We all have people we would not spend time with if we were given a choice. But because of work, family, or social obligations, we need to do so occasionally. How do we love difficult people?
First, I believe it’s good to know that we don’t need to “like” everyone we meet. There are people you just won’t like, and there are people who won’t like you, and it’s okay. But love is different. We are called if we are to walk in the way of love, to love everyone. What does that look like? How do we do it?
We must first love ourselves, which can be hard to do. But it is part of the greatest wisdom, “Love God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength and love your neighbor as YOURSELF (Mark 12:30-31). How do we get there? We choose to press into our belief we are completely, unconditionally loved by God. One way to do so includes sitting in the presence of the divine while listening to and feeling God’s love for us until we begin to absorb and believe it. That work, between us and God, creates pathways for us to truly love our neighbor, even the difficult ones.
My hubby and I have been listening to the podcast for Richard Rohr’s new book, The Universal Christ. The podcast is called, Another Name for Every Thing, and it is fantastic! During these interviews with Fr. Richard, they talk a lot about this concept of seeing yourself loved by God. Within the divine gaze, there is no good or bad, right or wrong, approval or disapproval. We just are. We are loved.
We can also pray a blessing on difficult people as suggested in the beatitudes, “Love your enemies, bless those cursing you, do good to those hating you, and pray for those accusing you falsely, and persecuting you” Matthew 5:44.
I love the scene from Fiddler on the Roof where someone asks the Rabbi if he had a blessing for the Czar. The Rabbi replies, “Lord, bless and keep the Czar…far away from us!” And sometimes that is the best we can do. From the view of the universal Christ, it is good to remember that there is no “us or them,” there is only “we.” If we can try and put on the lens of love, we can usually find compassion for a difficult person. If they are unliked by nearly everyone, something bad must have happened for them to become who they are, right? So, we can pray for their healing, softening, loneliness.
Ultimately, when we feel triggered by another person’s actions, words or behavior, it’s probably about us. The hard work is really pressing into what buttons they are pushing in us that are making us uncomfortable. Is being trapped in a social stimulation with someone who is ranting about politics pushing your buttons because as a child you were trapped in abusive situations? It’s a good opportunity for self-reflection and it’s fodder for your time with your spiritual director or therapist.
Truthfully, it’s good to love difficult people, but it is – difficult. So, don’t beat yourself up too hard. “Failing” to be gracious and merciful toward another is an excellent opportunity to admit we are still growing and ask God for help along the way. Just try your best and do some reflection afterward — and try to do better tomorrow.
Have you had success in loving difficult people? I’d love to hear your stories and what has worked for you.