How do we learn to love the difficult people in our lives? That’s what we’ll talk about again this Sunday. This isn’t easy to hear, but the way we treat difficult people reveals the condition of our hearts. It really does. And having difficult people in our lives can actually help us grow spiritually in ways that we couldn’t otherwise.
- I will be courageous in confronting the steamrollers in my life.
- I will set boundaries with the sponges in my life.
- I will speak the truth in love to difficult people.
- I will adopt a posture of patience with difficult people.
- I will let go of my need to change difficult people.
- I will learn to see beyond the difficulty.
Full Sermon Script
Hi I’m Matt VanCleave, one of the pastors at Blue Oaks.
This is the last week in our series Undivided. This series was designed to give us hope that in the midst of an election, where there’s division in our country, we can be undivided as a church.
It’s been about how we can give peace and compassion and love to the people around us even though we disagree politically.
Today we look at the second half of learning how to love the difficult people in our lives. If we’re going to live at peace with one another, undivided, we have to learn how to love difficult people.
I want to start with this question:
What drains you?
What depletes your energy?
What causes your batteries to need to be recharged?
I’m sure you could come up with a list of answers: worry, lack of sleep, household tasks, bills to get paid, laundry to be done, work pressures, pace of life issues, politics.
But my guess is the number one thing that drains you most is people. Difficult, demanding interactions with people is the single most draining aspect of life for the vast majority of the human race.
Do you have a hard-to-please boss?
Do you have cranky co-workers?
Do you have disagreeable family members?
Dealing with difficult people is the single most draining task you and I can face.
I think the ultimate challenge in living an undivided life is the relational challenge.
So I want to talk about how to love these people, so that we can live this undivided life we’ve been talking about, one where love and justice and peace reign.
What I want to do now is walk through two more categories of difficult people. We talked about two last week, and we’ll talk about two more this week.
And while we look at these categories, I want to ask you to think: Do you have anyone that fits this category in your life, and how can you get a handle on dealing with them.
Alright, the first difficult person I want to talk about is one that’s called the
A steamroller is characterized by insensitivity.
Not only does this person step on toes, hurt feelings, damage relationships, but often, they don’t even have a clue what it is they’re doing.
Steamrollers, generally, have two primary needs. They have a deep need to be right and a deep need to be in control.
So if someone disagrees with them, that person can become an opponent that they need to crush – that they need to get out of the way!
The steamroller is generally stubborn, independent, and oriented towards power. And often, it takes something quite dramatic to get through to a steamroller, because they can be very thick-skinned.
I’ll tell you my favorite story about a steamroller.
A pilot tells a story about something that actually happened on an airplane that he was flying.
This was a flight to Florida and a steamroller-type guy was on his flight.
This steamroller got to the gate, and he had to stand behind an elderly couple who moved very slowly.
He let everyone in the gate area know he didn’t appreciate at all having to stand behind these old people, because they were slowing him down and he was in a hurry. He had things to do.
When he went to take his seat in the first class cabin, this couple was right in front of him in the aisle. They were going to be in the seats directly behind him. And for him, it took them too long to put things in the overhead bin.
So he said loud enough for everyone in the first class cabin to hear, “People this old, moving this slow, have no business flying on a plane.”
Later, the flight attendant came to bring him his food, and it was not satisfactory, so he sent it back; twice – a meal on an airplane.
He pressed the button on his seat and jerked it back as hard as he could – so hard that the tray of food behind him fell off of the tray and covered the elderly man, who was sitting behind him.
The flight attendant came up, very apologetically, to this elderly man, asking if she could help clean him up.
And then the man told her his story.
He and his wife were on this plane celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary.
It was the first time they had ever flown in their lives.
They had saved up for years for this particular trip. They were going to Florida to celebrate 50 years of marriage – never been on a trip like this before.
And they were hooked up with a steamroller.
The flight attendant was very apologetic. She said, “Could I at least bring you a bottle of champagne by way of apologizing?”
He said, “Okay.” And so she did.
And with everyone in the cabin watching, he stood up, popped open the bottle… and poured it over the head of the guy sitting in front of him.
Sometimes, it takes a lot to get the attention of a steamroller.
Now, you may have a steamroller in your life who hurts people unintentionally. Sometimes that happens. And if you pull them aside and explain, “You really hurt me or someone else,” they may feel terribly apologetic and want to set things right.
But sometimes there are steamrollers who hurt people, who trash relationships, and they don’t even care.
