How to Deal with Difficult People {growing pains}

How to Respond to Difficult People

I think it was 1:45 in the morning when the answer finally came to me. I knelt by my son’s bed and rubbed his legs as we waited for the medicine to relieve his pain.

Growing pains.

For some reason they seem to be worse at night, when all is dark, and we desperately crave crest.

I had been craving rest… and peace… and understanding… and direction.

For reasons outside of my understanding, God has placed a couple people in my life who I have been honestly struggling to love. I have to be truthful — I have wanted to give up on the idea of forming and maintaining friendships with them, but constantly feel God pulling me back onto the path of love and kindness.

… and a couple of times, especially lately, I feel like I’ve sunk my heels into the ground as he pulled me along like a stubborn mule.

Has this ever happened to you?

Normally kindness and encouragement comes very naturally to me. If I see someone hurting, my instinct is to comfort them. I notice conflict around me and truly attempt to make peace. I have actually felt like maybe encouragement was my calling.

However, lately I have questioned every single part of the above paragraph. Because despite everything I try, I just keep coming up empty.


I have extended kindness where kindness has been met somewhat coolly. I have offered friendship where the recipient seemed to form cactus spikes at my every attempt. In using words I thought would encourage, I have actually harmed unintentionally.

I have no idea how to navigate the path of friendship with someone who may not want it.

Like a lump of clay in my hand I have kneaded, and worked to form some sense of why my attempts are suddenly failing completely. I’ve tried to take a step back and evaluate my words to see if I have somehow lost all contact with encouragement and communication.

I’ve thought all of the normal, logical thoughts: “Just walk away. It’s their loss. Some people won’t like you. You can’t be friends with everyone. Some people are happy alone. Why do you think they even want friendship? They are fine as they are.”

Tears have fallen down my cheeks as I have prayed and asked God why He would even place me with difficult people I just can’t reach. In fact, I pleaded with Him, and basically admitted that if He has a bigger plan for me here, I am totally screwing it all up. These people would be better off if I was not in contact with them. Every single thing I try to do out of kindness only seems to cause bitterness to be spewed back to me.

And you know what? It hurts.

… but I just keep coming back to choosing kindness even at the risk of being hurt in return.

“Never let loyalty and kindness leave you!
Tie them around your neck as a reminder.
Write them deep within your heart.
Then you will find favor with both God and people,
and you will earn a good reputation”
~ Proverbs 3:3-4

So as I rubbed my sons legs in the dark, I pondered my own path of darkness. I chuckled a bit as I tried to explain to God that He has placed me in a desert and told me to offer friendship to a cactus — or two. Cactuses? Cacti? You get the picture.

But then I realized that sometimes we have pain. Sometimes we suffer, and sometimes it just flat hurts.

… because these are the growing pains.

Maybe it makes absolutely no difference if the difficult people in my life return friendship or spit in my face. Perhaps the verbal barbs are a way of testing my true motives — whether I am offering kindness with an expectation of kindness in return or whether I am offering kindness because God wants me to do so.

Any time there is growth, there will be growing pains. If you are struggling with a difficult situation in your life, could it be that God is using it to grow your faith? Or, to teach you more about the character of Christ? Or, to mold you into who Christ wants for you to be?

I have to think that these pains are a sign that God is challenging me, and I want to be faithful to where He has placed me. If you are dealing with difficult people today, please don’t be overcome by discouragement. They may never change the way they respond to you — but God is changing your heart through this time. Listen to what He tells you. Let Him speak truth to your heart.

Above all, don’t let the negative barbs of a difficult person speak more loudly than the life-giving truth of God’s Word. I know dealing with difficult people can be especially emotionally draining. Trust me, sweet friend, I’m there with you. But could I offer a hand to you and say to grow in God — even in the growing pains — is the whole point of why we’re here?

This has been my prayer through these last few days, and I pray the same for you, sweet friends. Hang in there, and continue to show kindness, even if you have to lock yourself in the bathroom and thrown a mini-tantrum occasionally.

“God, I am in desperate need of you. I have absolutely nothing within myself that wants to reach out to this person. In fact, I want to run away screaming. But you, God, pursued me when I was unlovable. You sent your Son to die for my sins before I even cared. So, I ask you to help me remember my need of love and to offer kindness to others no matter what they return. I am asking you to use my body as a vessel to extend your love and your kindness. Please show me how I can just stay out of your way and watch your work as only you can. Thank you for allowing me to be part of your plan. Please mold me into who You want me to be.
In Jesus’ name, Amen.”

  • Cindy

    Though my situation is different, I recently went through some tough growing pains within a relationship I treasure. Sometimes, even with your closest friends there are painful conversations that must take place in order to grow and allow Christ to continue to develop HIS character within us. I’ll be praying for you over these next weeks as God works not just within you, but also those in your life whom need His love revealed!

  • Kela Nellums

    Oh how you’re not alone! You and I could share the same skin because its so similar!
    The paragraph about your kindness being met exact thing has happened to me.
    I wanted to just throw my hands up and avoid that person at all costs but yet, she’s put right back in the mix.
    I’d remove myself, even going as far as thinking “I’m not going to let you hurt me again!”, only to be met right back in that same place…cringing with every little piece of communication, wondering if this will be THE time that we fall apart again.

  • Karen

    Beautiful, truthful words. I have often wondered why God puts these difficult people in our lives. Your remedy of a close relationship with God and prayer sure makes things more bearable!