Whether we like it or not, we all have to deal with difficult, negative people on occasions. You may work with one, you may be friends with one, you may even be married to one. But the question is, how do you deal with one?
It’s not easy, and more often than not, my default reaction is avoidance. But, as my wife recently showed me, there’s a much better way. We were making a late night, impromptu Lowe’s run to buy some home remodeling supplies (we’re currently neck deep in remodeling our new house in Charlotte). And as we put our items on the counter, my wife offered a casual, “Hey, how are you?” to the store clerk. She barely looked up, and what glance she did give polluted the atmosphere with negativity to the point that I could nearly feel it on my skin.
To be honest, if I had been alone I probably would’ve walked away that night without saying a word. Instead, Courtney responded by smiling and offering to bag the materials for her. I was taken aback by my wife’s gesture. It wasn’t surprising to me that my wife would be so kind, but to see such a warm response towards such a cold attitude – it was shocking.
But, that’s exactly the response the clerk needed. In that moment, her icy expression melted away and she replied, “Sure!”
Her flow of negativity was interrupted by a flow of grace. As we walked away that night she smiled and told us to have a good night – a stark contrast compared to the way our interaction started.
That moment made me proud to be married to my wife, but it also got me to thinking about the importance of how I respond to negative people. It’s so much easier to just put my head down and let things go. To just allow a negative person to be negative. That’s always been my reaction, but what I’m realizing is that God has called us to deal with difficult people in a much different way. Rather than ignoring them, I believe God has called us to serve them.
In Proverbs 25:21-22, it describes this strategy as a way of heaping burning coals on your enemy’s head.
“If your enemy is hungry, give him food to eat; if he is thirsty, give him water to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head, and the Lord will reward you.” Proverbs 25:21-22
Which, if I’m being honest, I’ve always viewed as a vengeance kind of thing.
If someone doesn’t like me, and they’re mean to me, then I’ll just be really nice to them so that way I can do them harm!
I know, I know… that’s not a healthy outlook – but that’s being honest.
The more I looked into this verse, though, the more I realized that it isn’t so much about inflicting harm, as it is promoting healing. I’ve always envisioned the bed of coals producing pain, but in reality it’s about producing change. At least that’s what it produced in me when I stepped on some hot coals while camping one time. When my foot hit the burning coals, it forced me to change my posture.
And that’s what serving grace in response to negativity does. It forces a change in posture. It disarms and disables the other side.
If it sounds like it would be awkward to be overly kind to someone who is being obnoxiously rude, it’s because it is awkward. Grace and anger are like oil and water. They don’t mix. It forces a reaction, and in most situations – it forces a change.
Negative, difficult people aren’t going away anytime soon, so you might as well start facing them. Meet their anger with an attitude of kindness – regardless of how awkard it may feel at first. Serve them. Love them. Help them. Allow them to see that there is a God who loves them despite whatever negative circumstances they are facing.