In Jesus’ day, there were religious leaders who were spiritual steamrollers. They would bully people and damage people. And they didn’t care.
And in those cases, Jesus drew very clear boundaries.
Jesus was actually toughest on the spiritual steamrollers. He said certain behaviors would just not be tolerated.
And it may be that you need to do the same thing with some steamroller in your life, because allowing someone to deliberately go on bullying you, or another person, is not an act of love.
And it may require wise confrontation.
Let me give you a few words from Scripture that you may need to take with you this week.
Sometimes, God would say to some particular person, like Moses, that he would have to take on a steamroller called Pharaoh. Or David was going to have to take on a steamroller called Goliath. And then God would say something like this:
Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the Lord your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.
Be strong and courageous, for the Lord your God is with you. Some of you need to live with those words this week.
You’re going to face a moment that’s going to require some courage. You’re entering into an encounter or a meeting or sitting around a table where you’re experiencing fear, because of one other person that’s sitting there.
And God does not call any of his people to live in that kind of fear. And so God says, “Be strong and courageous, for the Lord your God is with you.”
Alright, another profile of a difficult person is someone who might be called the
A sponge is, generally, an emotionally needy person. They’re often very nice people. They may do lots of things for you. But you find yourself wanting to hold this person at a distance. You may not even know why at first. You may feel kind of guilty about that
But it’s because underneath, a sponge is quite clingy. They’re often in crisis. And if you don’t give them what they want, they usually will not make overt demands. They’re not that aggressive. They’ll just find ways, often quite subtle or sneaky ways, to make you feel guilty for not giving them what it is they want.
They’re masters at using guilt to get what they want.
They constantly test the relationship to make sure you’re close to them.
Normal relationships have ebbs and flows. That’s part of healthy relationships. But to a sponge, any distance triggers fear.
So if you don’t sit together at some social event or talk on the phone on a regular enough basis, or if you develop a new friendship, a sponge will find this very threatening. These people are, often, extremely sensitive.
Any observation that has a mild constructive criticism attached to it can feel deeply wounding and even disloyal to them.
So you find yourselves in this kind of relationship just walking on eggshells. You’ve always got to be so careful about what you say.
Question: What happens when an extremely sensitive sponge meets up with a hard-charging steamroller?
They get married – and that can be a scary deal.
You see, the danger with a sponge is this: your experience with them is often feelings of guilt, and therefore you go too long without addressing the problems, until finally, you either blow up in anger or just run away.
Paul says this. This is an amazing statement about maturity. He says:
Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ.
Speaking the truth in love – that’s one of the great tests of maturity in the world.
There’s a real good chance if you have a sponge in your life that the time is going to come, maybe real soon, when you need to speak the truth. You need to do it in love. You need to do it with as much wisdom and discernment as you can muster up. But don’t withhold truth from that person.
Not just for your sake, but for their sake.
Because if you’re experiencing them in a way that makes you want distance, probably lots of other people experience them in that same way. And if someone doesn’t love them enough to tell them the truth, how are they going to know? How are they going to change?
Now, maybe they won’t change. Their response is up to them. Your job is to speak the truth in love.
Sometimes, you need to say no. Sometimes, you need to set boundaries. Set them. Speak the truth in love.
Well, those are two more of the common types of difficult relationships.
And you have some of these people in your life.
So what I want to do now is walk through a few gifts that we need to give to all people, especially the difficult people in our lives.
We talked about giving the gift of prayer last week.
Today I want to give you three real basic thoughts to keep in mind, that flow from the writers of Scripture on how to deal with life-draining or difficult people.
The first one is real simple, but it might be the hardest one of all:
Be patient. Start with patience.
In Colossians 3, the apostle Paul says:
Clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.
Patience is a major theme with the writers of Scripture.
Paul writes maybe the greatest words ever written about love in 1 Corinthians. He said:
Love is patient, love is kind.
1 Corinthians 13:4
In Galatians, he lists patience as one of the fruit of the Spirit.
If God is present in your life, one of the ways that will be manifested is you’ll grow in patience.
This is huge for living with the kind of peace we’ve been talking about in this series… because we live in the most impatient society in the history of the human race. It’s a lost virtue in our day.
Do you wrestle with a need for patience?
Maybe you’re thinking, “I don’t need patience; I’ve got that one down; I’m ready to move on to the next one now. Don’t waste my time.”
We live in a highly impatient world.
I learned something interesting about the word patience. The Hebrew meaning of the term patience originally meant “long in the nose.”
