Do you have to interact with difficult people over the holidays? Yeah, me too. Maybe it’s family members at Thanksgiving, old friends, stressed co-workers, but we all have relationships with difficult people. It’s inevitable!
Even though we may not get along with someone, God has commanded us to love them. He doesn’t call us to tolerate them, or to just be nice to them. God calls us to actually, truly, love them.
Jesus’s life is filled with examples of how to love people who may seem hard to love. He dined with Zacchaeus, the hated tax collector. Jesus connected with women who were abandoned or caught in adultery. He taught the story of the Good Samaritan as an example to Jewish people at a time with Jews and Samaritans bitterly despised each other.
Jesus prioritized loving people who were difficult, rejected, or outcast. As followers of Jesus, we need to love them as well.
But, loving difficult people is, for lack of a better word, difficult! Before we talk about how to love difficult people, here are a few reminders of why we must love them.
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Everyone is Created in the Image of God
So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. -Genesis 1:27
Every person you interact with over the holidays, no matter how happy or disgruntled they may be, is created in the image of God.
That family member who annoys you to no end? They were knit together in their mother’s womb by God Himself. He placed within them unique strengths and purpose. God has the hairs on their head numbered. God created them uniquely and wonderfully.
Everyone we encounter, even the most difficult, is created in the image of God.
Difficult People are Loved by God
God knows you completely – every sin, every fear, every shame – and loves you completely. He loves you without condition or hesitation.
Think of that difficult person you’re about to interact with. God loves them, too, without condition. In the same way, we are supposed to love others just as God loves us.
But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. -Luke 6:35
As this verse says, we are to love others without expecting anything in return. That includes our enemies, difficult people, those we don’t agree with, and even people who don’t seem to care whether we love them or not.
Everyone we encounter, even the most difficult, is deeply loved by God.
Jesus Died for Hurting People
for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. -Romans 3:23-24
At one time in our lives, we were all hurting people who were in trouble and needing rescue. We were all headed for a life of pain and guilt. We’re all sinners who cannot buy our own forgiveness or earn our way to heaven. But God! He rescued us with His grace and promise of forgiveness. It is only through Jesus’ death on the cross that we are saved. It is only through His sacrifice that we have eternal hope and new life in Him.
We need to continuously remember our own desperation for a savior. Once we do, we can better identify with those around us who are hurting and also desperately in need of rescue. We are all in need of Jesus.
Everyone we encounter, even the most difficult, is someone Jesus died for.
We are All Difficult People
We are all difficult people. We all sin. We all have regrets in our relationships where we’ve broken trust, said hurtful things, or neglected the other person.
I hate to break it to you, but you’re a difficult person, too.
So, as you’re summoning up the courage and the grace to sit at the Thanksgiving table with that person, remember that you are “that” person, too. You’re a difficult person also created in the image of God. You’re a hurting person miraculously rescued by Jesus’s death and resurrection. You are a challenging person whose flesh fails, who needs your burdens lifted by Jesus, and could use some extra love and encouragement from those around you.
Just like that person sitting across from you.
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How to Love Difficult People Over the Holidays
We know the holidays can be stressful, and we’re going to see people who we find difficult. Since we know this, we can prepare ahead of time.
As you’re preparing to spend time with those who you find difficult, practice these four tips:
Remind Yourself of Who They Are
When encountering a difficult person, remember who they are. They are created in the image of God, deeply loved by Him without condition or hesitation, and Jesus died to save them.
Meditate on these truths, and try to see them through His loving eyes and with His unique plan and purpose for their life.
Pray for God’s Heart
Loving difficult people is impossible without asking God for help. In our humanness, it is impossible to love anyone as God does. We need to ask God to use us as a vessel for His love. It is only then that we can allow God to love others through us, with His love that never runs out.
Find Common Ground
We’re more alike than different, and we have some similar needs. Try to find common ground with those you disagree with. Chances are you can find something. Do you both work hard at your jobs? Do you both love your kids? Start there! Build on what you have in common.
At a minimum, we all have some common needs. We all desire to be seen, known, understood, and loved. Maybe that’s why Jesus said, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Look for ways to meet some of those needs.
Look for Ways to Encourage and Bless
When you’re an angry person, you tend to push people away. That leads to a lack of connection with others and a feeling of isolation in relationships. Because of this, difficult people are often under-encouraged.
So, look for ways to encourage them. Do they work hard? Do they love their kids, or their parents, or their spouse well? Do they have passion or enthusiasm for something? Encourage them for the positive qualities you see in their lives. It may be the first time in a long time that they have been encouraged, and it may start to break down some of the walls they have built around themselves.
Listen for ways you can bless them. Ask God how you can radically show His love and blessings. Be prepared to shower them with generosity and kindness.
Spend some time today praying for the difficult people in your life. Ask God to help you see them through His eyes. Find ways to lift their burdens and encourage them, and watch what God can do through you.
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