#Write31Days – Post 17 – Difficult People

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Dot was an ornery woman.  I had just transferred work locations,  and I was being given the tour.  Introductions to the staff, learning where everything was located, etc.  When I was introduced to Dot, that was the description whispered to me as we approached her.  She was an older woman, who had been with the company since it’s inception.  Her employee number was a single digit (mine was over 7 digits long).   I realized quickly that she was someone who should have retired a long time ago.  She smiled at me as we were introduced, but quickly that smile turned to a scowl as she barked orders at a fellow employee who had passed by.

Ornery indeed.

The thing about me is that I see people like this as a challenge.  In that moment where her smile turned to a scowl, the challenge was issued… and I accepted.

For the next year, I poked that bear every single day.  I was going to make her smile, I was going to make her laugh.  She was going to like me, and I was going to like her.

I learned a lot about Dot.  I learned that she was married and had a son.  I learned that her husband went in for routine surgery, and died.  About two years later, the same happened with her son.

Dot was alone.  Dot was still grieving.  Dot was angry with God.

This would culminate into a woman who was very, very difficult.  She wasn’t pleasant to be around.   To be brutally honest, she was MEAN.  She wasn’t respectful to others, no one wanted to be around her, and she made life difficult for every employee in that building.  Despite her attitude toward others, the more we unraveled about her … the more compassion and empathy people had toward her.  It took one person willing to invest some time in trying to break through her wall, to understand who she was and what she had gone through.  The softer their hearts grew toward her, the more she began to let her guard down.  She was starting to smile more, and then began to laugh… a lot.

It first revealed itself when she fainted during a morning meeting, and she was able to see the concern that everyone had for her.  It was several of the men on staff that insisted she leave with the paramedics, and one even followed her to the hospital.  Several years later, Dot was waiting for the building to open and she was brutally assaulted when a man robbed her.  The staff surrounded her during her recovery and sat with her during the trial.  Due to the injuries she sustained and her age, she was unable to return to work.  That didn’t keep the staff from rallying around her until the day she passed away.

Dot was a difficult person.  She was raised to be tough.  Circumstances made her hard.

What I have observed over, and over again, is that people who are difficult are rarely so for no good reason.  Something has happened in their life that has shaped who they have become.  It could be a result of childhood trauma, abuse & mistreatment, discrimination, suffering, or even just a culmination of smaller difficulties in their life.

When dealing with difficult people, my first response is always:

If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men.

Romans 12:18

In order to do so, I remind myself that there is a reason why they are such difficult people.  I would rather assume that, then accept that they are choosing to intentionally behave this way.

I will always be nice & respectful, regardless of how mean or disrespectful they are to me.

I will give the benefit of the doubt, instead of assuming the worst, about them as a person.

There will be times, however, where no matter how nice we are … the person is bent on being difficult, angry, mean, hateful, etc.

  • Limit Time :  You do not have to spend every waking hour with this person.  Limit your time around them to only the occasions where you must be present.  Get your task done quickly, and leave.  Also, avoid giving them presence in your head once you are not around them.  Do not spend a moment thinking about their negativity, or replaying that day’s encounter.
  • Pray Regularly:  If we are going to assume that there is a reason they have turned out the way they are, then we ought to be praying for them.  Choosing to pray for someone who is difficult is different than replaying that day’s encounter.  Praying for them is a positive action, that comes from a place of love and compassion for God’s creation.  We can pray for a person while creating boundaries that keep ourselves emotionally & mentally healthy. 
  • Involve Authority:  I am not suggesting that you call the cops on someone who is just being cranky all the time.  However if you must work or serve with this person, and their attitude is creating problems in your workplace or in the ministry… involve your manager at work, or your leader/Pastor if it is within the ministry service. 

Some practical advice for the every day:

  1. Keep your answers short, sweet, and too the point.   Answer their questions, assign their task, and move on.  You can be polite, respectful, and even nice without engaging in their negativity.
  2. Purposefully go out of your way to do something nice for them, even if they don’t deserve it.  This doesn’t have to be an every day thing, but a simple pat on the back for doing a good job, a card on their birthday, etc. are small gestures that can mean a lot.
  3. Do not feed their attitude by being exclusionary.  If your team is going out to dinner, you invite the person.  They are part of the team, it is the right thing to do.  Let the difficult person decided if they are going to come or not.

