world is already full of discouraging and disgruntled speech. I want to speak encouragement, inspiration, and the message of Messiah wherever I am.