Loving Difficult People
By Jill Briscoe
Paul writes, “Love is patient and kind” (1 Cor. 13:4). Most of us find that we can love those who are easy to love, but what about those who are hard to love or those who drive us up the wall?
We have been told to love, for love is not an option. We have been given by the Spirit the ability to love with agape love. Patience is another name for love, for Paul explained that “love is patient.” Therefore, as we work through our difficult relationships, we will need to be patient.
The meaning of the word patience (in Greek, macrothumea) is “longsuffering” or “slow to anger.” Love suffers because it is the nature of love to suffer. Remember what C.S. Lewis said: “Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly broken!” But there is no alternative. We are not only called to love, we are also commanded to love.
Such love means loving not only when your heart is whole, but loving when your heart is broken. It means loving when the person you are trying to love is continuously hurting you afresh. Long-suffering means that love suffers well. Being inordinately fond of myself, I don’t “do” pain very well. In fact, I don’t do pain at all if I can help it! Do you? Who’s for pain? The whole ethos of our society, as C.S. Lewis said, is to “embrace pleasure and eschew pain.” It takes a radical act of God in our lives to so change our hearts that we are willing to embrace pain and eschew pleasure – to suffer for the sake of love! Yet, if that’s what it takes to love someone, it must be done.
God is very good at loving people who hurt Him and are very hard to love. When Jesus was frustrated with the disciples one time, He said to them, “How long must I suffer you?” (Matt. 17:17). He then went on “suffering” them for a considerable time because He knew that this was God’s will for Him and He willed to do God’s will. Long-suffering means being patient with an insufferable situation or person – even when you are hurting badly yourself – because it is the will of God. It hurts terribly to love at times like that, but that is what agape love does.
How long does your patience last? Does it last 120 years, 120 minutes, or 120 seconds? To have the patience God wants us to have, we need Jesus. Patience loves on to give time for God’s redemptive power to do its work. Love gives us the power to suffer long when we desperately want things to change.
Kindness Is Patience In Action
Paul says that not only is love patient, it is also kind. Kindness is the active part of patience. Patience is being good, while kindness is doing good. Kindness is goodness showing. Love is kind to those who would do it harm. Jesus said that we are to love even our enemies. To do that, we definitely need Him!
Being Kind To Those Who Hurt Us
I think of an incredible example of such kindness in the life experience of Tania Rich, a young mother serving the Lord with her husband in the jungle. Read her story:
January 31, 1993, was “just a regular day in the village.”…Suddenly, Tania heard loud noises, gunshots, and shouting. Guerillas had surrounded the village and had entered each of the three missionaries’ homes. A gunman came into the bedroom where Tania was with her sleeping children. She came out with him, and saw that Mark (her husband) was with two other guerillas who had him face down, his hands tied behind his back. Mark shouted in Spanish for the gunman to leave Tania alone and not harm her. The gunman approached Tania and demanded money, and she complied. Then he asked for coffee and sugar. In recalling the incident, Tania laughed, “When the gunman fumbled with the money and the packages of food, I found myself asking, ‘Would you like a bag for that?’ He just stared at me incredulously!”
Now there you have it! A practical act of love! Love does good to those who would do it harm. Tania found that what was inside of her – the love of Jesus – came out in a terrible time of crisis. She offered something to her husband’s persecutors. (There were three missionary families living in the village, and the guerillas took the three men. Sadly, the men were never found but were declared dead in 2001.) Tania loved the people she and Mark had gone to help find the Lord. When the big test came, she reacted out of that love in an astonishing act of kindness. Love does good to those who do it harm.
Think of Jesus. He healed His enemies (the servant of the high priest whose ear Peter severed in the Garden of Gethsemane) and prayed for the soldiers who were crucifying Him: “Father, forgive these people, because they don’t know what they are doing” (Lk. 23:34).
Being Kind To Those Who Don’t Deserve It
Let’s bring this closer to home. Not too many of us are asked for such displays of endurance and courage. But many of us have teenagers. Those of us who have teenagers or have raised them know what a difficult stage this is.
Our daughter and I got into difficulties when she would not pick up her room. Try as I might to bully, threaten, or cajole, she would not clean it. The issue became a flash point. One day I was asking advice from a wise woman at church. “Just try being kind to her,” she suggested.
“She doesn’t deserve it!” I replied.
She smiled understandingly. “That’s what kindness is for. Anyway, you have tried everything else, why not pick up her room for her and see if that will work?”
I had nothing to lose, so I did. Four days later there was no response, and I was just about to give up. Then my daughter burst into tears and said she was sorry. “What made you say you’re sorry?” I asked. “You’ve been so kind to me, Mom,” she replied.
It might not work for you, but in the face of such resistance to persuasion, being patiently kind when someone doesn’t deserve it may actually get you somewhere. After all, “God’s kindness led you toward repentance” (Rom. 2:4). So the kindness of God through you may lead others to repentance, too!
The Gift Of Frustration
It is important to recognize that any frustrating situation that requires patience is God’s gift to you. A gift that, if received with the right attitude, will present the opportunity to spend some time in God’s waiting room practicing patience. Frustration is often God’s way of driving us to Him.
You win half the battle already when you recognize the problem is a gift. It is a gift because these types of situations enable you to experience the love of God in a special way. People are receptive when they are struggling with frustration. If they are expecting others to act with frustration, they cave in if you exhibit kindness. If you can go beyond sounding kind to being kind and doing an outrageous act of kindness, this speaks louder than a thousand words. It can open people up to hear about the Lord. Think of Mother Teresa and how her practical acts of love on the streets of Calcutta spoke about the love of Christ to the dying and destitute.
Kindness is the active part of patience. Patience is being good and kindness is doing good. The helpful thing about doing good is that you don’t have to wait till you feel like doing good to do it. Try doing it when you don’t feel like it.
Is your love patient and kind? Remember, the Holy Spirit dwells in your hearts to be all the things you are not. Draw on this resource. Love that works, works at love. There is no other way.