If your enemy is hungry, give him food to eat; And if he is thirsty, give him water to drink;  For you will heap burning coals on his head, And the LORD will reward you

Proverbs 25:21-22

In the verse from Proverbs above, I am reminded that when I am good to a person who is my enemy… it affects them.  It may even convict them of their poor attitude toward/about me.  When we are nice to those who don’t deserve it, it softens their hearts.  That process can take a very, very long time and will require copious amounts of divinely given patience.

God has loved us far more than we deserve, shouldn’t we at least, in kind, love His children (our brothers and sisters in Christ) in the same way?

Christ, at the crucifixion, even prayed for God to “forgive them, they know not what they do”.   His love and compassion fell on the heads of those who drove in the nails.

What right then do we have to be angry with those who we view as enemies? Or, to mistreat those who are being difficult to get along with?  Are we being Christ-like in how we respond to them?  Are we following the scriptures?  Or, are we giving into our flesh?

Keep in mind, however, that the heart of our intentions will also be revealed.  If we are being nice as a show to others, we are not being sincere.  If we are being nice to make the person feel guilty or convicted, we are not being sincere.  At some point that insincerity will be revealed to those around us.  Others will know it was just a show, not authentic.  It won’t change that difficult person, it will damage our relationship with others, and it will ultimately have a negative affect within ourselves.

When we respond in kindness to difficult people with sincerity, we are being Christ-like, we are being obedient, and we are being genuine.  Over the long term, it will have a positive affect on those around us, including our own selves.

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#Write31Days – Post 9 – False Spirituality

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The lights come on, the camera is rolling, there is beautiful music being played, voices fill the air with their melodic song, and then the speaker delivers a powerful message.  We leave from that place invigorated and inspired to change our ways, to pray more and read the Bible every day.  We agree to hold each other accountable, to volunteer more, and to give more as we become better stewards.  Our lives are so affected and changed that each week we will invite more and more people to hear this person, this godly and spiritual gift from heaven.

This may go on for weeks, months, years and even decades.  Then it happens, one day we turn on the news and that gift is being splashed across the screen.  The person we held in such high regard has been accused or even arrested, or has stepped forward to admit and unexpected truth.  We try to deny it, but ultimately the truth always comes out.  We have to face the fact that this person, whom we held in such high regard, was nothing but a phony.

When I was a child, I remember watching television with my grandmother on Sundays.  There was one particular show she would watch, where a beautiful woman would come on stage… she would sing with such beauty and emotion that tears would stream down her face.  Her husband would then take the stage and preach a message that was convicting and life changing.  They were inspiring people, until the day his fraud was exposed.  People who had supported their ministry were devastated, and many became like me… a hardened skeptic.  I don’t fall for “shows” anymore, and I have learned to watch for the signs of hypocrisy and being disingenuous.

There are people who are REALLY good at faking it.  They may appear to have it all together, the perfect husband, kids and home.  They can spout out bible verses, speak in glorious ways that make them sound learned and wise, they pray out loud using fancy words and phrases, and they know the right lingo that will create an illusion of being holy and righteous.

Therefore whatever you have said in the dark shall be heard in the light, and what you have whispered in private rooms shall be proclaimed on the housetops.

Luke 12:3

Sometimes I will see right through a person, from the start.  Yet there are other times where it isn’t quite that obvious.  I may be suspicious, but without any evidence.  Or, the person might be really good at hiding their true self.  Humans are incapable of hiding truth for that long though, eventually we begin to see signs that things are not quite how they are being presented.  Then over time, particularly as the person becomes more comfortable with you – or confident in their ability to deceive – they truth beings to come to surface.  We can see through the facade.

The man who acts like a loving and caring father out in public, but verbally abuses his children or wife.

The pastor who gets caught in an affair or misusing tithes and church funds.

The woman who comes off as a sweet and kind woman at church, but in her home she screams and treats her family like they are nothing.

The ministry leader who prays for spiritual purity in the youth, while he is grooming certain students to be abused.

