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Loving Difficult People

by Feb 11, 2016

When I moved into residence for my first year of college in 2011, I hoped and prayed for a quiet, respectful roommate who would honour my personal space and basically keep to himself. Instead, I was blessed with the roommate experience that is Ben.

I had never heard of dubstep before I met Ben, but now it was about the only thing I ever heard. That is when we were not listening to metal – another genre I’d had very little exposure to. Ben enjoyed arguing with teachers, creating conflict with other people in the community, and making offensive jokes. He was essentially my antithesis. I went to bed early, he stayed up late. I liked to read and listen to quiet music, he liked to listen to metal and play along on his guitar. I liked to be alone, he liked to invite multiple friends over to watch movies and/or engage in heated debates…

Some people are difficult to love. I’m sure it isn’t hard to think of at least one person in your life who utterly exasperates you. The obnoxiously loud person with no sense of those around them. The critical relative who is always watching and waiting to judge your every decision. The friend who insists on having their way. Or the roommate who leaves their dishes on virtually every flat surface in the house. Difficult people are everywhere.

The easiest solution is to just avoid these people. But there is something to be said for loving them. In fact, one of the most freeing and rewarding things I have learned in my life, is how to love difficult people. Of course every individual is going to be unique, but there are a few general principles that I found pretty helpful.

1. Assess Your Own Heart
It is easy to play self-righteous when someone is frustrating. But sometimes I need to ask myself why I am so irritated. Am I being prideful? Does this person threaten my identity or sense of security? How can I be a more patient person? Sometimes when a person frustrates me the trait I find most infuriating is one that I possess myself. Learning humility is invaluable if I am going to love anyone.

2. Understand Grace
I am not perfect by any means. There is very likely at least one person out there who wants to punch me on the nose. I want to be shown grace, and in fact have been shown grace by many people in my life. The beautiful thing about grace is that it is typically undeserved, so by receiving it for free I have an obligation to pass that grace on to those who need it from me. If I am going to love a difficult person I need to have grace for them. I need to forgive them and understand that they are allowed to be imperfect. I don’t know their full story, maybe there is a perfectly understandable reason why they are the way they are.

3. Look For the Good
I have yet to meet a person who is entirely bad or unloveable. Every person you meet knows something that you don’t. Every person has some worthy quality, skill or trait. Look for the good in people. That person might be loud and obnoxious but dang, they are incredible at art. That person might have a bad attitude about doing work, but they are incredibly supportive relationally.

4. Bless and Encourage Them
Looking for ways to bless and encourage a person will change your attitude toward them. If you can see that person’s redeeming traits, point them out and encourage them in those things. Find ways that you can make their life better. There is a chance that your actions might inspire them to change. But even if it doesn’t, still be the best person that you can be and do good to everyone around you.

In the years since my first semester at college, my roommate has become  one of my good friends. He is still loud as ever, but I wouldn’t change that. I have met a lot of difficult people since then and have learned to love most of them. In many cases these people have become good friends. Sometimes they changed, but mostly I have changed. By learning to love difficult people I have become more loving, more patient, more kind and considerate. As a result all of my relationships have improved, even those with the people I find easy to love.