How to Think About Difficult People

Maybe the difficult people in our lives are there for a reason.

“He’s a contemptible and obnoxious idiot!”

“She let me down, again.”

“My dad is so messed up he thinks abnormal is normal. It’s not. He’s not!”

“I’m wondering what the return policy is on my kid. Every time we talk, I get so stinkin’ mad!”

These are just a few of the comments people have made to me about their relationship struggles over the past couple of months. It’s heartbreaking.

Yes, relationships often are incredible, but nothing shreds our souls more or depletes our hope faster than emotional turmoil with another person. Surviving life with a fractured human is challenging and discouraging.

Who in your life seems hopeless? Who makes you cringe and hit the ignore button on your phone when they call? Whether it’s your spouse, your ex, your parent, your kid, your boss or the person who wants-to-be-your-best-friend-but-you-don’t-even-like-the-guy, all of us have an individual or two (or 20) that we’d rather live without. I call these folks VDPs (very draining people) because they suck the bone marrow right out of us.

Here’s a crazy idea, one I want you to seriously consider for a moment before you unsubscribe or drop some verbal bombs. Could a part of God’s plan for your spiritual, emotional and relational growth be difficult people?

Is it possible—maybe even the preferred pattern for development in your life—that God uses the person who irritates you the most to mature you? Could they be God’s chisel chipping away at the parts of you not yet like Jesus?

One of my favorite authors, John Ortberg, put it this way, “Does my connection with this (difficult) person impact the person I’m becoming?” In other words, are the annoying people in my life there to help me grow?

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I think so. In fact, I know so.

So, what if you saw the challenging, annoying and irritating people in your life as an opportunity for your growth?

I’m not saying you live without boundaries or that you allow people to abuse you emotionally. That’s never good. I am saying, however, that every irritant is an opportunity for personal progress. As Lucretia Berry once wrote, “Sometimes what we learn in the midst of a struggle is the reward.”

Meaning, as the Apostle Paul put it, “Every struggle and hardship can produce great qualities like perseverance, godly-character and even hope in us if we let the trials mold us into the image of Jesus” (Romans 5:3–4; Bubna Paraphrase).

Without question, every one of you has at least one VDP in your life. It could be your spouse, your child, your boss, your neighbor or all of the above. There’s no denying or avoiding this reality: Some relationships are difficult.

Welcome to planet Earth. Keep growing.

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