We all have people in our lives that infuriate us; they know how to push our buttons, and they drive us mad. Some we defriend or unfollow on social media; others we avoid at all costs. I have a dear friend that calls “these people” sand paper people. God often uses “these people” to smooth out our own rough edges, to polish us so that we better reflect the light of Christ. It’s easy to love the lovable, but to love the unlovable — well now, that is a challenge.
Jesus said, “If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them” (Luke 6:32). Sinners refers to unbelievers in this verse. If we want to be like Jesus we are called to love sandpaper people even if they don’t love us back.
Knowing this is one thing, but doing it is quite another. How do we love difficult people? I’ve been pondering this and have developed a list (it is not exhaustive) of ways I believe we can practically love people who are hard to love.
1. Speak kindness. We all remember our mom’s saying, “If you don’t have anything good to say, don’t say anything.” This principle applies to loving the sandpaper people in our lives.
2. Forgive. Easy to say, but hard to do. When we fail to forgive, bitterness and resentment set in making it almost impossible to love fully. Forgiveness is a process; sometimes we need to forgive daily. Forgiveness does not mean that we allow the person to continue to hurt us; it may involve setting healthy boundaries or even ending a relationship. Forgiveness does not mean the person’s actions were acceptable. Forgiveness means we will no longer hold the past against the person in the sense that we want to get even. Forgiveness is more for us than for the other person.
3. Treat them with respect. As a person created in the image of God, every individual is worthy of respect. This does not mean you respect all of the person’s decisions or actions, but that you will treat them with dignity even when they fail to do the same. We cannot control another person’s actions, but we can control our own.
4. Pray for them. This principle is self-explanatory, but one we often fail to do. The Bible commands us to pray for our enemies. I’m not suggesting sandpaper people are our enemies, but I am asserting that we are called to pray for them.