The Mississippi Baptist Foundation  |  est. 1943  |  Psalm 24:1
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     Elbert was my friend. When I first met Elbert, he was 93 years old and his wife of 68 years had died a few weeks earlier as a result of a tragic incident involving a fire in their home. As Elbert’s pastor, I had several opportunities to deliver food to him or otherwise check on him at his home. Elbert was always ready to visit and I was the beneficiary of his unsolicited wit and wisdom that he shared free of charge.
     On one particular occasion, Randy (a deacon) and I went to check on an issue with Elbert’s roof. Randy scooted up a ladder to the roof while I had the challenging task of keeping a nonagenarian off the ladder. As we walked around his yard, Elbert declared “My parents taught me to love a person even if I didn’t like them.”     
     Loving someone who is unlovely in some aspect of their behavior, personality, or attitude might seem a daunting (or nearly impossible) exercise. Nonetheless, Jesus counseled His followers to love difficult people. Specifically, He said that we are to love both our friends AND our enemies (Matt. 5:43-48) and treat others how we would like to be treated (Luke 6:31, Matt. 7:12). Jesus also said that the love displayed through our lives would reveal to others our relationship with Him (John 13:34-35).

     While those individuals who are difficult to love could be placed in a variety of categories based on personality or behavioral traits, the following list highlights some of the difficult people with whom your path may have crossed on occasion. Sometimes, you may find difficulty loving a:

  • Complainer – The perspective of a complainer is that something (if not everything) is always wrong. The Complainer can find the dark lining in every silver cloud. The Complainer is more than a little pessimistic and often may see the glass as completely empty. A chronic Complainer will pour a bucket of cold water on anything including another bucket of cold water. My dad used to refer to constant complaining as “bellyaching.” My dad grew up poor and worked hard at farming. Thus, like his father before him, my dad did not cotton to bellyaching.
    I once read an article focused on a medical survey that discussed how chronic complainers live longer than   
   people who are always sweet and serene. According to the survey, the cantankerous spirit of a  
   Complainer gives them a purpose for living. Therefore, a Complainer begins each day looking for things they 
   can grumble about while also deriving great satisfaction from making others miserable. Although Complainers 
   may not demonstrate knowledge of or adherence to Paul’s instructions to the Christians at Philippi regarding  
   complaining (2:14), true followers of Jesus are to love Complainers and exercise love that is both patient and  
  • Chatterer – A Chatterer may hone their craft in any number of ways. For instance, a Chatterer might be a gossip and pass on information or misinformation as someone who is “in the know” about anything and everything. Or, a Chatterer might corner someone in the grocery store, take a deep breath and launch into an endless stream of stories and events (both current and historical) that may or may not have anything to do with the price of bananas. While attempting to be polite, you begin planning your escape before another breath is drawn. Often the Chatterer will simply blather on and on but say very little. A Chatterer might be described as someone who “talks only to hear themselves talk.” Practice extending love that is not rude or self-seeking to a Chatterer.
  • Controller – Another name for a Controller might be “Bully.” A Controller feels that everyone should strive to accommodate their whims and wishes. Insecure and ego-centric, a Controller feels that the world and everything in the world (at least in their corner of the world) should revolve around them.  A Controller can be overbearing, domineering, and have an insatiable desire to be in charge. Controllers do not make good teammates because they want to coach, play every position on the field or court, and be the team mom all at the same time. A Controller may take credit for every good idea and positive outcome yet a Controller seldom demonstrates a willingness to accept responsibility for a mishap or something gone awry. Rather, the Controller often considers himself to be a victim and deflects blame from self through poor-mouthing (like the Complainer) while simultaneously being quick to throw someone else under the proverbial bus. Despite the difficulty, Christ-like love that is not easily angered and keeps no record of wrongs should be offered to a Controller.
  • Collector – A Collector might be identified as someone who keeps score. If a Collector does something for you, they might record a mental I.O.U. on your ledger with full expectation that they will collect on what is felt to be owed to them. Collectors can be self-serving and may be considered kin to a Controller in terms of their bullying nature as they tend to hold something over you and offer a frequent reminder of the effort they put forth to do you a favor. Furthermore, unlike the portrait of love painted in 1 Corinthians 13, a Collector does keep a record of wrongs. And whether such wrongs are real or perceived, Collectors look forward to collecting (i.e. getting even). Followers of Jesus are to exercise love that does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth when dealing with Collectors.
  • Criticizer – A Criticizer may be the most challenging of all of the difficult people to love. While constructive criticism may be beneficial at times, a dyed-in-the-wool Criticizer, (like their Complainer and Controller cousins) will criticize everyone and everything. The Criticizer likely believes that they are actually offering assistance. Perhaps like a Controller, the Criticizer manipulates, intimidates, and disparages others. My mom might refer to Criticizers as “those who attempt to build themselves up by tearing others down.”
   When dealing with Criticizers, consider the perspective of Fred Allen who surmised “if criticism had any real power, then the skunk would be extinct by now.” Jesus instructed Christians to “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matt. 5:44). In addition, love that always perseveres and never
fails should be modeled for a Criticizer. 
     Although I succeeded in keeping Elbert off the ladder, the Lord elevated him into “higher service” a couple of years later. I often reflect on Elbert’s statement concerning loving others even when you don’t like them or something about them. Recognizing that I have fallen woefully short of loving both my neighbor and the not-so-neighborly in accordance with Jesus’ instructions, I will strive to become more like my heavenly Father in all aspects of love and life (Matt. 4:48).


Prayer: Lord, help me to love difficult people. Help me to remember that everyone is someone’s difficult person. Remind me that I am someone’s difficult person. Help others to know that I am Your disciple by the love that is on display through my life. Thank you for loving me and giving Your son to die for a world full of sinful and difficult people. Amen.