Text: Romans 12: 18 “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.”
It has been over 40 years ago, but I still remember vividly an experience I had trying to help a little old lady. One of our church members in the town where I was pastoring at the time asked me if I would consider taking a neighbor lady to Kansas City to see her doctor. I had not met the lady at the time, but told her I would consider it. She set up a time for me to go visit the lady. That in itself was an experience. This neighbor lady lived by herself in an old house with a fence around the yard that had several chickens. The lady was in her 80s and was blind in one eye. I found out that one of her fighting roosters had plucked out the one eye. She was pretty frail but feisty, and let me know that she just needed transportation and that she would pay me. I finally agreed that I would take her. She told me that she had lived in Kansas City 10 years before and that she would direct me. I insisted she give me the address to her doctor’s office so I could consult a map. That aggravated her, but she finally did so. On the night before we were to make the trip we had a snow storm that dumped 13 inches of snow on the area. I wasn’t even sure if I could get to her house, much less Kansas City. She lived on a gravel road on a hill. I had to pick up speed and pass her house, then turn around and park so that when we started up, we would be going downhill. She was determined that I take her, so we started out. Then she told me that before she went to the doctor’s appointment, she wanted to go by a cemetery where her son was buried. She wanted to see his grave. Remember, now, the 13 inches of snow. When we got to the Kansas City area, we found the cemetery and checked at the office to find the location of the grave. I had the wonderful privilege of wading through the snow (more like 17 inches there), brushing off tombstones until I finally found the right grave. Then I had to help the frail little lady out of the car and through the snow so she could see the headstone, and then back to the car and on to downtown Kansas City. Again, she was insisting that she would direct me to the doctor’s office in downtown KC and was really upset when I refused to turn on a one way street the wrong way. By the time I got her to the doctor’s office she was getting upset with me. She made it clear that I was to wait in the car while she went in to see the doctor. When she came out, she told me she had another place she needed to go over in Independence. I asked her for the address and she refused to give it to me. She was going to direct me. I begged her for the address but she refused. Finally, she directed me around a block in Independence and, even though she didn’t tell me where I was to go, she really got upset at me because I hadn’t stopped. I had no idea where that was supposed to be. We pulled out on a very busy, 4-lane street and she had me to pull into a parking spot just off the street. She said she would walk to where she wanted to go and it was none of my business where that was to be. She got out of the car and started to cross at a busy intersection. I jumped out of the car to assist her across the street and she jerked away from me and said, “Never mind, take me home.” I never found out where she had intended to go. Home was about 60 miles away–a very long distance when you are escorting someone who is so mad at you that she won’t speak. As I started up the snow packed hill to her house I once again drove past it so I could turn around and be parked going downhill. She was yelling at me because I drove past her house. I tried to explain, but that didn’t help. There were 3 or 4 snow covered steps from the road going up to her yard, so I got out to help her get up the steps to her door. When she got to her door, she said, “Let me get my check book to pay you.” I told her that I could not accept her money because she was very obviously not satisfied with my service. That just infuriated her and she told me that if I ever came to her house again she would call the police. And I promised her that she needed worry.
I tell you that true story to point out that, no matter how hard you try, sometimes you just can’t please some people. I was only in my 20s then, and I’m sure that I probably could have handled things a little differently now that I am older, but I really don’t think there was anything I could have done that day that would have made that lady happy.
So when I read Romans 12:18 where Paul says, “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone,” I remember my experience with that little old lady and I think, “But sometimes, no matter how hard I try, peace just isn’t possible.
This month our sermon series has focused on relationships. Today, let’s consider those difficult people that we certainly will encounter as we interact with people in our lives. It may have been a School Teacher, or a Neighbor, or a Boss or a fellow worker. It may have been an irate customer, or even a sibling. And it very possibly could have been a church member with which you found yourself trying to get along.
I. WHY ARE SOME PEOPLE DIFFICULT?
a. I suppose there are as many different reasons as there are people. But there are some reasons that seem to float to the top of the list:
i. Differing Personality Temperaments. Some people are sprinters, while others are plodders, and still others are crawlers. Some people are Melancholy and tend to see the down side of things while others are type A go getters who see only the opportunities. Some are impulsive, while others are careful planners. With all the differing temperaments, it is inevitable that some of those temperaments will clash. It just happens.
ii. Differing Cultures. People from South America have different traditions from those from Missouri. Or in my case, people like me who are from Arkansas were raised in very different culture from those raised in Chicago. Those who were raised on the farm are often more comfortable with certain things than those who were raised in the urban setting. When I was a boy, we ate Breakfast, Dinner, and Supper. When I moved away I found out that many people eat breakfast, lunch and dinner. Invite me to dinner and I’m not sure if you are talking about noon or evening. And culture affects our style of clothes, our hobbies, and even how we think. Two people from very different cultures can find it difficult to have a good relationship.
iii. Differing Role Expectations. I was raised where men worked outside the house and women took care of the inside of the house. Mom prepared the meals and served the men folks at the table. No man would even consider changing a baby’s diaper. It took a while for me to learn that it okay to share those choirs. When I counsel young starry eyed couples who plan to marry, I try to spend a lot of time making sure they each understand individual role expectations. Who will pay the bills? Who will do the housework? Who will discipline the children? Who really is the Boss? Many marriages have failed because one’s expectation of the other did not meet up with reality!
