Communication Scripture

Dealing With Difficult People

February 20, 2011

Dealing with difficult people is a critical consideration throughout life, from nursery school to the nursing home.  But it doesn’t seem to get that much attention and often we just find ourselves in the middle of a difficult situation unprepared to deal with it effectively.  

I know from my own experience, that being Pastor of a church means dealing with lots of difficult people.  At this point that happens only rarely and is usually a visitor, not one of our members.  But not so very long ago it was a whole different deal. As we began to transition the culture of our parish, to make it more about serving the mission Jesus gave us and less about the demands of the consumers in the pews, there were a lot of difficult people in my life. They wrote letters, they sent e-mails, they gossiped about me and slandered me.  They caused trouble for me with the diocese, disrupted our staff, they caused a lot of damage, all in the name of “church.”  I had a whole season of life when I was constantly dealing with difficult people. And I can tell you I don’t think I handled it very well, I allowed it to hurt me far more than I should have, and I hung onto the hurt too.  

But one thing I did not do, and I am thankful I did not, is get into the conflict and try to hurt those who were hurting me.

When I try and hurt those who have hurt me that’s called retribution.  Retribution is a direction I choose to take, a path I put myself on. And its a path to more hurt. Who hasn’t seen happy marriages descend into conflict, successful partnerships bust up, beautiful friendships wrecked and ruined?  And we might look at those situations from a distance and wonder how they ever got to that point from where they started out.  And the answer is, step by step down the path of retribution.

When we’re on the path of retribution we think we’re headed toward justice, that justice is the destination. But it isn’t.  Pain is.  Justice is not our business, it belongs to God, to be used and distributed in his own way and time.  

Besides the path of retribution, there is another path. We could call it the path of grace. On that path we’re going to say, “The wrongful injury you caused me stops here. It will not be returned to you and I will not carry it further with me on my path. You will not get what you deserve from me.”

You might think that’s unfair. You’re right.  Here’s a little secret. Fairness is highly overrated. Fairness never made a good relationship better or fixed up a bad one.  Forget fair, leave fair to God.  Just determine not to trade a hurt for a hurt. Because however hurt you are, you can still heal and the person you are on the other side of that hurt is what matters most. Jesus teaches

Be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect.
Matthew 5.45
The destination of the path of retribution is pain.  The destination of the path of grace is perfection.  And your heavenly Father wants no less for you.

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