It’s taken from the fact that when someone gets impatient or real frustrated or angry, their nostrils tend to flare out.
Have you ever noticed that? When someone gets mad, their nostrils flare out.
So, in the Hebrew language, they would describe someone who didn’t respond in anger by saying, “they’re long in the nose.” It was a patient person who didn’t give in to frustration.
There are a number of books written on the loss of civility in our day.
In one of them, I read a story about a woman whose car broke down in traffic. She doesn’t know how to fix it, but she gets out of her car, checks under the hood and of course, she can’t figure out what the problem is.
To make matters worse, there’s a guy in the car behind her who can’t pull out around her, so he just lays on the horn, just honks the horn the whole time she’s under the hood.
Finally, she goes back to his car, leans against the window and says to him, “I don’t know how to take care of my car, but if you’ll go up and fix my car, I’ll be glad to stay here at yours and honk the horn for you.”
It’s the kind of world we live in. The default mode of the human race is impatience and frustration.
Now, when the writers of Scripture talk about the importance of patience, of course they’re not saying that you just tolerate any behavior no matter how inappropriate, destructive or damaging. There are many times when another person’s behavior needs to be confronted courageously and in love.
But the general teaching of Scripture is that we ought to adopt a posture of patience, compassion, kindness, and gentleness.
So I want to invite you when you come up to those kinds of situations, if you’re tempted to just kind of lose it, ask yourself the question: “How might I respond if I were in this person’s place? If I had this person’s job, if I were in this person’s shoes, if I had to experience the life hurt that this person has, how would I handle it?”
Then before you respond, before you just let it fly, take a deep breath and simply repeat these words to yourself that come from Scripture, “Be patient.”
You’re going to need it this week. You’re going to deal with a salesperson or someone at work or a co-worker is going to make a mistake. One of your family members is going to do something that just irritates you.
You’re going to hear that voice of a life-draining person. Before you respond, just pause for a moment and be patient.
Alright, so the starting point is be patient.
The second thing, and this is really hard in dealing with difficult or life-draining people:
Let go of your need to change the other person.
Again, this flows out of Scripture. The apostle Paul writes, “Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you.”
How did Christ accept the human race? Unconditionally. He just comes to us with open arms. “I know all about you. I know how draining and difficult you can be. I know the foolish things that you’ve said, the destructive things that you’ve done, the character flaws, the sin, the guilt.”
Jesus just accepts us with open arms, and we receive unconditional love. Paul says, “Just as he’s done that for you, you do that for each other.”
Are you an accepting person? Can you let go of your obsession with fixing people?
Les Parrot told about a kitchen encounter that he had with his wife. He said:
“We were getting breakfast ready, and she was cutting bananas. I realized she was doing it the wrong way.
“As most of you will know, if you cut a banana with an upward motion, then each new slice forces the old slice down off of the banana so it falls neatly into the cereal bowl as God intended it to do.
“But if you cut down, the old chunk just slides off to the side. You can end up with a chain of four or five round banana chunks side by side on the knife. You end up with bananas all over the place. It’s just chaos. The Bible is very clear about this.
“I realized that if this goes on unchecked, there’s a good chance that our children will grow up to cut bananas the wrong way. There will be a fruit slicing dysfunction in our family for generations, maybe. So I tried to correct her. I tried in love to reprove her. You think she appreciated it?
“She’d go out and buy bananas just to slice them up even when we didn’t need them just to be independent about it. I realized this woman is probably going to go to the grave cutting bananas in a wrong, unbiblical way.
“But I’m not going to leave her. I’m just going to accept her even though she doesn’t cut bananas right. I’m just going to love her. I’m just going to let go of my need to make sure she cuts bananas the right way.”
Here’s the deal: you have someone in your life who cuts bananas the wrong way.
Maybe they talk too much.
Maybe they don’t express affection the way you want them to.
Maybe they have some kind of irritating habits.
Maybe they’ve got character flaws.
Maybe they’ve made complaining into an art form.
Maybe they just whine all the time.
Maybe they’re a martyr.
Maybe they try to manipulate you.
Maybe they try to control you.
You are exhausted because you’ve taken it on as your personal calling in life to fix them.
Give it up!
It’s not your job to fix them. Give up the need to change people that you know aren’t right.
Alright, number one is be patient, number two, give up the need to change people, accept one another, and the third thing – this will change you if you’re open to it – in dealing with life-draining or difficult people
Learn to see beyond the difficulty.
Jesus said in
Do not judge, or you too will be judged.
