By Dr. Harold Sala
But Jonah ran away from the LORD and headed for Tarshish. Jonah 1:3
You need a pair of shoes and you don’t have much money so you go to the store and check out what’s available. Your funds are pretty limited so you want something that feels good, looks good, and fits your budget. After trying several pairs, you find one that seems to fit the bill so you make the purchase and start wearing them.
A few days later, however, your left heel begins to hurt when you put your weight on the shoe. So you remove your shoe and take a look inside. A nail has worked its way through the sole from the heel. At that point you have four choices, (1) ignore the pain—pretend that it doesn’t exist, (2) take some cardboard, fold it several times and put it in the shoe, (3) take a hammer and drive the nail down and remove it, or (4) take the shoes back for a refund or a replacement.
Difficult people are similar to the problem of having a nail in your shoe, and the options that you have in dealing with them parallel your responses to the nail in your shoe. Let me preface the solutions by pointing out the fact that difficult people, like polluted air, congestion on our highways, and viruses which have no cure, are here to stay. You can’t escape them. They needle you, they feel compelled to point out your flaws, certify the obvious when it comes to recognizing your mistakes, and to make your business their business.
You cannot escape them; you can only decide how you deal with them. On today’s commentary, let’s consider the first response.
Option #1: Take the shoes back for a refund or exchange them for another pair. A lot of people do just that. They divorce. They quit their jobs. They move from a difficult neighborhood to another one. In the movie Animal Crackers, Groucho Marx sings, “Hello, I must be going./ I cannot stay, I came to say, I must be going./ I’m glad I came, but just the same,/ I must be going.” (As quoted by Mark Rosen, p. 35). Those lines may be funny in a musical but the humor rapidly fades when it comes to the severing of relationships. Why? People are not shoes. People bond with other people emotionally, physically, and spiritually, and you don’t bond with a pair of shoes which you can take back or discard if you don’t like the workmanship or they don’t quite fit.
God never intends for His children to turn and to escape difficult people by running from them. There is no “return line” when it comes to taking a difficult child back for a refund or an exchange. Some people are always on the run, going from job to job, from one friendship to another, and, sadly enough, from one marriage to another. Once a pattern of running from difficult people has been established, folks who are runners never settle down. At the first sign of trouble, or the first argument, they walk out. When faced with the decision to tough it out or take a hike, they quietly and sometimes not so quietly leave.
A final thought: Difficult people perform you a great service. Like a stone which is polished by the turbulence of a current which carries it down the granite riverbed, the abrasiveness of difficult people polishes and refines your life.
When I was in China in the home of Wang Ming Dao, I told him, “Many years ago I read your book, A Stone Made Smooth.” And this godly man, who had spent 22 years of his life in prison where he met a lot of difficult people, smiled and with a twinkle in his eye replied, “Stone still not yet smooth!” He knew the process of God’s working in our lives, utilizing difficult people, continues as long as we live.
Resource reading: Jonah 1