There isn't a person reading this that has not encountered a hard to get along with individual either at work, in your family, your spouse's family, or at school. Sad to say, some people make it difficult to be around them. In an effort to deflect any responsibility we have in trying to get along with that person, we make up excuses like: "We just have a personality conflict"; "We come from two different worlds"; "They rub me the wrong way and I don't need that." In some respects, we may be correct. The other person may have a different personality than ours or come from a different background. Indeed, they may rub us the wrong way, but maybe...just maybe that is what God wants as He works to conform us to the image of His dear Son.
First and foremost, God has called us to love our enemies. Matthew 5:43-48 reads: You have heard it said, 'You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For He makes the sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect." In this passage from the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus clarifies a false teaching of the day that misinterpreted Leviticus 19:18. No one is to "hate" his enemies. In fact, the Bible includes them as our neighbors too. We are not to hold grudges, or bring harm to someone with whom we do not agree.
During my college days, I held a part time job as a relief operator for the telephone company. I really enjoyed the work as I connected calls, gave information and helped people with their problems. One day, a very cranky, older man called and demanded to be connected to a friend in another town. I spoke kindly to him, but he often would get into a rant. All the other operators disliked him and would disconnect him for being rude on the phone. I found out that this man was a retired doctor who had lost his ability to perform surgery due to a terrible car accident. He had turned to alcohol as his drug of choice to cover his pain. Often when he called, he was hard to understand. Nevertheless, I persisted in being kind and as helpful as I could whenever he came up on my board. One day, he paused as he asked for help in making the connection and said to me, "No one has ever been so kind to me when I have been so rude. Thank you for helping me. I appreciate it." Those words really moved me. Here was an unlovable older man with many issues, but a consistent gentle response won the day and broke through his crusty heart. I believe that this is what Jesus wants us to do when we encounter a difficult person.
Proverbs 27:17 reads: "As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another." God's purpose in bringing us into relationship with one another is to sand down our rough edges. He is not so concerned with our comfort as our character. Therefore, he may put us in close contact with someone who is irritating, different, difficult or any number of other descriptive terms. Instead of avoiding this person, God wants us to love them and pray for them. When we pray for someone, we are less likely to spend all our time gossiping about them. It is amazing how we change in prayer too. We begin to see them as God sees them. All too often, we jump to conclusions about people based on one or two encounters with them. This colors our outlook and prevents us from really getting to know that person. What a missed opportunity for potential friendship! Even our worst enemies might become our best friends given time, God's love and persistence. However, the most important thing is that we do not want to be disobedient to the Lord by hating another person.
Conflicts on the job and in families disrupt the flow of life. We cannot accomplish our goals unless we work together. I know this is hard, but with God, all things are possible. If I can crack the crust of an old man's heart on the phone through gentle kindness, I am certain we can all reach out and love those who seem so unlovable. Today, make a list of people who really seem to rub you the wrong way. Go down the list and pray for each one. Make this a habit and then when you encounter them be friendly. Do not let their problems become yours. Instead, reflect the love and glory of Jesus Christ in your life towards them. My mother always told me, "You catch more flies with honey than with vinegar". Our call is to obey the Lord and leave the results up to Him. May Jesus help us to love even our enemies. Selah!