Let’s be honest and say something that will likely not come as a revelation to anyone reading these words; there are difficult people in the world.  If you’re currently rolling around on the floor in a fit of uncontrolled laughter due to that massive understatement, feel free to pick yourself up off the floor now and continue reading.

Today I’m talking about people who really irk you, get under your skin, and know how to push all of your buttons until everything within you wants to immediately run screaming from their presence or, if you’re slightly more confrontational, poke them in the eye. (Not that I would ever do that–or recommend it!) These people are prickly, irritating, and the closer they get to you the deeper their little spikes dig into your heart–that’s why I call them “Cocklebur People.” 

99.99999% of the time I adored my grandmother, but she had some cocklebur moments. Moments of passive aggressiveness where she would look at me, her head cocked slightly and one eye squinted critically as she tucked a piece of hair behind my ear, and say, “Oh, are you sure you want to wear your hair like that?” Cockle-bur! (I’m just going to go ahead and let you know that if you want to be at the very top of my difficult people list please be passive aggressive. I love it!) But I was able to separate those very rare moments of criticism from the rest of my relationship with my grandma because we had a solid foundation of love built over my entire lifetime which enabled me to easily overlook the occasional irritating remark and realize she had my best interest at heart.

But what do you do if that’s not the case? What if the person is not–has never been–in the least bit loving towards you and definitely does not have your best interest at heart? Maybe they’ve always been rude, hateful, and cranky–in short, they do everything they can to make your life miserable. I realize the example with my grandma is pretty trivial, and some of you might have to deal with people who could literally bristle the hair of a lion. So if that’s what you’re dealing with, people who could send the king of the jungle on his way with his tail between his legs, you’re off the hook, right? You don’t have to be kind or civil. That would be crazy!

First, let me just say I’m sorry that you have to deal with that in your life. I wish that everyone could be kind and self-controlled. But when they’re not, we can just write those people off, right? Pray for their underwear to spontaneously burst into flames? Or better yet, give them a piece of our mind.

Well….

I read something the other day that pretty much re-framed everything for me. Not that I liked it very much, mind you.

It was Romans 14:1 (The Message–emphasis added)

“Welcome with open arms fellow believers who don’t see things the way you do. And don’t jump all over them every time they do or say something you don’t agree with–even when it seems that they are strong on opinions but weak in the faith department. Remember, they have their own history to deal with. Treat them gently.”

Ack!! I don’t like that at all. Especially that bold statement: “They have their own history to deal with.” What if they’re making me deal with their history too? And I can hear some of you right now, in fact I’m thinking it myself! Erica, that says “fellow believers,” my cocklebur is not a Jesus follower. Score! I am off the hook!

Well…

Paul goes on later and says,

1 Corinthians 9:19-22 (The Message–emphasis added)

“Even though I am free of the demands and expectations of everyone, I have voluntarily become a servant to any and all in order to reach a wide range of people: religious, nonreligious, meticulous moralists, loose-living immoralists, the defeated, the demoralized–whoever. I didn’t take on their way of life. I kept my bearings in Christ–but I entered their world and tried to experience things from their point of view.”

Rats! Those verses pretty much debunk that thinking as well. If we’re out to reach a wide range of people–and if we’re followers of Jesus we’re certainly not trying to repel people–we’re not off the hook. But that doesn’t make it easy. I’m not going to lie, usually I want to make sure that the people who get under my skin get what’s coming to them. I don’t want to look at things from their perspective. Not even a little bit. In fact, I usually want to make sure they get a clear view of things from my perspective.

But I really think this is the key to living peaceably with difficult people–trying to see things from their perspective. In other words, Paul was on to something when he wrote those verses. If you want to deal with difficult people in the best possible way, without stooping to their level (because you definitely don’t want to be that cocklebur person), then enter their world and try to experience things from their point of view.

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow said it this way:

“If we could read the secret history of our enemies, we should find in each man’s life sorrow and suffering enough to disarm all hostility.”

I’m not at all saying there are excuses for being a cocklebur, but we definitely have a choice in how we respond to them. We might not always like it and we might not want to do it, but maybe the next time you’re confronted with a prickly, irritating, cocklebur, instead of reacting, pray for compassion and the ability to experience things from their perspective. It may make all the difference. If not for them–for you!

~Gut-Check & Action Steps~

  1. Who are the cockleburs in your life? Go ahead and identify them.
  2. You may or may not know their stories, but spend some time thinking about what they may be facing. Maybe even ask them if there’s something you can pray with them about (I guarantee you it’s the last thing they’ll be expecting!).
  3. Go to God with your cocklebur and ask Him to give you the grace to experience things from their perspective and for extra doses of compassion.