“Alexander the coppersmith did me great harm; the Lord will pay him back for his deeds.” 2 Timothy 4:14
Last week’s GraceWaves was “Dealing with Difficult People.” The main points were that you cannot be surprised when people act according to their lower natures and you don’t need to give up on anyone. I want to revisit the topic this week because I sense people struggle mightily in this area and need some practical support. Let’s use Paul and his experience with Alexander the coppersmith as an example.
First, remember that all people are like an Olympic diving competition: they come with a degree of difficulty. Some people have a very high degree of difficulty and a well-established track record of broken relationships. A part of dealing with difficult people is coming to the point where you accept that this is their nature. You must accept the fact that people sometimes come with terrible flaws. They do things that are boorish, thoughtless, even vicious. They can disappoint and even hurt you. It is their degree of difficulty.
When you accept this it frees you to move on. It also relieves you from the fiction that you must change, alter, or improve them in some way. That is what we love to do. We harbor the notion that we can fix people. Don’t waste your time trying to fix a highly difficult person. Besides, the scripture never calls on you to fix anyone. It does tell us to love and forgive, and that is hard enough. It also teaches us to focus on our own sins, and expressly prohibits judging or trying to fix others.Leave the fixing to God.
Second, Paul truly did leave the matter with the Lord, and that is precisely what you need to do with some high degree-of-difficulty people. I never get the impression from anything Paul wrote that he spent time moaning about what he could have done differently, or wondering why Alexander didn’t like him. He had reached a point, and then moved on. That’s a good strategy.
We often exert a great deal of time in repeatedly going over and over the incident, or series of incidents, that led to the broken relationship. We seem almost to feed on the hurt and anger. (“I hate him so much it gives me energy!”). This cycle of prosecution is exhausting and fruitless.
Often, we have been told repeatedly to leave it alone and move on. Sound familiar? Let me be the person this week who exhorts you to stop talking about the problem person and move on. We all need people to regularly remind us of the right way to go. Your hurt is real and your feelings are valid, but regularly reading over the transcript traps you in the past and harnesses you to the person that hurt you originally. Resentment (literally to feel again) is poison to the soul.
A third strategy involves the cardinal graces of the Christian faith. Paul probably never had to be around Alexander again. You may not have that option with your very difficult person. For example, we seldom have the option of completely removing ourselves from the ill-mannered family member or ex-spouse. Every time you see that person, you feel a rush of anger. What do you do?
Paul regularly wrote about forgiveness, and that certainly has a role here. What you might not have thought about is how long forgiveness sometimes takes. It is seldom instantaneous. Even when you have a row with someone close, you can forgive but it takes a few hours for the grace to really take hold! The length of time sometimes is proportional to the size of the offense.
You have probably been surprised by how angry you are about events that took place years or even decades ago. You may have thought you were done with it, but it rises up again. You want to forgive, but feel that you have failed and you’re probably tired of trying.
Let me suggest that instead of focusing on the person, you instead pray the following, “Lord, please replace my anger with your grace.” That’s it. This prayer gives God free reign in your life. You admit the unhealthy presence of the anger, but also plead for more grace to grow. I’m sure God loves that kind of openness. By the way, you probably have realized that the higher graces take a lifetime to establish. Don’t be in a rush, and don’t be discouraged if you still struggle to share your grace.
One final quick closing piece of advice about turning someone over to the Lord: resist the urge to tell the person (or every other person who will listen) you have done this. You will sound hopelessly smug. Just keep it between yourself and God.
Dr. Terry Ellis
September 7, 2015