iiii. Differing Motives. Some people have ulterior motives. They may try to manipulate the other person in order to gain a dominant position in the relationship. Or there may be greed or some other negative intent in the person’s actions. Why did the fellow who was traveling from Jerusalem have such a problem with the robbers he encountered? Their motives were to rob him, not befriend him!
v. Differing Convictions. Religious people have strong convictions as to how they should act and what they should believe. A conviction is a personal belief that may or may not be biblically sound. Some religious folks insist on wearing long sleeves. They find it very offensive when someone else wants to wear short sleeves or a tank top. There was a time when we would not allow our children to wear shorts at church camp. Someone thought that was to risqué! There was a time when the Church of the Nazarene would not ordain a person who wore a wedding ring. Collective Convictions were forced on people that had nothing to do with Biblical instructions. I have found that I must be careful not impose my own personal convictions on others unless there is a clear violation of a precise Biblical command involved.
vi. Baggage from Past Experiences. We all have a past and sometimes that past includes some traumatic experiences such as abuse, neglect, or betrayal. There may have been experiences that produced humiliation or guilt. And we carry the memories of those negative things in the recesses of our minds and they rear up their ugly heads in the form of jealousy, anger, or even shame. I was reminded this week that unless a person is able to work through the hurt and shame and truly forgive a person who has offended them, they can never fully have peace in their lives. Because one person betrayed them, they are reluctant to trust anyone. Because daddy or mommy didn’t show affection, that child may have difficulty showing affection.
b. These are just a few of the myriad of things that may cause a person to be difficult to be around.
II. HOW CAN YOU DEAL WITH A DIFFICULT PERSON?
a. While surfing the internet for help with this topic, I came across a website called businessinsider.com that gave 9 useful strategies for dealing with difficult people at work.
i. Be calm.
Losing your temper and flaring out at the other person typically isn’t the best way to get him/her to collaborate with you.
ii. Understand the person’s intentions.
I’d like to believe that no one is difficult for the sake of being difficult. Even when it may seem that the person is just out to get you, there is always some underlying reason that is motivating them to act this way.
iii. Let the person know where you are coming from.
Let the person know your intentions behind what you are doing. Sometimes, they are being resistant because they think that you are just being difficult with them. Letting them in on the reason behind your actions and the full background of what is happening will enable them to empathize with your situation. This lets them get them on-board much easier.
iiii. Build a rapport.
With all the computers, emails and messaging systems, work sometimes turns into a mechanical process. Re-instill the human touch by connecting with your colleagues on a personal level. Go out with them for lunches or dinners. Get to know them as people, and not colleagues. Learn more about their hobbies, their family, their lives. Foster strong connections. These will go a long way in your work.
v. Treat the person with respect.
No one likes to be treated as if he/she is stupid/incapable/incompetent. If you are going to treat the person with disrespect, it’s not going to be surprising if he/she treats you the same way as well. As the golden rule says, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”
vi. Focus on what can be acted upon.
Rather than harp on what you cannot change, focus on the actionable steps you can take to forward yourself in the situation.
If you have already tried everything above and the person is still not being receptive, the best way might be to just ignore. After all, you have already done all that you can within your means. Get on your daily tasks and interface with the person only where needed. Of course, this isn’t feasible in cases where the person plays a critical role in your work – which leads us to our last tip.
viii. Escalate to a higher authority for resolution.
When all else fails, escalate to your manager. This is considered the trump card and shouldn’t be used unless you’ve completely exhausted your means…Be careful not to exercise this option all the time as you wouldn’t want your manager to think that you are incapable of handling your own problems.
b. The Business Insider advice is good. But an even better source for ways to get along with difficult people is found in God’s Word. And this morning’s passage in Romans 12: 9-21 gives us some very sound Christian principles:
i. Genuinely care about the other person. Romans 12: 9-19 says, “Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves.”
ii. Keep your spiritual integrity. Verse 11: “Never be lacking in zeal, but keep our spiritual fervor, serving the Lord.”
iii. Focus on the Positive. Verse 12 says, “Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.”
iiii. Have a generous spirit. Verse 13, “Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality.”
v. Respond with Christian charity. Verse 14, “Bless those who persecute you, bless and do not curse.”
vi. Practice empathy. Verse 15, “Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.”
vii. Leave consequences in God’s hands. Verse 17-19, “Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written, ‘It is mine to avenge; I will repay, says the Lord.”
III. WHEN ALL THE ABOVE DOESN’T SEEM TO WORK…
a. Verse 20-21 says, “On the contrary: ‘If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.’ Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”
b. In life, there will probably be someone with whom, no matter how hare you are trying, you cannot develop a close relationship. Sometimes the only thing a person can do is to commit that person to the Lord, and maintain a distance from that person. That doesn’t’ mean that you should condemn the person. That doesn’t mean you should wish ill will on the person. That doesn’t mean you don’t have to love that person. Remember: Agape Love is a decision of the will to wish no harm on a person, but instead to wish for God’s blessings on them.
c. And when all is said and done, you are responsible to continue to be the person God create you to be—one who loves God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength, And who loves their neighbor as themselves.
In 1 Thessalonians, which scholars believe was written several years before the Letter to the Romans, Paul lays down a principle that we should take to heart. In 1 Thessalonians 4: 11-12 he wrote, “And to make it your ambition to lead a quiet life: You should mind your own business and work with your hands, just as we told you, so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders and so that you will not be dependent on anybody.”
And the bottom line, even with the difficult relations hips is this: Love God and love one another. In so doing you are fulfilling God’s law for your lives…