Difficult people you work with and how to be Jesus to them
I’ve worked with a lot of great people over the years. However if we’re speaking of difficult people, then I could say there have been three “types”.
The first ”type” is the Underperformer. They just don’t pull their weight. There’s always a reason why something just isn’t done. They are difficult to work with because they waste my time, either I’m waiting for them to give me a piece of work or I end up doing the work they should have done. Either way, they put me in the deadline firing line.
The second “type” is the Intimidator. They use their position or personality to throw their weight around. Here it’s the raised voice, and the stance but there are other ways to intimidate. They are difficult to work with because they make me question myself. Or if they run me down before others, then others question me.
The third “type” is the Micro-manager. They think that I don’t pull my weight. They don’t trust me to do the job. They are difficult because I’m always looking over my shoulder, second-guessing everything I do.
One of my best “ah-ha” moments when it comes to being Jesus to difficult people I work with came unexpectedly in a bible study. We were looking at Jesus’ teaching on love your enemies. The discussion went like this:
Me: “I don’t think I’ve ever asked this before. What’s an enemy?”
Leader: “Anyone who doesn’t act in your best interests”
Me: “No! Now I have heaps of enemies!”
Leader [smiling] “What did you think an enemy was?”
Me: “Someone who was out to destroy me – like in the movies...sure I have difficult
people in my life but they’re not out to destroy me – so I wouldn’t have classified them
as enemies...but this is a game-changer!”
I realised I’d parked this teaching of Jesus in my mind, because I didn’t think I had any enemies. But if an enemy is someone who doesn’t act in my best interests then when the difficult people I work with don’t act in my best interests - in that moment, they’re my enemy. Jesus calls me to love my enemies. That’s going to hard. If an enemy is someone who hasn’t acted in my best interests then by definition they’ve hurt me. It’s tough loving someone who has hurt me. I decided to re-visit Jesus’ teaching on love your enemies anyway [Matthew 5:38-48).
Jesus said: 38 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ [Matthew 5:38] He’s referring to teaching in the Old Testament. “Eye for an eye”sounds harsh but it was intended to limit the cycle of revenge. How many movies are there where acts of revenge just keep escalating? It’s basic human nature that God’s law in the Old Testament tried to curb. Jesus goes on to say: 39But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. [Matthew 5:39] The word: “resist” means to not fight back. By that I think Jesus is saying don’t give in to that natural temptation to get even.
[Jesus] If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. 40And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat For example in Leviticus 24:20 as well. 41 If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles. 42Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.
What I find shocking about those words is the idea of being prepared to suffer harm. Jesus gives examples. Be prepared to suffer harm to your reputation. A slap to the cheek was a personal insult – be ready for another. Be prepared to suffer harm with your legal position. If some sues you for your shirt, then given them your coat. That will cost you, because in those days your coat was what you slept in, and your most valuable garment. Be prepared to suffer harm to your use of time. So if for example a Roman soldier forces you to carry their 45kg backpack for one mile, then carry it for two. And lastly, be prepared to suffer harm to your possessions. Be willing to lend even when you might not get it back. Jesus is getting our attention with the language of exaggeration. But even then, it’s hard to miss the double injustice. Jesus is saying – I know you’ve already been personally insulted, sued and inconvenienced. But - take another hit. Be prepared to suffer harm.
Let me introduce you to an Underperformer I once worked with.
I’ll call him Keith. I was a new graduate working in IT at the time. Keith pitched to get some of our business. I ended up managing the project – it was worth six figures. Keith and I had a good
relationship and we talked about a lot of things. One time Keith even said to me: “I wish I had your faith”. Anyway, Keith seemed eager for the work so I didn’t press him for project updates very often. I was satisfied with his re-assurances that things were on track. About a week out from a major deadline Keith called to say there was no way he was going to make it. It would have been in my best interests (and my boss’s and my company’s) if he’d told me that earlier. I went to tell my boss.
You know what really scared me? How quickly I covered my own butt. I glossed over my shortcomings in project management. To my shame I basically implied it was all Keith’s fault. You see I didn’t want to look bad in my boss’ eyes. I was looking after my own interests. In that sense I wasn’t prepared to suffer harm. People working in business say: “I need to look after my own interests because If I don’t no one else will”. Jesus would agree with that – to a point. Elsewhere in the Bible Jesus says: “Love your neighbour as yourself”. So there is a place to look after our own interests. The danger is when we are so wrapped up in our own interests we’re not prepared to suffer any harm at all.
