[Updated from the archives.]
In How to Handle a Relationship You Wish Would Go Away, Sarah Beals discusses when to interact with difficult people and when it’s time to avoid them. There is a lot of wisdom in her post, both from Scripture and from her mom.
The same day I read Sarah’s post, I came across an interesting article on the value of giving difficult people the silent treatment. Entitled How to deal with jerks: Give ’em the silent treatment, it reports on some interesting research. While cautioning against turning the silent treatment into a passive/aggressive weapon, and noting the limited usefulness of the technique when it comes to significant or long-term relationships, the article gives some good insight:
The research reveals there are benefits to cutting off conversation with a person who is being obnoxious: It’s not as draining on your mental resources, you avoid conflict with someone offensive, and it’s much simpler than getting into a heated discussion.
I think those researchers are on to something, but I think what they are on to is nothing new. I think it’s thousands of years old.
Do not answer a fool according to his folly,
or you yourself will be just like him. (Proverbs 26:4.)
And Jesus said –
If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, leave that home or town and shake the dust off your feet. (Matthew 10:14 )
This seems harsh to us who have read that Jesus also wants us to love even our enemies. But there is a limit to how much time we are to spend with those who are hard to be with.
Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. (Romans 12:17-18.)
You are not responsible for their actions or their response to your actions. All you are responsible is for your own actions in seeking peace with others. And sometimes that peace comes from separation. As Jesus said, it might even take leaving them behind as you move on.
Would this be a cause for celebration? More likely it will be cause for grieving. As Sarah said in her piece –
I vacillate between pitying them for their obviously miserable life and when I really stop to think about what their internal peace must be like, I feel compassion, but usually I dread them for making my life harder (selfish). I need to pray for them and myself … .
Prayer. That is a wise piece of advice she has there for us.
When you pray for those you’ve found difficult you will find you’re able to focus more on Christ and what he has done for you, and you are able to leave the other person’s heart to Jesus to deal with.
After all, their hearts are not really our responsibility. Jesus is the one who is their Lord, not us. And likewise, we are not their Savior either.
But we can commit all of this to the One who is, and find peace resting in him ourselves.
Questions to ponder: How do you usually deal with difficult people? What effect do they have on you?