I am not talking about the person who gets caught up in a singular bad decision, where they lost good sense because of the temptation in front of them.  We are all sinners and have the capability of atrocious things.  I am talking about the person who is consistently and purposefully this way.  They put on a good show for others (and maybe they think it’s impressing God) but in their heart they are truly not changed, in their homes they are the exact opposite of what they preach or teach.

These are people who have a false spirituality.  They know all of the right words, all of the traditions, and how to present themselves in a way that sells their best characteristics.  But inside they are corrupt, manipulative, and deceitful.

Would not God discover this? For he knows the secrets of the heart.

Psalm 44:21

God knows the heart, and He will shine light on the darkness.

For there is nothing hidden that will not be disclosed, and nothing concealed that will not be known or brought out into the open.

Luke8:17

These are people who will even try and garner your sympathies as they wallow in their own sin, but it’s just for show.  They are not really interested in changing themselves, they just want to make sure you can’t speak against them.  It’s a guardrail that they put up to protect themselves.  It allows them to speak their truth (sometimes harshly) by tagging on a “I am not perfect” clause as they critique you.  They will claim deliverance from this or that sin, so that after they have torn you down … they can build you back up in as their own image bearer.

People with false spirituality are not trying to make you look Christ-like… hardly!  What they are trying to do is to mold you to look more like they do, they are doing it for the glory.  They shout “LOOK AT ME!  Look at what I have done.  Come, be just like ME!”… and God is not part of that equation.

So, how do we spot “false spirituality” –

  • Pray for Discernment – ask God to give you the wisdom and the knowledge to see through those who are frauds.

  • Pray for Transparency – pray that God will reveal their hidden truths to you, or the public as a whole.

  • Be Observant & Listen – you will begin to notice things that don’t feel quite right, or they will say something that will cause you take pause.  The more you are around them, the more frequently this will happen.

  • Look to Others – let me be clear, I am NOT advising you to gossip about a person.  What I am saying is see how others act around them.  Are there people who seem to have modeled themselves to be just like this person?  That’s a clue.  Just as much on the other side, do you notice that the wise people in your church or community are avoiding them like the plague!  That’s a clue too.

  • Who Do They Credit – when there is blessing or praise to be given, who does this person credit the glory to?  If they are constantly looking for the pat on the back, the attention, the credit, the glory … be careful.  “Look at what I did…” is just as bad as “Thank you Lord for allowing me this success….”.  In both cases, this is a person who is working in their own strength, on their own agenda. 

No one is going to be perfect, and if you are not careful you can discount just about anyone from being in your life because they are failing or sinful SOMEWHERE.   A genuine person isn’t going to put on the act of spiritual superiority, they are more interested in trying to address their own sin issues than trying to solve everyone else’s.

I recall a woman I was speaking with was sharing a ministry vision, she wanted to create a website where Christians could essential log their community service hours.  She wanted the world to see the good that Christians are doing, so they would see that we are not hypocrites and that we are actively striving to make a better world.

In theory, that sounds good.  But is that biblical? Is that actually a ministry?

Not really.

It was just another way to get a pat on the back for doing a good job.  It was another way of saying “hey, look at me and what I do!”  It didn’t allow God to get the credit, it was a place where instead each person would be able to get the credit they felt they deserved.

“So when you give to the poor, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be honored by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full. But when you give to the poor, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving will be in secret; and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you.”

Matthew 6:2-4

This is also an great example of “false spirituality” because it gives an appearance of godliness.  When we boast about ourselves and our accomplishments for God, we are actually boasting only of ourselves.  If we truly wanted God to have all the glory, we would leave our names out of it entirely.  We are warned that as the days draw closer to Christ’s return, false spirituality is going to be on the rise as much (if not more) than sin and decay in the world.  When we encounter false spirituality, we must flee from it so that we are not corrupted by it.

But know this:  Difficult times will come in the last days.  For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, boastful, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, ungrateful, unholy, unloving, irreconcilable, slanderers, without self-control, brutal, without love for what is good, traitors, reckless, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, holding the form of godliness but denying its power.  Avoid these people!

For among them are those who worm their way into households and capture idle women burdened down with sins, led along by a variety of passions, always learning and never able to come to a knowledge of truth.

