Who Rubs You The Wrong Way?

Dealing With Difficult People

One of my fathers-in-law was a Golden Gloves boxing champion for the army during WWII. After leaving the army, he joined the police force in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. He rode motorcycles year-round in the freezing Wisconsin winters.

“*#^%, yes, it was cold,” he’d say. “We’d wrap our legs with newspaper as insulation under our uniforms.” He was a strong man with strong opinions and not much of a filter, if you know what I mean.

At least his sweet wife buffered his coarse talk and old-fashioned opinions with graceful scoldings and smiles.

Then his wife died. 

Suddenly I became the primary caregiver for that cantankerous man! 

He moved into our home and 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’d pat me on the backside and say, “Hey, baby, how you doin’ today?”

I wondered how long it would be before my head exploded. I would have done just about anything to get rid of him.

Bible justification

But then I found Proverbs 25:21–22: “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.” 

Right on! 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. 

Warning Note: If you are a grumbler like I was, stay out of the Bible!

I felt frustrated—and I let God know about it.

After complaining to God about him for the millionth time, one morning during my quiet time, I found myself staring at another Scripture passage in Matthew 25. Here Jesus is talking to a crowd, and he says, “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” (verses 35–36).

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” (verse 40). 

I didn’t see that coming.

Oh no! I felt awful. Taking care of someone for a reward is much different from caring for people the way Jesus would. The burning coals were falling on my head!

I started treating my father-in-law as if Jesus was following me around taking notes. I took care of him cheerfully. I spoke to him kindly. I served him graciously. I prayed for him continually. 

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 him as Jesus loved him. As is.

Just as Jesus loves me.

So about that challenging person in your life . . . which head are the burning coals falling on? I’d love to hear how you manage the difficult people in your life. Leave me a comment, I read every one. 

Verse for today: 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

Prayer: God, I have a difficult person in my life and I want to treat that person as you want me to—not because I relish the idea of heaping burning coals on their head, but because I need to treat them exactly as if I am treating you. Help me. Give me strength, especially when it’s the most difficult. In Jesus’ name, amen.


  1. Sue on May 1, 2022 at 11:11 am

    Oh Robyn! My brother. He’s got no filter and says he’s doing the Lord’s Will but is very inappropriate and controlling. I’m from a very abusive (sexually) home and very sensitive about crude and offensive discussion about such things. He is trying to be a stand up comedian and shares his material with me thinking I will like his sick and perverted humor. It’s hard to be nice in this situation. Help!!

    • Robyn Dykstra on May 1, 2022 at 5:53 pm

      Oh Girl, that’s a tough one!
      Praying for your discernment.

  2. Jeanette on May 1, 2022 at 2:29 pm

    Thank you so much for this post! I am dealing with a very similar situation and not so well.

  3. Dawn on May 1, 2022 at 6:53 pm

    God is SO good!! I admit that I don’t usually read most the e-mails that you send after I read what the e-mail is about, but I’ve never wanted to have you stop sending them because I knew that there would be a time when I’d need to read one of them! I only check my e-mail once or twice a month as I am NOT an electric-corresponding person. When I checked my e-mail today – there was your e-mail. Asking me about who rubs me the wrong way. The answer SCREAMED through my heart … MY SON!!! I won’t bother going into all his 17-year-old maleness. There’s not enough time!! I read your e-mail and felt God’s peace settle over me. I now have some idea as to what I’m going to do from now on. Out of all the scriptures that I’ve gone through – like you – that was not one of them. Until now. Thank you for your obedience to God.

    • Robyn Dykstra on May 1, 2022 at 8:55 pm

      Isn’t God so good to prompt you to read this one? Praising God for his kindness and your peace.

  4. Joanie - but please do not post my name. on May 2, 2022 at 4:41 am

    Oh, there was a co-worker that made up her mind on the first day I met her that she didn’t like me. I didn’t even know her name yet!
    Everyone said that when she decides she doesn’t like someone, she never changes it…and she didn’t. For years, I would bop into work and say, “Good afternoon, everyone” or “how’s your day been so far, ____?” and she would turn her chair away from me. If I brought in goodies, I always said “I made these just for YOU” (and then I said it to everyone, so it was a sort of standing joke that I liked them all) She never responded.. Sometimes I HAD to ask for her help (our secretary!) and she would sigh and grudgingly do what I needed but never spoke to me or acknowledge me. She had no Christian faith and was just always so bitter and ornery – and nasty to me, talked about me, just withered me. (with ME – not everyone! Well, some days it WAS everyone!) I prayed for the right thing to say or do to show her kindness and just melt the FROST in our relationship which effected everyone around us. They would ask me, “What did YOU do to get under her skin?” but I have NEVER known. Then her grown son committed suicide. I wrote her a card and just said I would pray for her and her family and was so very sorry for her loss…and how I couldn’t imagine what she was going through but knew how horribly this would grieve a mother’s heart always. There was more and I had some comforting inserts included and brought her a pot of soup. She never said anything. She moved on from that job (PTL!) and I always wondered WHAT it was about me that she took such an instant dislike to that made her treat me in such a nasty way. I’m easy to get along with and enjoy the folks I work with and the work we do. I’ve never had this attitude towards me before and it really made it hard to do my job.
    Years later, I ran into her at a conference (on “The death of a Child”, no less!) and again, greeted her and asked about her and her family. She looked at me and just said “what you wrote in that card was the nicest thing anyone has ever done for me. Thank you” Oh, my! Thank you, Jesus for whatever You prompted me write.”
    Lesson – we never know where someone is coming from or what they’ve been through that has made them what they are – and we can’t judge or condemn. All we can do is keep trying to be Jesus’ hands and feet to others, loving our neighbor as ourselves. We can’t control their reactions but we can control OUR attitude, motives and actions. We can’t ever be too kind – it’s always the right thing. Never repay evil with more evil. Mother Teresa said that in everyone, she looked for the face of Jesus so she could love them as if they were Jesus.
    “If you judge people, you have no time to love them.” – Mother Teresa
    “Kind words can be short and easy to speak, but their echoes are truly endless.” Mother Teresa (1910-1997)
    I’ve never seen her again…but just hope someone else has continued to plant seeds in her and someone watered them…and maybe they will grow.
    Sorry – this got too long.

    • Robyn Dykstra on May 2, 2022 at 6:01 pm

      Wow, I love this. What a story of persistent kindness! You’re an inspiration and I’m so glad you got to run into to hear how your tenderness touched her. Thank you for the whole story!!!

  5. Kathy Burch on May 2, 2022 at 2:24 pm

    Thanks SO much for this story! I had to stop crying; before I could comment! I have a close relative; who I actually thought hated me! I used to call my sister up, on a regular basis , to vent! She told me there WAS love; but this person wanted to run my life! My sister has passed away; but I believe the person does appreciate me; because I’ve Done SO much for her!! I still will keep your lesson & scripture, close to my heart THANKS again!!

    • Robyn Dykstra on May 2, 2022 at 5:59 pm

      Oh Kathy, I’m so sorry your sister is passed. What a wonderful testimony. Thanks for sharing.

  6. Cindy harger on May 2, 2022 at 5:47 pm

    Thank you!! I needed that today?

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