Choosing to embrace the difficult to love

Loving Difficult People as a Christian

house Annie Hutchison Jun 11, 2024

A little over a decade ago I worked with girls in foster group homes. One of the things we learned as part of this process was that because these girls suffered trauma and felt unloved and rejected by their families, they would often put walls up that consisted of unlovely, frequently very repellent behaviors. Sometimes it came in the form of name-calling, snide comments, stealing things, or even attempts at manipulation or physical assault.

What we were told by the group-home leaders about this behavior was that it was their way of protecting themselves. You see, if they could make you abandon them before they began to trust you or need you, then they didn’t have to feel the pain of loss that they had endured before. But if you stood by them, maintaining healthy and safe boundaries, but continued to show up and be present, eventually you would break through the barriers and begin to have a great impact on their hearts.

Now you may never work with girls in the foster care system. Still, chances are you know someone who is a bit off-putting, hard to be around or is someone you actively try to avoid because they are just too difficult.

As someone who used to be all of those things, I am so thankful for Christ’s persistent and redeeming love. I am grateful that he called a select few to love me radically and consistently. Because of the people in my life who were called to demonstrate healthy boundaries while still pursuing a meaningful mentorship-like relationship with me, I am forever better and I got to walk away from behaviors that were trauma-induced but weren’t serving me well.

The Bible offers us so many scriptures that both command us to love deeply and also clue us into why it is so important.

1 Corinthians 16:14 ESV

Let all that you do be done in love.

1 John 4:7 ESV

“Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God.”

John 13:34 ESV

“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.”

1 Peter 4:8 ESV

Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins.

Ephesians 4:32 ESV

Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.

We are to be known by our love because it is a clear way we can demonstrate that Christ’s love has profoundly impacted our lives. We are to love others because it is giving them a gracious covering and is meant to help them walk away from their sins without fear or shame. We are to love others because they are made in God’s image and Jesus wants us to love them as he loves them. We are to love others because it helps us understand God’s character and heart on a deeper level.

Yet, all of this talk about loving the unlovely bears the question of what it means to love.

What are the characteristics of love?

1 Corinthians 13:4-8 ESV gives us a clear definition of love.

“Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away.”

So how can we model this definition of perfect love? I find that the easiest way to love a difficult person is to ask God to give me his eyes to see them as he sees them, and to fill me up with his Spirit.

I can tell you of many occasions where I tried to muster the goodness and love out of my own spirit and failed miserably at it. Loving the unlovely, the ones who are still trauma-bound in their behaviors or who are new to sanctification is a Holy Spirit filled act. This is part of how loving others helps us understand God’s heart on a deeper level.

So here is my prayer for myself and you, dear reader, when it comes to loving difficult people.

Lord, please give us Christ’s heart for the lost and hurting. Help us to remember that no matter how frustrating this person’s behavior is, they are made in your image (Gen. 1:27) and you tell us plainly to show love to them. Please give us wisdom to know how to speak truth in gentleness to them, how to consistently show up for them, and how to point them to you. I ask in Jesus' name. Amen.

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Loving Difficult People as a Christian