Who’s That In the Guest Room? Dealing with Difficult People, Recoil to Reconciliation

Your house may or may not have one. But every soul has a guest room. A place that hosts the people in our lives. Some we are glad to have. Others, not. My poor dad tried to pack a lot in my thick head. Much has not stuck. This did. “Better to have an unwelcome house guest than an unwanted tenant.”  Translation, we can’t avoid difficult people in our lives, hosted now and then. But be thoughtful how you treat them, lest they stay with you forever and ever. Now we don’t have to talk about the folks in your guest room, your life, that give you joy or pleasure. But who else is in there? How do you cope with them?

It’s an age old issue. Even Jesus knew about it. ‘Dealing with the difficult, the destructive, the dim and doggoned cuss-ed. Let me tell you about Milton. He saw a young fellow eager to open his own business. The young man got off to a great start. Soon, he needed more capital. Milton stepped in, became a “silent partner.” The young upstart poured it on at work. Things went great. ‘Good enough to take a vacation. When he returned, Milton had changed the locks and taken over the business! Young Edward went to a lawyer. Options: #1. Shut down, liquidate, sue. That would fix old Milton. But also take down customers, suppliers, many friends in business. Option #2. Walk away. Edward walked away. But he did not forget, or forgive. Now in my mind’s eye: Edward fusses to folks about Milton. Time passes. Eventually Milton calls. “Let’s lunch!” “No chance!” Days pass. Ed rehearses 100X how he’d like to tell-off Milton. He takes the lunch. But he’s polite instead. Milton apologizes for the hurt and damage he caused. He admits the business is struggling, invites Ed back. Ed accepts the apology and the invitation. Both are healed, the business made whole. Isn’t that great? …Here’s what really happened. No lunch. No reconciliation. Milton did the same thing to several other folks. All his businesses failed. And Edward became ever untrusting, or at least guarded, never got over the hurt, and the affair marked him the rest of his life. Milton, the unwanted house guest, became the unwanted tenant in his soul. I know. I saw it in my dad’s eyes for years. Now: everybody’s got their Milton: more, or less! Someone stresses you, bugs you, twists you, damages or diminishes you. How do you deal with this, this presence in your guest room?

Jesus knows about all this. (I’ve already said so.) It’s a very important part of his Sermon on the Mount. Christ catalogues a list of common suspects. And gives us sacred, but practical advice on how to cope. Difficult folks in church! 5: 23-24 … You’re altar bound, gift in hand; first, go make peace with your brother offended. OR, Difficult folks who threaten you. 25-26 Next, those who hurt you physically: bullies, abusers at home, angry parents, road-ragers. 39 Takers: of your things, money, good name, good will. 40 Fifth, Demanders: who make us do/work what is often theirs… the bad boss, leader, even friend. 42 Ahh, the Askers: by phone, doorbell or mailbox, the gimme & won’tya folks. Finally, 43-44 those Christ just calls enemies. They delight in our failures, list our faults, magnify our mistakes, dream our demise. Every leader, teacher, pastor, manager or merchant at any level knows these folks. You do too. Jesus counsels: make peace, make friends, turn the other cheek; put boundaries around anger, never fret at what you give away, meet enmity with amazing love and persecution/unfairness with passionate, unassuming prayer. Whew! Did you get all that? …Let’s go a little further, dive a little deeper.

Jesus knows where we need to grow, dealing with difficult people. He knows our gut reactions. “You’ve heard it said, ‘You shall not kill.’ I say every one who’s angry’ll be liable to judgment.” Christ knows we wanna get even, and then some. “You’ve heard it said, 'An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ I say…” The Master knows we’ve twisted Heaven’s intent. He’s not contradicting the OT, he’s explaining it. We distort the lesson like we’re obligated or justified/permissioned to “Do unto others just what they’ve done unto us.” (And then some.) In fact the Hebrew teaching counsels proportion. Don’t take a life for an eye, or a soul for a tooth. Jesus teaches, don’t use an A Bomb to ward off a gnat. And put your whole heart into every effort to clean up what’s messed up between us. You gotta do better than bring emotional paper towels to clean up relational oil spills! The starting line in dealing with difficult people hasn’t changed much since Jesus’ day. We still just want to get even. It’s the end line that Jesus wants to change. He wants us to get healthy, get peace in our souls and connection in our community. He knows we get carried away when we lash out. He wants us to get caught up in reaching out instead.

Dealing with the difficult… is difficult. Yet it’s uncomplicated. Jesus says that on the Mount. It is simple. It’s just not easy. It’s a cliché. But it’s as demanding/extraordinary as love-in-the-clinch! It involves the most radical conversion for which Christ asks. This is it. You can’t put yourself first. You can’t stay where you are and think you can move forward. You have to decide to make things better, not worse. The right-cheek-striker gets your left cheek, not your left hook. The one who wants your shirt gets your coat, too… because you gave it to him/her. You give a second mile to the one who asked/demanded one mile… when you felt you couldn’t take another step. You don’t beat the literal hell out of your enemies, you devote yourself to loving the light heaven into them! Wonder of wonders, this doesn’t deplete you, it makes your life complete!

Two examples will do. In the 90’s Hutus slaughtered Tutsis by the 1000’s. In the end 100,000 were tried for genocide. Deborah had lost her son. His murderer came to her. A young man himself, he confessed; ‘invited her to charge him, saying, “Let them deal with me as they will, I have not slept since I shot him. Every time I lie down I see you praying, and I know you are praying for me.” She said, “You are no longer an animal, but a man taking responsibility. I do not want to add death to death. But I want to restore justice by replacing the son you killed. I am asking you to become my son. When you visit me I will care for you.” Today, he remains Deborah’s son. Simple, but far from easy! Costly, but priceless.

Let’s come closer home to get the picture. B. B. Taylor writes of Will’s 1st birthday. Presents, cake, cute. Will dancing delight, adults looking on. Finally Jason, 7, has had it. He barges into the adoring circle, shoves Will down. Will cracks his head. Will’s stunned. ‘Never known hurt like this ‘til now. ‘Whimpers. ‘Gets up.  ‘Toddles to Jason. He knows full well Jason’s been mean, his hurt undeserved. What to do, the 1 yr. old wonders. He closes in on Jason. ‘Lifts both arms, embraces Jason, lays down his head on him.

Isn’t that what God does for us with Jesus on the cross? You see, we are God’s difficult people, and he has shown us how he deals with the difficulty. He would have us do no less for each other.

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