Loving Difficult People

Do you have anyone in your life that’s a handful?

You know, really irritating?

Downright difficult? 

Be careful how you treat them or burning coals may be falling on your head!

One of the most challenging people I have ever had to accommodate was Hot & Hunky’s dad. He was ex-military and an ex-cop. He bragged about riding motorcycles year-round in the ‘60s. “Heck, yeah, (except he didn’t say heck) it was cold. We’d wrap our legs with newspaper as insulation under our uniforms. The department wasn’t full of wimps, women and weaklings like it is now.” 

After a series of crashes and altercations disabled him, he retired from the police department. Without a satisfying job and with little to do at home, he took solace in food and television, gaining a ton of weight, further handicapping his movements which made him cranky. 

He had some redeeming qualities.

He was funny and charming when he wanted to be.

He was kind to children and generous with his time and talent.

He loved his family furiously, but he was a difficult patient for his sweet wife.

We all waited for the day when he would pass, and relief would come to my mother-in-law.  

Then, POOF! She died. Just like that, it fell to us to take over his care. Hot & Hunky handled his finances and insurance, I took on the role of activity director and chauffeur.


Frustration overload

He went everywhere the kids and I went—grocery stores, swimming pools, restaurants. What he couldn’t flirt with, he fought with.

  • He made unfriendly gestures at drivers using their cell phones. 
  • He told off-color stories at the dinner table.
  • He woke kids from naps they didn’t want to take and gave them treats they weren’t supposed to have.
  • He would pat me on the backside and call me Baby. 

Honestly, I wondered how long it would be before he died or my head exploded. 

I would have done just about anything to get rid of him. 

Then, I found this Bible verse in Proverbs 25: If your enemy is hungry, give him food to eat; if he is thirsty, give him water to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head, and the LORD will reward you.



Burning coals for him and a reward for me!

What’s not to like? I kept taking care of him, but I didn’t see any burning-coal consequences for him, and I sensed no reward for me. 

If you are a whiner like I was, stay out of the Bible!

After complaining to God about him for the millionth time, I found another Scripture passage, Matthew 25:35–40. Jesus is talking to a crowd, and he says, “For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me.” 

When the crowd asks him when they had done all that, Jesus answers, “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.” 

…uh-oh! Being kind for a reward is much different than offering true compassion toward people the way Jesus would.


The burning coals were falling on my head! 

I started treating my father-in-law as if Jesus himself was following me around taking notes!

When I asked God to let me see my father-in-law they way he did, my heart softened. I accepted that man as he was, desperately lonely, and coping in the few ways he knew how to.

He needed someone to love and accept him as he was. 

At the end his life, I can tell you he had not changed a lick. But I had. 

I had learned patience, hospitality, mercy, kindness. I had learned to love my father-in-law as is.


Just like Jesus loves me.


So, about that challenging person in your life … are the burning coals falling on your head?


Verse:  ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’”-Matthew 25:40 NIV

Prayer:  God, thank you for loving me as is.  Thank you for reminding me that I am no prize and on any given day, I deserve burning coals on my head, but you give me love and blessing instead.  Help me to see others the way you see them.  To be more like you.  Amen.


  1. Carol Kerry on January 28, 2024 at 8:30 am

    Robyn, you always hit me right on the head with your letters. Thank you for writing these awesome letters.

    • Robyn Dykstra on January 29, 2024 at 4:31 pm

      Thanks for your comment, Carol. Always good to see them from you. Love, Robyn

  2. Carrie Parsons on January 28, 2024 at 8:34 am

    Thanks you for this. It’s funny how God knows and puts people and verses that you need. My husband and I take care of his parents and let me tell you it’s not easy. Thank you so much for this.

    • Robyn Dykstra on January 29, 2024 at 4:30 pm

      I know you get it then, Carrie. Jesus, help Carrie and her hubby to persevere with grace and good humor. Amen! Love, Robyn

  3. Jennifer Isham on January 28, 2024 at 12:19 pm

    Thank you for sharing your story! I too have dealt with difficult (2 )fathers before they past. I’m grateful for the time I had with them, learned from them, laughed with them, got frustrated by them. Through all of it I learned grace and forgiveness and I too feel I learned to see them the way Jesus did in the end. The closer it came to their passing the Lord showed me their time was near, I did my best to pray, say I love you, and over look the harsh words and the “ I’m the father” attitudes and just allow them to parent and have their dignity in the end. When my own father past 2 years ago, he was the hardest to try and help. He was a Vietnam vet with a lifetime of PTSD & health conditions and a great deal of pride that he didn’t want his daughter in the midst of. In the end I thanked him for teaching me what he did and the life lessons I took away from our estranged relationship.

    • Robyn Dykstra on January 29, 2024 at 4:28 pm

      What a great perspective to have, Jennifer. Thanks for sharing. Love, Robyn

  4. Eve-Anne Wall on January 28, 2024 at 7:15 pm

    Hello Robyn, I enjoyed reading your story! It made me laugh because I have known someone just like your Father-in-law. I could relate to your story. Warmly, Eve-Anne

    • Robyn Dykstra on January 29, 2024 at 4:28 pm

      Eve-Anne, thanks for your comment. It seems we all have at least one of these people in our lives! Love, Robyn

  5. Jean Dawson on January 29, 2024 at 7:00 am

    Thank you Robyn. Very similar situation you went through, I have in my life today. It is a difficult living situation for sure.. This is truly encouraging for me. God’s blessings dear lady.

    • Robyn Dykstra on January 29, 2024 at 4:27 pm

      Blessings to you, Jean. Thanks for your comment. Love, Robyn

  6. Nancy on February 3, 2024 at 11:21 am

    Thank you for giving me loving advice and perspective on caring for my difficult son. I’ve shed many tears over him, been angry and short, and extremely frustrated. I’ve given this adult child to God and pray continuously for him. God is faithful and will work in him.

    • Cara Marshall on April 11, 2024 at 9:52 am

      My grown daughter is still quite a handful. She started being defiant when she was around 14 and is now 30 and still hasn’t found her way, somewhat floundering. She was living with us on and off between staying with friends, sometimes on the street and was part of the drug scene. She has 3 children, we’ve adopted her 2 sons and the paternal grandparents are raising our granddaughter. I’ve told people that she “doesn’t have her ducks in a row yet.” I have cried many tears, prayed and prayed. Sometimes through that long period there’s been small glimmers of hope and then her different addictions kept her prisoner and she is very impulsive and not moderate in anything. She is staying with a friend abd his mom and still needs to not be just dependent on them and find her own way. Still praying.

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