Lessons in Loving Difficult People

At work this week, I had to clean up someone else’s poop.

It’s not the first time, nor will it be the last. No, I’m not a custodian (the unspoken heroes of our building), but a Kindergarten teacher. As we dealt with the situation at hand, I thought in my head with a smirk, “You’re lucky I love you!” I adore my students, easily and ardently I love them. Quite literally, this teacher would do anything for them. But what about those who aren’t so easy to love? 

As my students bring in their leprechaun traps and we decorate our windows with shamrocks, I start thinking about the real reason we celebrate St. Patty’s Day. Yes, it’s fun to dress in green and eat your shepherd’s pie, but this holiday celebrates something so much more than a color, little ginger people hoarding gold, and good luck… it’s a story of authentic love. 

Lucky I Love You GumptionGrace.com

Trigger Warning: St. Patrick was not Irish. Nor was he ever officially a canonized Saint. He was, however, a teenage Englishman who was kidnapped by Irish druids and forced into slavery. While in bondage, he clung to prayer to the Christian God he had ignored in his youth. Six years a slave, Patrick was able to escape and make his way back to his homeland. But here is the cool part. After being kidnapped, isolated and mistreated by his captors, his heart gained a deep compassion for the people of Ireland. No, I don’t think it’s Stockholm Syndrome, but rather a Christ-like compassion for those who are lost. Patrick returned to Ireland and spent the rest of his life dedicated to ministering to those who had harmed him.

 St. Patrick dedicated his life to loving those whom he had every excuse to hate…

As my classroom is about to be covered in green food coloring, glitter, and die cut shamrocks, I will be reminded by the symbols of this holiday to intentionally show love to the people who make life difficult 🙂

Loving Difficult People and Gingers GumptionGrace.com.jpeg

Red Hair– Even Gingers need love. Okay, I’m just joking because making a judgement based on someone’s hair is about as trivial as it comes… YET, I am so guilty of letting little quirks and inconsequential things get to me. They fester and become a hurdle in showing people the love that they deserve.  Proverbs 22:10 says that we must, “Kick out the troublemakers (mockers, scoffers) and things will quiet down; you need a break from bickering and griping.” Sure there are plenty of people that we can complain about and complain to, yet, most of the time, the mocker is our own spirit ruminating about these trivial things. The more time we spend fixating on the negative, the more it becomes the center of our focus. We have the power to change that toxic thinking about people. “We destroy every proud obstacle that keeps people from knowing God. We capture their rebellious thoughts and teach them to obey Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:5).

Loving Difficult People GumptionGrace.com Ireland.jpeg

Green– “Growth”, “Hope” and “Optimism” are the words that often are associated with this color. When dealing with difficult people, we can not be defeatist, but understand that people can change and will most likely not be a permanent thorn in our flesh. My second grade arch-nemesis ended up being my best friend throughout childhood and even into adulthood. We don’t know how God is going to change individuals… often times it’s us that needs the changing. We need to remain humble and be willing to grow! Who knows why God places certain people in our lives? But if we are faithful, God can turn what was intended for evil into a ministry opportunity as we have seen before with Joseph and his brothers (who sold him into slavery), Daniel and despicable king Nebuchadnezzar, and even Saint Patrick and his captors.

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Snakes– Legend has it that St. Patrick chased out all the snakes in Ireland…okay, we know that’s malarkey because there were never snakes in Ireland… little cold… and had more to do with his Christian influence usurping that of a pagan fertility god. Snakes aren’t exactly seen in the brightest light.

But this did remind me of a scripture that caught me off guard because it called us to be like snakes when dealing with difficult people. Jesus says to his disciples, “Listen, I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. So be as clever [wise; shrewd; cunning] as ·snakes and as innocent [harmless] as doves” (Matthew 10:16).  We are not always going to see eye-to-eye with people (unless you are hiding away in your “safe-space”, then we have other issues). In our disagreements, we don’t have to cower to the will of the majority, but we also don’t need to brow beat the other person into agreeing with us. In a world of shouting, there is power in a gentle strength. We need to state our case with discernment, intelligence, love, humility, and patience for the other person.

Loving Difficult People GumptionGrace.com Unrefined as Gold

Gold– Every year, my Kindergarteners try to catch a leprechaun for the promise of his pot of gold. Have you seen real, unrefined gold?… it’s not that great. It is encrusted in rock and takes an excessive amount of labor to make it sparkle the way we think of it. In the same way, when we are choosing to love those around us who we make it difficult, sometime the greatest work is happening in our our ugly hearts. I Peter talks about this in the midst of persecution, “These trials are only to test your faith, to see whether or not it is strong and pure. It is being tested as fire tests gold and purifies it—and your faith is far more precious to God than mere gold; so if your faith remains strong after being tried in the test tube of fiery trials, it will bring you much praise and glory and honor on the day of [Christ’s] return.(1:7, TLB)

Loving Difficult People GumptionGrace.com Shamrock.jpeg

Shamrock– This plant had been a symbol of Ireland since ancient times. St. Patrick uses this iconic plant to illustrate the Triune God, three in one. The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are three identities within one God.  The Father gave us the Law of Love, the Son gave us the tangible example of laying His life down for those who hated him. But, the Holy Spirit, indwelling within us, gave us the power over our human nature to extend grace to those who harm us.  Our culture is an eye-for-an-eye, a tooth-for-a-tooth, but only through the Holy Spirit can we adopt a new nature to love those who hate (or just aggravate) us.

As we do some spring cleaning this season, may we take this opportunity to show a counter-cultural love to our neighbors, our colleagues, and strangers that we meet.

Good Luck (& Many Blessings),


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