When you stop to count your blessings, do not forget to give God a big thank you for all the difficult people in your life. Those cranks that cross your path and darken your doorway are just bursting with the potential to bless you. Every person who provokes you is an opportunity, but it all depends on you. You can respond with love and mercy or you can get angry and lash out. Will you choose blessing or sin?
Yet, it is not natural to feel grateful for people with a knack for inflicting misery. This is perhaps the greatest challenge of being Christian; hatred in, love out.
The Bible Tells Me So
The Golden Rule is: “Do unto others whatever you would have them do unto you” (Matthew 7:12). The Our Father states: “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” These are good rules of thumb for starters, but I’ve seen serious Christians brush them aside when they find themselves on the receiving end of hostility.
“I don’t have to forgive my mother-in-law because she is not saying she is sorry,” someone once told me. ”God forgives me when I ask for it and I’ll forgive her when she asks for it.”
And a person could thwart the Golden Rule by reasoning, “I would never have done such a hateful thing and if I did, then I would deserve to have someone strike back.”
Luckily, to avoid tripping into loopholes, Christ reinforced His teachings to us. “Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of the least brothers of mine, you did for me” (Matthew 25:40). Does that mean if you lash out at someone, Jesus receives the blow as well? I believe so, but some could construe this verse as just pertaining to charitable things such as feeding the hungry, giving to the poor, volunteering to bake brownies for the church bake sale, etc. and not necessarily to interacting with a troublemaker.
Because the above passage in Matthew is talking about doing things for others, does it necessarily include doing things to others also? Did Jesus really mean to take away your right to strike back at the rude and inconsiderate or even such people as idiot drivers? It would seem so. “When someone strikes you on your right cheek, turn the other one to him as well” (Matthew 5:39). But the idiot driver did not strike me on the cheek, he cut me off and could have killed us both. Doesn’t matter. There are no clauses that allow for road rage. “But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you that you may be children of your heavenly Father, for he makes his sun rise on the bad and the good and causes rain to fall on the just and the unjust” (Matthew 5:44-45).
We must look to Jesus for a clear example to know He meant exactly what He said. After being arrested, beaten and hung on a cross, Jesus responded with love, not revenge. If we were writing the script, most of us would have had the earth swallow up the soldiers and persecutors. Instead, Jesus responded by praying: ”Father forgive them, for they know not what they are doing” (Luke 23:34).
A New Attitude
Rats, you may be thinking, I can’t be that good. It’s not natural to give love to those who hurt me. You are right, it’s not at all natural; it’s supernatural. But if you are looking at it as a difficult and an unpleasant task, you need a new attitude. Instead of looking at your next-door neighbor, Mr. Grouchy Pants, as an unpleasant thorn in your side, look at him as a rose in disguise. People like him hold the keys to your holiness. All you have to do is smile and be pleasant. Oh, and one more thing; you have to try (remember, I said try) to love him.
This is not just about being nice on the surface and bubbling over in hatred underneath. You really do need to try and love your neighbor as yourself. “If I give away everything I own and if I hand my body over so that I may boast but do not have love, I gain nothing” (1 Corinthians 13:3). That is why, instead of grumbling, you need to show love, compassion and an abundance of mercy. You cannot always muster up those lovely feelings, so sometimes, just the desire to feel love, will have to do.
In our next post, we will look at the Scriptural justification for this new outlook, why God might allow difficult people to cross our paths, and how the saints approached even troublesome and problematic people.
This post was previously published by Patti Maguire Armstrong on her website and used with her permission.
Art: A treasure chest, badaman, 18 June 2009, Open Clip Art Library PD, CC0-1.0 Universal Public Domain; mirror of A Man in a Rage, after C. Le Brun, c.1789, CCA 4.0 International; both Wikimedia Commons. Feature image art: Sepia detail of A Man in a Rage, after C. Le Brun, c1789, CCA 4.0 International, Wikimedia Commons.