How to love those awkward people

You know the ones, they walk through the door and immediately you feel out of sorts and your hackles rise. Rev Andy Twilley explains the three R’s of a right response

What is it with some people? You can’t put your finger on anything tangible, yet something about them changes things. Has something happened between you and this person in the past? A difference of opinion? Toes have been stepped on? A mis-understanding? Or is it just something about them: the way they respond? The way they do certain things? The sound of their voice or their sense of humour?

Or maybe it’s none of these - you can’t put your finger on it and yet the reaction is real. You feel your pulse rise, and then you either move into over-drive or withdraw into a shell like an intimidated snail. Alternatively, depending on your mood, it’s a flight or fight reaction: you run away from the situation or you determine to confront things head on.

Should it be this way? Does it have to be this way? Absolutely not. In fact, we have a mandate from the Bible which tells us there is an onus on us to do things differently.

Our Responsibility

All too often it’s not what happens to us that hurts most, but rather how we respond to what is happening. Stephen Covey wrote a really helpful book entitled 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. One of these habits highlights the fact that no matter what situation we are in, be it home, church, work or anywhere else, we are responsible for our reactions.

We may have no control over the circumstance, the situation, the relationship, however it is down to us as to how we respond. We may be living in a very difficult and challenging home environment, surrounded by unbelievable pressures due to other people within that place. Or there maybe someone at church who grates on us. Yet still the responsibility for your reaction lies with you.

Think about that word: response-ability. You can and should choose what your reaction will be. Covey tells of a man who languished in four prisoner of war camps, including Auschwitz. He was humiliated and degraded by prison staff, and yet he realised they could take away his clothes and his dignity, but they could not take away his freedom to choose how he responded in the midst of all they did to him.

“That’s fine Andy,” you may be thinking, “but you don’t know the person I have to put up with!”

I’m not saying this is easy. However, if we have a choice between being feeling intimidated or affirming our self worth, which would you choose? Or if you have a choice of being annoyed by someone’s comments or realising that actually, “more fool them for speaking that way”, which pathway will lead to greater wholeness of life for you?

Or someone takes you for granted again and again, and again. There’s no appreciation just take, take, take, nothing given back. But how does it benefit you if you allow this to get to you? In effect, you suffer twice: first through the attitude of the person, but secondly through your response to the situation.

Our rights

A common source of frustration is when a person infringes our rights or crosses over acceptable boundaries. These could include how we are spoken to, invasion of our private space or unacceptable demands on our time.

Maybe you feel frustrated at work because expectations or demands are repeatedly made of you, way beyond an appropriate level of commitment. Or perhaps the way you are spoken to at home leaves you feeling undermined or attacked. If this is the source of conflict, then the first thing we need to do is to determine what are the appropriate boundaries for any given situation?

What are the boundaries at work which should be respected? What boundaries are appropriate at home? These could be verbal, time related or physical boundaries. Having determined these, we then have a right to expect them to be respected.

When someone is about to cross them, rather than allowing the situation to undermine us, frustrate us or make us angry; we should simply and calmly let the person know that the boundary has been crossed and that we won’t go any further in the conversation or with the action, until the boundary has been re-established.

Our relationship with God

Here lies both a challenge, plus the resources we need to handle difficult people in a constructive and helpful way. As Christian men and women, God expects us to live, behave and relate differently to those around us. The Bible speaks of us being “transformed by the renewing of our minds” (Romans 12: 2). Jesus repeatedly taught that people should respond differently: “Turn the other cheek”, “Go the extra mile”,  and “Love your enemies”. 

In Galatians, Paul talks about the fruit of the Spirit growing in our lives. In other words, the essence of who we are becoming increasingly like that of Jesus. Yet these words already point us to the resource available to us in this whole process, namely the Holy Spirit. He is there to both challenge and equip us for the task.

This equipping is also found when Paul writes to the young church leader, Timothy. Timothy was based in Ephesus and would have encountered challenging personalities every day. In his second letter to him, Paul says: “For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love, and of self discipline.” That seems to sum it up.

First, we cannot successfully cope with difficult characters in our own strength, but we don’t have to. It is God himself, the Holy Spirit at work within us, from whom we can draw strength. We can never say the challenge was too great, the person too difficult, their awkwardness too much. No. God’s power is at work within us.

Secondly, he is the source of “love”. God expects love to flow from us, which goes way beyond basic human expectation. Just as Jesus was able to love the outcaste, the prostitute, the thief on the cross and so many other unlikely characters, the Holy Spirit can also give us love for those people we find difficult. It is not impossible.

What does that mean in reality? It means trying to understand them. To see why it is that they behave as they do. Are there things in their past which have made them as they are, or maybe they are currently going through difficult times? And how would Jesus see them and respond to them?
However, there is one final aspect to what Paul wrote: “Self Discipline”. We have to be determined to handle the person in a certain way. We must choose. We have a decision to make.

Next time that awkward person walks into the room, you are responsible for how you respond. You have rights and because of your relationship with God, you have the Holy Spirit to change what could be a negative encounter into a positive outcome, bringing God glory.

Take it further

* If you are currently facing a challenging relationship and would like to talk or pray with someone about it, the Nationwide Christian Trust has a team of people who would be delighted to hear from you: Monday to Friday, 9am to 7pm.: Call: 0844 576 8876.
* For more general information about their work, including their retreat venue, Mulberry House in Essex, call 0845 050 4566 or visit their website at: www.nationwidechristiantrust .com