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The art of loving a difficult person

February 5, 2011

Difficult people. They are everywhere. They are in the store lines, on the roads, in the workplace and possibly even in your own family.

There is no way in this world to completely avoid difficult people, unless you become a recluse, lock yourself in your own house, and of course, you must live alone! Then, you will probably find that, from time to time, you can be one of those difficult people yourself, and you simply cannot get away from yourself.

My first rule whenever I run into a difficult person is to consider this thought: "Hurting people hurt people." They are hurting and have probably been hurt.

I remember a dear elderly lady, Mrs. Rice. She was a well-known evangelist wife from years gone by. Her face was literally frozen in a smile. Her daughters would laugh and say that a person could simply not insult her. If a clerk was rude in a store, Mrs. Rice would say, "Poor dear, she must be having a hard day." No matter what someone did to her, she would remind them, "That person must be hurting in some way."

Remembering this does not mean approval of wrong actions.

On the contrary, it is simply applying the age-old Indian thought of "walking a mile in someone else's moccasins."

I remember many years ago driving a rural church bus in the hollows of Nicholas County and picking up little children for church. The van was usually full and I would be feeding them breakfast, teaching a lesson and singing songs to keep them occupied during the trip. On our last stop, we picked up an elderly woman. Being somewhat new to the area, I had no idea of this woman's background, let alone her issues. I dubbed her the "bus grandma" and we'd squeeze her into the "packed-like-sardines van," and we'd say: "Good morning grandma" as she entered the van.

One morning she looked radiant, and her white hair reflected her long life on earth. She declared as she was helped on the van, "Good morning to all my grandchildren." That night she passed away peacefully in her sleep.

At her funeral viewing, a lady approached me and proclaimed, "Do you know what a miracle took place recently?"

"No," I replied.

She continued, "This lady (motioning to the casket) did not like our church bringing in bus children. She felt they were dirty, noisy and should not be brought in. The miracle happened when she became the bus grandma and opened her heart to these kids she fought so diligently to keep out of the church."

I was stunned. My precious bus granny had a "bus kid phobia" and I hadn't a clue. In my humble opinion, she needed to be needed. I don't know, but I was young and just saw it as the perfect opportunity to elevate an elderly saint ... though her wings had taken flight, she regained them right before she passed away. I do not know why she was the way she was, and it doesn't matter. I was able to witness a transformation in her and it changed my life to realize that people can change, and we can make a difference when we give them the chance. Difficult people need love, too.

So, at this point, you are probably thinking, "OK, Pollyanna ... how on earth are you supposed to do this?" The answer is: love them. I know you are thinking, are you nuts? Some people are just unlovable. I know that, but love them anyway. Do good to them. Pray for them.

Oh, you mean that heapin' coals of fire thing, right? Well, yes, if you take that thought in the context it was written. Many people think that the saying "heaping coals of fire on their heads" means bring down the fire or wrath upon someone. On the contrary, in Bible days, man used fire to cook and to keep warm, and when a neighbor's fire went out, it was a big deal ... no Match Light charcoal back then. So, a good neighbor would take a bunch of their coals from their own fire and put them in a container and carry it to their neighbor's house so they could be warm and cook their food. This sort of puts an entirely different slant to the saying, doesn't it?

You are helping the person. True, you cannot change people, but God can; and I can guarantee this, you will change.

I heard in college many years ago that the key to learning is repetition. With this thought in mind, I repeat some things to my children on a regular basis. One of those is that "hurting people hurt people." I also strive to teach them boundaries. For there is a balance and you do not tolerate abuse, but that is another topic for another day.

Reducing stress in our lives is often a balancing act. The art of loving the unlovable is a lesson we will spend a lifetime learning. Below is a quote I have framed in my bedroom:

People are often unreasonable and self-centered.


If you are kind, people may accuse you of ulterior motives.


If you are honest, people may cheat you.


If you find happiness, people may be jealous.


The good you do today may be forgotten tomorrow.


Give the world the best you have, and it may never be enough.


For you see, in the end, it is between you and God.


Mother Teresa

(Kimberly Short-Wolfe, MA, is a licensed chaplain and a counselor at Cornerstone Christian Counseling Center. To contact her, call 304-637-7018 or e-mail



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