That is, don’t just assign someone to a permanent category where you’re writing them off as a person in contempt so you don’t have to love or care for them anymore.
“Do not judge or you too will be judged.” You’ll live in the category of judgment because that’s the only category you’ll understand. Learn to see more in a person than simply the fact that they’re difficult.
My temptation – and I’m guilty of this far too often – is to see life-draining people solely as this needy person or this irritating person. When I do that, I dehumanize them. I write them off, and I don’t know how else to say it but that’s sin. That’s a violation of love.
All I see is the difficulty and I’m passing judgement. I desperately need – and you may as well – I need to learn to see this person as more than just an irritation to me.
This is a real person, flawed maybe, hard for me to love perhaps, but someone that God loves. If I can learn to see more than just a difficulty in another person, it can make a world of difference.
A teacher was having trouble liking a particular child in her class. He was one of those boys who sat in a slouched position, dull look on his face, mouth hung open, his eyes half glazed.
When she spoke to him, he always answered in grunts and groans. He never dressed right – he was just an unattractive boy.
Whenever she marked Teddy’s papers, she would always let her ugliness expose itself. She enjoyed putting X’s next to the wrong answers.
She should have known better though. She should have known better because teachers have records and she had records on Teddy.
Teddy is a good boy and shows promise of working attitude, but poor home situation.
Teddy is a good boy, he does what he’s told, but he’s too serious, his mother is terminally ill.
Teddy is falling behind in his work. He is becoming withdrawn. His mother died this year. His father shows no interest.
Teddy is hopelessly behind. His father left home. He lives with his aunt. He is deeply troubled and in need of professional help.
She had records!
Christmas came and all the boys and girls brought their presents and piled them on her desk. They were all in brightly colored paper, except for Teddy’s present. His was wrapped in brown paper and scotch tape and on it scribbled in crayon were the words:
For: Miss Thompson
When she tore open the paper, out fell a rhinestone bracelet, a gaudy thing with half the stones missing; and a bottle of cheap perfume that was almost all used up.
The other children began to giggle, but she had enough sense to snap on the bracelet and put some perfume on her wrist. And holding it up for the other kids to smell, she said, “isn’t it lovely,” and they all took her advise and agreed.
And at the end of the day when all the other kids had gone, Teddy lingered behind and said, “Miss Thompson, all day you smelled just like my mother and her bracelet looks real nice on you too, I’m glad you like my presents.”
And when he left she got down on her knees and cried and begged God to have mercy on her.
And the next day when the boys and girls came to school, she was a new teacher. She didn’t just see little boys and little girls. She looked at children and in their faces she saw Jesus.
She tutored children, particularly slow children, and particularly Teddy.
By the end of that semester he had caught up with a lot of other boys and girls. He was even ahead of some. And she didn’t hear from Teddy after that for a long time until she got this note:
Dear Miss Thompson, I wanted you to be the first to know, I am graduating from high school and I’m second in my class. Love, Teddy Staler
Four years later another note:
Dear Miss Thompson, I wanted you to be the first to know, I’m graduating first in my class. The university hasn’t been easy, but I liked it. Love, Teddy Staler
Four years later another note:
Dear Miss Thompson, I wanted you to be the first to know, that as of today I am Theodore J. Staler M.D. I’m going to be married in July, the 27th to be exact. I want you to come and I want you to sit where my mother would have sat because you are the only family I have ever had.
And she went because she deserved to sit where the mother would have sat. And the irony of the story is that today the staler family is the one family Miss Thompson has.
A woman who knew that mercy was responding to the needs of people in whom she could see Jesus.
At first, all he was was a disruptive influence on the class, just a difficult kid. And then he became so much more, a real person with a crushing hurt and a broken heart. And she saw underneath the difficulty and the drain to a little boy without a mother and she loved him.
You have a difficult person in your world. And you’re tempted to think a difficult person is all they are and all they’ll ever be. But that’s not true. So don’t give up on them. Don’t give up.
Why? Because they’re going to change? No.
Maybe they’ll change. Maybe they’ll never change. Hopefully they will, you never know.
The reason you don’t give up on them, the writers of Scripture say, is because God never gives up on you.
God forgives you. God believes in you. God saw the potential he created in you.
God has not given up on you, and God has not given up on the difficult people in your life either, so don’t you give up on them.
You have life-draining people in your life? Everyone does. Learn to be patient. Learn to give up your obsession with fixing them and changing them. And see beyond the difficulty. Don’t give up.
Blue Oaks Church