As I was praying and meditating on my next blog, I knew I wanted to write about how to love difficult people. The “Volume 1” in the title of this blog helps drive the point, that there is no one catch-all answer to this ubiquitous question. One great illustration of this comes from one of my favorite players in comedy, Tina Fey. She wrote and produced a show called “30 Rock.” In this show, she created a character named Kenneth Parcell. The TV show is about a woman (Fey) who is a writer for an NBC late-night comedy show. Kenneth is a page, known for his unrelenting optimism and an overabundance of naiveté.
In one scene, each character is describing how they see the world. One character views everything with a price tag. Another character views themselves as the star of the show. When it comes to Kenneth’s turn, everyone turns into happy muppets, and they all sing and dance and hug. The silly part of my brain thinks of this when I imagine what it’s like to love everyone as they are. While I don’t believe it takes buckets of naivete, I do believe it takes a bit of “child-like faith” to do it well.
The Bible mentions the shortcomings of the human heart in Jeremiah 17:9. It says, “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?” If the heart is in fact deceitful, why would we want to open ourselves up to be hurt by people? When I started down this journey a few years ago, I asked myself that very question. As I studied Jesus and His Word, my heart began to soften for those around me. Jesus found ways to love everyone no matter their station in life, so why couldn’t I? I was hoping in this blog to have a conversation on the importance of loving others, and maybe even impart some tricks, so as to accomplish this with more ease and maybe even some joy.
We all have people in our lives with whom we struggle to understand, relate, and even love. Maybe it’s a relative, or a coworker, or a neighbor. No matter how many times we talk ourselves up beforehand, we still can’t manage to find the good in them. But it’s there. The same Jesus who created them also put them in your path, and has a plan for them just as he has a plan for you. He made parts of them that are so special and unique. But we have to remember that they are also among the living, and each person has their own story and path.
That path, of which you may have little to no knowledge of, does, in fact, exist. This can be particularly hard to remember when we encounter those who do not know Jesus. Those who do, generally have their heart set on things above. Those who do not often times see the world differently. Their morning commute becomes about traffic. Their issues with family draw out feelings of isolation and guardedness, hostility, and past hurt. They build fences and mechanisms to shield themselves from inevitable pain. They struggle in silence, and when we do not see the pain that lies underneath, Jesus does. While He is a beacon for all of those who know Him, those who do not are essentially digging in the dark. How terrible would that be?? Imagine that for yourself. Scared and helpless, you pat every inch in front of you trying to discover your surroundings. After years and years of patting, knocking things over, falling, getting bumped, you finally resign yourself to one space and make the decision to stay there. Now imagine someone showing up with a flashlight. In this scenario, you could be the flashlight, or you could just be more darkness.
In my heart, I know we are all human and all desire the same things. Sometimes I think about how Jesus sees His children. And when I say children, I mean it literally. Imagine a playground full of children running around, playing on swings, digging in the dirt, playing tag. The parallels from this to adult life are not much different!
We are all children at heart. You know that mean girl who makes fun of everyone else for being different? You know that bossy kid who tries to bully others to show his worth? How about the smelly kid whose pants are too short and who draws weird pictures of animals? Yep—they’re all people we know, they just grew up. While children want to be heard and loved and honored, the same is true for adults. Next time you’re dealing with someone difficult, imagine them as a small child, as Jesus does. It sure makes playing on the adult playground a lot more fun. And I’ll bet if you met those difficult people as small children, you would do all you could do to nurture them and bring out the best in them. Just like Jesus, and just like that person hiding in the darkness.
I’m reminded of an experience I had a few years ago. Matt and I had lunch plans, but I was early, so I stopped into a coffee shop to kill some time. I had been praying all morning for God to direct my steps and strengthen my attentiveness to the Holy Spirit. As I sat down at a table, I noticed a boy sitting next to me who wasn’t drinking anything, just working on his laptop. I found a way to say hello, and I offered to buy him a cup of coffee. His name was Jamar, and he lived within walking distance of the coffee shop. He told me about how his family lived in the apartment complex next door and how he had seven brothers and sisters. He was very shy and reserved, but I enjoyed the conversation, nonetheless.
As we got up to leave, he thanked me for the cup of coffee but clutched his belongings close to him. As he opened the door for me, I saw his shirt that read, “I am a Terrorist.” This was also September 11th. As I got into my car to leave, the words on his shirt burned their way into my brain. I wondered how such a nice young boy could wear such a shirt on a day like today. I also wondered what everyone else in the coffee shop thought about me befriending such a character. And then I thanked God for giving me the opportunity to see this boy’s face before I saw his shirt. I have no idea what he had planned that day, or what he had been through, but I know God moved, and I was able to be used… even if it was only for a cup of coffee and a kind exchange.
That to me is just an illustration of what we see versus what God sees. He calls us to love others as He does. We have no idea what others have walked through or what kind of pain they are harboring. While we should often guard our own hearts, values and overall well-being, we should also do all we can to show God’s love through the use of our words and actions, whenever possible. I say words and actions, but more often than not, a pair of ears is the most effective tool you can use to show God’s love to others.
You know the old saying, “You catch more flies with honey than vinegar”… it’s true. Your words have power—power to change lives for the better. Maya Angelou said, “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” What a true saying. If we are to be disciples of Christ, and direct people into His arms, we have to find ways to love people on their level. Practice the art of disregarding how they have offended you—or how they have problems with gossip, or problems with control, or problems with addictions. There is no path more direct to the heart than love and kindness.
My final thought would be this: Just because we are adults doesn’t mean we have somehow “arrived”. We are all still evolving, and how foolish it would be to assume another human has it all figured out. Likewise, how foolish we would be to think on any given day we ourselves have it all figured out. If any of us has a breath left to breathe, there is hope of change. There is hope of forgiveness. There is hope of healing.