As a follower of Jesus, I have to admit this is the hard edge for me. I don’t want to be prepared to suffer harm. I’d like to be able to follow Jesus and avoid that. Have my cake and eat it too, as they say. But if I want this Jesus, then I need to accept him on his own terms – then there’s no way around it. I will need to be prepared to suffer harm and it will hurt. But I need to balance this in my head with two other thoughts: Firstly, there is a place to look after my own interests.
Secondly, there is some harm that others do to me that should never be tolerated. [With this second point, if you are reading this and thinking this is or could be happening to you then please, please reach out to someone you trust].
Jesus continues with his teaching: 43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbour and hate your enemy.’ [Matthew 5:43]Interesting this isn’t actually in the Old Testament – the “love your neighbour” bit is, just not the words: “and hate your enemy”3. It seems that the Jewish religious leaders did some embellishment. The flipside of loving those who are for you is to hate those who are against you.
[Jesus] 44But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 that you may be children of your Father in heaven. [Matthew 5:44] Jesus is saying to his audience – you’ve got it all wrong! If you want to be children of your heavenly father, it’s not about hating your enemies. It’s about loving your enemies and praying for them. He doesn’t go into detail here about how to love or what to pray. He’s speaking in principles. It’s the sense of acting in your enemy’s best interests.
[Jesus] He [God] causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. 46 If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? 47And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? 48Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect. [Matthew 5:45-48]
Jesus gives three reasons why they are to love their enemies. Firstly, God cares about their enemies – the rain falls on them too. Secondly, if they don’t love their enemies, then they are no different from an unbeliever (pagan). Naturally as human beings we care for our friends who care for us. God has a higher standard than doing what anyone would do. Thirdly, loving their enemies is the way they can imitate God and be grown up (which is what the word “perfect” means).
I feel the weight of those words. My Father’s heart is to love my enemies. That’s not where my heart naturally goes.
Speaking of Intimidators, let me introduce you to someone I’ll call Chris, who I once worked with. He had a reputation for yelling. You could hear him across the office floor. One day my manager asked me to go speak to Chris. It was a minor issue so I didn’t think there would be any yelling involved. The conversation started fine. I was sitting down, explaining something. Then Chris started to get worked up. He cut me off midstream, stood up, towered over me – and he yelled. I was so shocked and angry - I just did that “speak to the hand” gesture and walked off. Chris chased me across the office floor yelling: “Come back! Don’t you dare walk off!” It would have been comical if I hadn’t been so angry.
I went straight to my manager’s office. My manager said: “So I hear you’ve been talking to Chris” with a smirk on his face. We then had a gossip fest about all the people Chris had yelled at. On the bus on the way home I thought: “Chris – what an idiot”. About a week later I saw Chris waiting for the lift and suddenly I had to re-tie my shoelace. I couldn’t stomach the thought of riding the lift nine floors with him.
It would have been in my best interests if Chris had heard me out, and if he hadn’t yelled at me. Jesus says to love your enemy and pray for those who persecute you. Two things I failed numerous times with Chris. I could have prayed for him, for a start. I could have apologised for walking off – rather than sidestepping any responsibility and blaming everything on Chris. I could have not gossiped about Chris with my manager (gossiping was just my way of feeling better about myself). I could have caught the lift and said a polite hello.
When I think about being prepared to suffer harm and being prepared to love in return; not in the abstract, but with specific difficult people in mind, to be honest I feel overwhelmed. I feel overwhelmed because I’m so aware of how I continually fall short. When I start to feel like this I come back to these words: “You are more sinful than you could dare imagine and you are more loved and accepted than you could ever dare hope.”
I find these words tremendously comforting. God has a much better sense of my sin, failures and shortcomings than I do and yet I’m still loved and accepted. I also feel overwhelmed because loving my enemies is so hard. They’ve hurt me. I just don’t know if I have it in me to love them. But one place I can start is prayer. If I could turn my thoughts into a prayer it would be something like:
Thank you, that when I was your enemy you sent Jesus to die for me. I admit that it’s hard for me to love my enemies, to love those who hurt me. Please help me to love like you love. To be prepared to suffer harm, to be prepared to love in return. I couldn’t find out whom to attribute these words to, which is why the author is unacknowledged. Philippians 4:6 “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God”And when I fall short, please help me to remember your love for me is secure.
Written by Stephanie Bakari
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