Don’t hug a cactus!
That should be lesson #1 from the desert. Lesson #2 would be to always carry enough water.
Those two lessons can also hold true when it comes to dealing with difficult, or “prickly”, people. The truth is while many people will never see a cactus out in nature for as long as they live, all of us will come into contact with difficult people, and we would do well to understand that often interaction with someone who is difficult is an opportunity to pour out the grace and mercy of God on them. It is also a chance to walk through lessons God is using in our lives.
In the book of Luke (6:27-32) Jesus teaches about “turning the other cheek” and loving your enemies. Now, a difficult person may not be an enemy or even a stranger, but the challenges can be similar. In the verses that follow, we see several radical ways to respond and love people well – even when they are pushing every button we have!
1. Give willingly and extravagantly(Luke 6:30).
Think about the love that has been given to us. We have been seen, known and loved right where we are – at our worst moments Christ still pours out His love over us. He loves and “hugs” us even when we are like the prickliest of cacti. When we fully understand His love for us, and the fact that we don’t deserve it, that is when we can lean into loving others well, no matter how difficult they may be. When we recognize this love over us, and the truth that everyone is Imago Dei (made in the image of God), then we can freely give mercy and love people well, even in the midst of hard conversations and moments.
2. Live out the Golden Rule(Luke 6:31).
Treat others the way you want to be treated. Sometimes this can be so very hard. When we slow down and think about this, it causes us to look at our own selfishness. We want to be treated well, but we also want to enact our version of justice or punishment on others. However, when we truly see our own failures and flaws and our deep need for love and grace, we will stop looking for those shortcomings in others. We will be able to diffuse the difficult moment instead of fanning the flames.
3. Surprise them with love(Luke 6:32).
When we only love those who love us, we end up having a very shallow life because it is easy to love those who love us. Loving prickly people is much harder. We find that when we choose to love those who continually behave in a prickly way, our hearts are changed AND theirs as well. When we show our love by listening to understand, instead of hearing to respond, we show them a picture of how God is also interested in what they say and feel.
Fifty-three years of life don’t go by without interacting with many difficult people, but one, in particular, stands out.
While our son was going through chemo treatments I would often accompany him to the clinic. We would be there for 6-8 hours with many other people battling cancer. One woman, in particular, was always there alone. She was so unkind to the nurses and her ‘prickly’ attitude came out in her body language as she turned away from everyone. I remember having the nudge to go take her a glass of water and a cookie (I watched what she grabbed coming into the clinic).
It wasn’t much, but it was enough for her to stop as she left and say thank you and tell me and my son that she felt so alone and confused. No wonder she was ‘prickly’ – she was hurting. That was a creative moment of stepping into the life of a difficult person to show love, and we can all do that in some form or fashion. (I talk a lot about creative ways of navigating life, because we are all creatively made, on my podcast The Creative Table)
Life would certainly be easier if we didn’t have to navigate relationships with prickly people, but the truth is we can all be prickly at times. We need to recognize that often our roots of compassion grow deeper when we love those people well. We grow deeper in humility, grace, and in mercy. And we grow in the skill of “hugging a cactus”!
~ Stacy MacLaren
Get to know more about Stacy and her walk with the Lord! A single mom for six years, she shares her shock of finding out that her son had cancer. Stacy shares her wisdom and experience of walking through her son’s cancer diagnosis to where God has led her today. Listen to her personal story on our podcast this week From Grief & Pain to Hope & Joy.