“Let everyone see your grace-filled kindness.” Philippians 4:5
In any Olympic event where judging is necessary, one criteria is the “degree of difficulty.” In the past Winter Olympics, for example, the snowboard half-pipe routines have a degree of difficulty. The more difficult routines have a higher degree of difficulty. By the way, as an occasional snowboarder, I have done some of those flips and spins, though never intentionally.
I realized later that people often come with a degree of difficulty. Some are quite high, others less so. A part of dealing with difficult people is coming to the point where you simply accept the fact that people are difficult. Not everyone will do everything according to your desires. You must accept the fact that people come with flaws, they do things that are boorish, thoughtless, deceitful, even downright mean. They can disappoint you. It is their degree of difficulty.
When you accept this uncomfortable truth it frees you to begin accepting them where they are, loving them, and serving them as Christ wants us to. Also, and this is very important, it 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.
Remember Henry Higgins in My Fair Lady? He lived to change others, but could not bear the thought of someone, especially a woman, trying to change him. “BUT, Let a woman in your life and your serenity is through, she'll redecorate your home, from the cellar to the dome, and then go on to the enthralling fun of overhauling you!”
What is he saying? Accept me. Higgins would probably add, “admire me,” but the point is we need to accept that people have a certain degree of difficulty and resist the urge to try to change them at every point.
One Greek word describing this Christian virtue is forbearance, though we seldom use that word in everyday language. It comes from a Greek word, epieikeia, and contains the nuances of graciousness, kindness, and patience. My somewhat awkward translation is “grace-filled kindness.” Paul wrote that we are to let this quality be known to all people, even and especially those with a high degree of difficulty.
Of course, Jesus modeled this. He accepted people where they were with one important difference. He offered to change them from the inside, something we cannot do. He did not say to Peter when they first met, “clean up your language, settle down, and, by the way, don’t betray me on down the road.” He accepted Peter, Judas and the others with their degree of difficulty, and through love tried to lead them to a higher life. Our calling is to love, even our enemies (Mt. 5:43-47). In that way, we point others to Christ, the real agent of change.
Dealing with difficult people is an art that takes a life-time of practice. But beginning with love, rather than criticism and rejection, is the way that honors Christ. Demonstrate grace-filled kindness to that irritating person you work with, to a grouchy clerk, to the driver that cut you off, and especially to that thankless family member. Also, it won’t hurt to remember that you come with your own degree of difficulty.
Dr. Terry Ellis