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.
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.