I recently spent a few hours with a person who makes me nervous. I entered our time together with a less than thrilled attitude as I anticipated his irritating quirks. It’s not that I hate her. I don’t particularly I like it its.
We know what to do with the people we love naturally. The Bible is clear about what to do with people we hate. But what can we do about the people in our lives, and in our churches, who are hard to love? The ones that annoy us?
It could be a person’s communication blind spot (such as never thinking of asking others questions) that bothers us. Maybe it’s a high-pitched, nasal laugh that gives us goosebumps. Maybe it’s your habit of repeatedly checking your phone while chatting. We might think that annoying people are just a part of life, so we suppress eye-rolling, tolerate their quirks, and move on. But what if God wants to use the people who irritate us as tools in his hands, a bit like sandpaper, for our sanctification? If we approach these relationships seeking to love the people who annoy us, we may be surprised at how God will work.
look in the mirror
When someone constantly irritates us, it is worth considering what is going on in our own hearts. Sins of self-centeredness, jealousy, envy, or pride often surface. As far back as the days of Cain and Abel, man has had a tendency to blame and vilify others for the sin hidden in his own heart.
When someone constantly irritates us, it is worth considering what is going on in our own hearts.
After my recent interaction with the acquaintance I find annoying, I asked God to help me understand why I was so upset about her. I really just wanted him to make the frustration go away. But the Holy Spirit used the Word of God to show me that he was jealous of the esteem she receives from many of our mutual friends. I wanted her honor for mine. It felt a bit like heart surgery as the Spirit gently put her finger on this sheltered corner of my soul that harbored the sin of envy under the guise of irritation.
This is part of the painful beauty of true community in the body of Christ. God uses his children, even his quirks and mistakes, to smooth each other over in ways we could never accomplish independently. He is making us into his beautiful bride, transforming us from one degree of glory to another (2 Corinthians 3:18), one loud laugh at a time.
God often uses discomfort as an opportunity for us to dive deeper into other people’s stories so we can cultivate compassion for them. The followers of Christ must be the first to show mercy, because he who is forgiven much loves much (Luke 7:47). It’s surprisingly easy for us to assume that everyone’s experience is similar to ours, but we all have different factors that influence the way we live.
When we don’t understand someone’s behavior or choices, it’s wise to humbly ask questions to learn more about their life story. What kind of childhood did she have? How has her educational journey been? What does a normal day entail for her now? How is her health? Almost always, some detail in another person’s story helps us understand why she operates the way she does.
It’s also worth remembering times when we’ve irritated others over the years. Everybody has these. For example, I have a strong personality and I am a first-born daughter. There is no doubt that I have run over people and given them orders, often without even knowing it. Many times, dear family and friends have shared that I hurt them by being aggressive or domineering. If I’m not careful, I’m the annoying person someone else has to talk to God about. When that truth settles, mercy for others grows in my heart.
watch God work
Each of us can identify the people we find difficult to love and, if we are honest, we can think that the less we interact with them, the better. They regularly polish our rough spots, just like unforgiving sand on a sheet of sandpaper, and it’s uncomfortable. Time and time again, we are tempted to rudeness, selfishness, or exclusion when we interact with them. But in God’s redeeming hands, irritating interactions can be a tool to transform our hearts. When we ask the Lord to give us a heart like his, he will.
If I’m not careful, I’m the annoying person someone else has to talk to God about.
The person who bothers us cannot change. But our Spirit-inspired kindness toward her can soften our interactions and bring delight where once there was disdain. As we lean into these challenging relationships, we get a front row seat to real transformation. When my heart begins to turn towards someone who once bothered me, I know that God loves her through me and I have witnessed her redemptive work.
Sometimes the annoying things other people do are just human idiosyncrasies. Sometimes they are bad habits. Other times, they really are sins like pride or self-centeredness. God is in the business of using all of these things for our good and his glory. He wastes nothing, not even frayed nerves.