Talking Point by Peter Holmes
MOST people I know are good people at heart.
Most people I know set out to be fair, just and good to those they come into contact with.
So why is it that I keep running into jerks who honk me, yell at me, snap at me, misunderstand me in conversation, accuse me of prejudices I have never even heard of and simply be a pain in the neck.
A friend of mine sometimes expresses his frustrations with the world by summing it all up in a one-line theory, which explains everything.
“People are idiots … including me.”
It is a funny way of looking at it, but it describes that fact that all of us, on our worst days, are silly enough to do things which make other people’s day less pleasant.
If you’ve been a Christian longer than five minutes you will know that Christians often have to deal with difficult people.
In fact most Christians are difficult people. New Christians, young Christians in particular, find this hard to understand.
But we are on the same team aren’t we?
Why can’t everyone just agree to do good things and help each other, instead of being difficult about it?
The problem of difficult Christians is as old as the Church itself.
Jesus walked about with 12 difficult people.
One of them literally self destructed, one came to the brink before clinging to Christ’s forgiveness and grace and becoming the first pope.
The New Testament speaks of difficulties, divisions and disagreement in the early Church, a problem that continues through the Church’s history.
Christians have become very experienced at dealing with difficult people.
People hate Christ and his Church, what it stands for. Or, at least, what they think it stands for. Christians have dealt with conflict by following Christ’s example.
But I have noticed that a growing number of young Christians seem to struggle with difficult people.
Young people don’t seem to have the social tools to cope with difficult confrontations, difficult people and difficult circumstances.
We don’t have enough annoying people in our lives. We need more. Yes, you heard me. More.
It wasn’t that long ago that people had to go to the cinema to see a movie.
They had to go to the same shops as everyone else in their town.
They had to deal with the same butcher, baker, grocery store and all the frustration of dealing with flawed ordinary people.
People could not, back then, stick in their headphones and ignore everyone around them.
People could not hunch inside their home and order dinner on their iPhone.
People could not simply “un-friend” someone they found annoying or a little uncomfortable.
In short, people had many more annoying people in their lives.
The fact is, they also had many more friends – real friends that is, not just a bunch of people online who happen to like the same episode of Dr Who.
Real friends who we have come to appreciate in spite of their flaws, perhaps even because of them, and they have come to appreciate us in spite of our own flaws.
If we want to be a real friend to others then we too must learn to overcome the irritation and impatience which seems to interrupt so many budding friendships.
By this I do not mean that we should simply accept and live happily with our friends’ flaws.
If we love them we should want them to grow along with us.
This will take patience, genuine honesty, patience and generous forgiveness.
In the forge of irritation and frustration of dealing with difficult and stubborn people, we and our friends will be growing together, and this will yield better and better friendships.
If we overcome the uncomfortable personal situations to see the value and dignity of other people, we open an entirely new world of possible friends and, perhaps more importantly, opportunities to become more generous and loving ourselves.
We grow every time we are stretched.
When our patience is stretched, when our self-control is tested, we are being challenged to be a greater person.
So, as you step out to face yet another day, remember that the people we find most difficult today may well be God’s personal gift to you.
Peter Holmes is an Australian theologian.