I opened my email to find a weekly faith-based newsletter in my inbox. I originally signed up for email updates to support my friend that writes for their organization. I am sure there are those that follow me simply because of the friend card (thanks for the support buddy!). Yet, the more and more I read those newsletter, the less and less I felt like I wanted to be a part of her journey.
And to be perfectly honest, after the last newsletter, I furiously hit the unsubscribe button. I was done with reading my friend’s thoughts. My blood pressure shot up after every read. Yet, somehow, I continued to get those pesky newsletters in my inbox. And each time, I hit unsubscribe, thinking it was the last time I would receive it.
The muses of my friend continued to haunt my emails.
At one point, I considered calling the organization and demanding I be taken off the email list. Then, a shift in perspective hit me and it made me think of a time I had to deal with the decision of exiling myself from certain people or trusting God to use me in their lives.
We have all met people who “rub us wrong.” They are difficult people to be in community with and even though we know that often times there are deeper hurts than we can see on the surface, we would much rather unfollow to their lives than be willing participants.
Yet, God has really worked with me in this area recently. I don’t always know when to stand my ground or to walk away, but I am learning we must listen to God’s prompting when He places certain ones in our lives.
I have had the opportunity to meet a lot of new people over the past year. Just recently, I had the chance to really be pushed out of my comfort zone and mingle with people of glaringly different personalities than me. When I first met this particular individual, my initial response was to avoid, avoid and avoid.
She was a brash young woman. She was harsh in her speech and approach to the others. Negativity was ever-present on her lips, the entire group’s demeanor drastically changed in her presence. I wanted to unfollow the girl in front of me, to walk this way when she walked that way. Yet, something happened on the last day that made me regret my decision to avoid.
In a somewhat forced conversation, I began talking to her about things of minor significance; somehow, the conversation turned serious. The usually brash young women spoke five words that forever changed my perspective on how I interact.
“I am actually very lonely.” She confessed.
My heart broke. I was immediately under conviction for my lack of attention to this young women. Dear God, please forgive me for selfishly wanting to check out when you obviously wanted me to check in.
Relationships are messy. Sometimes we have to just go grab some napkins and clean up the mess in front of us. Yet often times, when we are faced with difficult people we decide to turn the other way and avoid at all cost.
How many opportunities have we missed with hurting people because we want to avoid the messy part of the relationship?
Relationships are a slippery slope and I understand there are times we must avoid potentially dangerous relationships. There are people I must avoid because of the strongholds I still fight. But in many cases, it is our excuse.
Jesus did not unsubscribe to people’s lives because they had issue. He did not look at the woman at the well and think, “There is just too much drama there. I think I will go elsewhere for water.” Jesus engaged her and I believe He asks the same of His children.
We need to engage those that believe differently. We need to engage those that are difficult and messy. We need to minister to those God puts into our lives, to demonstrate love to all people- enemy and friend.
I am so quick to claim that avoiding toxic people is what is best, yet many times, I never even try with them. I believe we must try with those hurting. We must pray for them and we must speak truth in their lives.
How are we to sow the fields when we refuse to get dirty? How do we hold our brothers and sisters in Christ accountable when we refuse to engage with them?
Now, going back to the newsletter fiasco. I no longer see the newsletter as a horrible thing in my inbox. My friend and I do not see eye to eye on much of anything. We may never agree on theology but cutting her out of my life because I do not agree with her choices will not built or restore God’s kingdom. I can still engage in her life, to continue to speak truth in the face of distorted theology and a hurt that goes deeper than many can fathom. I can still love my friend. I have to try to engage in a life-giving, God-honoring way. And this looks different in each season, but I don’t think avoiding someone who is challenging is always the best solution. We cannot avoid everyone, so you might as well figure out how to engage them.
Sometimes, God calls us to roll up our sleeves and get dirty.
How do you handle difficult people? Do you avoid? Do you engage?