By Dr. Harold Sala
Now Ahab told Jezebel everything Elijah had done and how he had killed all the prophets with the sword. So Jezebel sent a messenger to Elijah to say, “May the gods deal with me, be it ever so severely, if by this time tomorrow I do not make your life like that of one of them.” 1 Kings 19:1
When you have a nail work its way through the sole of your shoe, you have several options:
Option #1: Return the shoes or exchange them for a new pair. Confronted with difficult people, some folks do the same thing. When the choice is to tough it out or take a hike, they walk, never considering that they may be the cause of someone else who appears to be difficult. There are some other ways to respond to difficult people.
Option #2: Ignore difficult people. This works only if you refuse to let the individual get to you. There is a line in Gilbert and Sullivan’s, Iolanthe which goes, “The House of Peers, through the war,/ Did nothing in particular,/ And did it very well” (Act 11). There are times when ignoring the difficult person is by far the best course of action. You can’t fight and die on every hill, nor should you attempt to remake every difficult individual you encounter into someone who is a mirror reflection of your own personality. Giving others a chance to be difficult toughens your emotional hide. When they say or do something which is annoying, let it go. When a matador is charged by a bull, he waves his cape and lets the bull run. He chooses the moment of confrontation. So can you.
You don’t have to challenge every difficult person you meet which makes you equally as difficult as the person you dislike. Jesus did not always confront the difficult people who challenged His authority, who maligned His kindness, and made light of His works. Isaiah the prophet foretold His behavior, saying, “He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth: he is brought as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so he opened not his mouth” (Isaiah 53:7).
There were times when Jesus met the difficult people in His life head on, confronting them openly. He was not always the gentle shepherd but at times the Lion of the Tribe of Judah who drove money changers out of the temple and called the hypocritical religious leaders of his day “whitewashed sepulchers, snakes, and vipers.” But He chose when to confront and when to ignore difficult people.
Option #3: Put some distance between you and the difficult person. That’s the equivalent of putting some folded cardboard in your shoe. This option means that the difficult person is still there; however, you find a comfort zone which allows you to function without being constantly annoyed or becoming difficult yourself.
There are some individuals who will never change. They are not going to move and you are not going to take a hike. You honestly feel that God wants you to stay where you are, so you learn to live with the difficult person. You give yourself some space which makes the situation bearable.
Option #4: Cope with the difficult person in your life, which is akin to removing the nail from your shoe. Dealing with the problem is much different from escaping from the problem. There are many different ways you can deal with the difficult person—some dangerous and deadly and some positive and constructive.
How you deal with the difficult person determines whether you make the difficult person your friend, or at least someone with whom you can work, or whether you make that person an avowed enemy.
Resource reading: 1 Kings 19.