2 Timothy 3:1-7

 

I HAVE A PET PEEVE

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I am a person who will read bumper stickers.  Pretty much whatever is ahead of me, I’ll look.  I will admit that I have been known to even position myself in traffic, if one catches my eye that looks interesting, in order to be behind the person at the traffic light.  Maybe it is the reader in me, that is compelled to consume words.  Or, perhaps, it could be simply my humor seeking out something to make me chuckle.  Occasionally, I shake my head for wasted time.   Then there are the times, my jaw will drop and I hope that none of my children we reading along with me.  To this day, I don’t believe my children know that I am reading bumper stickers at traffic lights.  I do try to keep my crazy under wraps, as much as possible.

There is one pet peeve I have, in regards to bumper stickers.  It is when I see a bumper sticker that alludes to the driver being a Christian, particularly when their behavior on the road is anything but Christ-like.

I’m a fairly good driver, if I do say so myself.  I can drive an automatic and a manual.  I can parallel park, near perfectly, despite the fact I only have to do it about once a year or so.  I’m not overly aggressive, nor timid.   I don’t rake up tickets or have lots of accidents.  People are not afraid to drive with me, and in fact I have taught quite a few people how to drive.   But, I am also human.  Which means that it is entirely possible that I might make a mistake.

Each day, I drive our three children to three different schools.  I then make the same run in the afternoon.  My children are in 3 different schools, but, I actually pass through a total of 6 school zones, twice per day… five days a week.  Yesterday, as I was on my final trip home, my daughter had asked me a question & I was thinking through the answer.  What I didn’t realize is, in my distraction, I had mistaken the speed limit sign for the “End School Zone” sign.  (Both are white, rectangular signs with black lettering)  So, I began to accelerate to the normal speed limit for that area.

That was when the man, who had the “Real Men Love Jesus” bumper sticker on his truck, rolled down his window & began to yell and wave his hands at me.  Yes hands, plural.  Meaning he didn’t have his eyes on the road, nor did he even have a single hand on his steering wheel.  All the while, his daughter is in the seat next to him.  Yelling, at a woman in a car with her daughter.  At first I really had no idea what his commotion was about, then I saw the actual end zone sign.  I realized my error.

I wondered after the incident….

Did that scare his daughter?  Did he care that it scared my daughter, and potentially me?

Did he not realize that he was just as guilty of making a mistake as I was?

Did he not think that instead of yelling at me, he could have waited until we were stopped at the traffic light, rolled down his window… motioned to me… and calmly said “Hey, you know that you were still in a school zone?”.

Did he really think it was appropriate for a man to speak to a woman that way in the first place?

And then, I thought about his sticker…. and wondered….

Did he realize that every where he drives in that truck, where that sticker is plain for all to see, that he is a public witness to Christ?

Is that how Christ would have talked to me, to anyone?

Is that how we want to represent Christ to the world, when we make a spectacle of our selves like that?

The word says:

James 1:19 — My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry.

Proverbs 14:29 — Whoever is patient has great understanding, but one who is quick-tempered displays folly.

Psalm 37:8  — Refrain from anger and turn from wrath; do not fret—it leads only to evil.

Proverbs 222:4  — Do not make friends with a hot-tempered person, do not associate with one easily angered

That was just a sampling of the scripture that warns us against our anger toward others.  Scripture also offers us the suggestion of how we are to treat others, such as:

Ephesians 4:29 — Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.

We are supposed to forgive as we are forgiven, to extend mercy and grace in the same measure (if not more) than it has been extended to us; and we are supposed to help each other by guiding, shaping, building up, redirecting, mentoring.

Ephesians 4:32  —  Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.

There was nothing wrong about this man choosing to address the mistake I made, but there was definitely error in the manner in which he did it.  The world was watching, because we were not to the only two people on the road.  There were cars around us.  I bet they saw that bumper sticker too.

Which reminded me of another situation I saw recently.  A man was wearing the t-shirt of a ministry he works with in the local grocery store.  It was vivid and caught my attention, but only after I heard this 40+ year old man yelling and berating his elderly mother.

When we walk out the door in that Christian t-shirt, or drive off in our car with the Jesus fish bumper sticker…. we are openly professing our faith & people are watching.

What do they see?  Do they see Christ in you?  Are they blessed by their encounter with you?

Or, do they see something else?