Friday, July 26, 2013

U ASKED 4 IT: 5 Ways to Love the "Unlovable"

Today's post is part 2 in a 3 part series featuring topics for which parents have recently requested an encouraging word...

 Let everyone know how considerate you are. The Lord is near.
~ Philippians 4:5, GW ~

If I had one warning to give to Christians about to head into the journey of parenting a child with special needs (as if you could always be forewarned about this becoming a part of your life), it is that your Christ-like character will be tested every single day.  Advocating for our children with family members, neighbors, educators, medical professionals, and even strangers can frequently put us in a contentious position.  How we respond to situations where we find ourselves at odds with others can be the difference between reflecting God's glory to the most unlikely of people, versus merely sinking into the ugliness of the rest of this world.

Early on in our son's diagnosis with severe hemophilia, this became painfully apparent to me.  Having had two nephews who introduced us to the existence of this genetic illness in our family, I had already been volunteering in the bleeding disorders community for years when our son was born.  When he was barely a month old, we were so connected that we already found ourselves at our first patient  conference.  Friends wasted no time connecting us to another set of parents who were a few steps ahead of us. 

While they were very kind to us at the time, it did not take long to learn that this "mentor" couple did not share our world view.  The mother, in particular, took a very abrasive approach towards people with whom she did not agree.  Even if people asked her about her sons' disorder in public, she was caustic with her responses.  She had no trouble getting into fights with doctors and telling them off.  And educators got to enjoy her thorny personality as well.  This approach certainly didn't fit with our belief in Jesus' command to, "Love one another as I have loved you." (John 13:34)  In fact, that's where God led us to establish SNAPPIN' MINISTRIES.

Over the years and a couple more children with diagnoses later, we have learned much about being loving to the "unlovable".  That learning has come courtesy of all sorts of people who have been offensive, rude, judgmental, or who have abandoned us.  It has also been learned through frustrations with multiple educational, medical and financial people.  I think fewer things will push your Christianity to the brink than being sleep deprived, concerned about your child, trying to process all sorts of information, while having to put up with another person who is irritating, not nice, understanding or cooperative.

However, here's how we have attempted to reflect God's glory when we might prefer to strangle another person.
  1. Take a deep breath and apologize BEFORE you blow your stack.  From dealing with insurance companies that refuse to pay bills to school district personnel pulled in on meetings, I have learned that I can diffuse the situation and set a better tone when I start by saying, "I'm just going to apologize in advance.  I know this isn't all your fault, but I am at the end of my rope and I am probably going to lose it while we're talking."  Those simple words have redeemed so many conversations in the past.  This gives the person on the receiving end the understanding that you are not a complete jerk, just someone who cares deeply for their child and who needs to solve a problem. 
  2. Remember that the "unlovable" or difficult person may be having a bad day themselves.  Every human being is a mess in their own special way.  There are just varying degrees of how that might be displayed.  As a Christian, wouldn't you feel terrible if you were nasty to someone only to discover that they had lost a loved one that day, or discovered they have cancer, or were in the middle of a nasty divorce?  Show people the same mercy you would want on your bad days.
  3. Realize that while you are finding someone to be a pain in the neck, another person is likely finding you to be their pain in the neck.  In this life, we all bump into one another.  We have annoying habits and personalities.  That includes you.  If you think that everyone you come into contact with finds you a delight to be around, you are deluding yourself.  There was only one perfect person ever to walk the face of the earth, and He is preparing a place for you in heaven right now.  Again, treat a person you find irritating just the way you would want to be treated by the person who finds you to be irritating.
  4. Be firm, but fair.  Despite our best efforts to be kind, all of us find ourselves in situations where confrontation cannot be avoided.  This is where you need to learn to use phrases like, "I respectfully disagree," "I'm sorry, but that is unacceptable," or "Thanks for your input.  I'll think about that."  Being respectfully assertive is not only necessary when you must go to bat for your child, but if done in a godly manner, may even win you respect in return. 
  5. Have good boundaries.  As I said previously, every one of us has difficult people we must come into contact with in our lives.  How frequently we must be with those individuals can truly tax our ability to cope.  Make certain that you are not "friend-ing" someone on Facebook who you have a tough time putting up with.  Be willing to switch doctors if you are unable to work with your current physician.  And if you want to maintain a relationship with that person who stretches you, "agree to disagree" on the areas that cause the most friction.  All of these little fences-with-a-gate around your heart will save your sanity by allowing in the good while keeping out the bad.
As with any other skill in life, the more you practice these techniques, the better you will get at them.  We all lose our cool with others from time to time, but with a godly approach, our loving behavior can  increase over time.  Of course, praying for the one you dislike is a command straight from the mouth of God that also helps.  (See Matthew 5:44)  Remembering that Jesus died for that other person just the way He died for you ought humble you and motivate you to be loving, no matter who the other person is.  This is how we can better reflect God's glory no matter what our opinion of another person.

PRAY:  Holy Spirit, remind me that there are truly no unlovable people, just unloving attitudes.  Grow me as I put new approaches in place to be loving to those I don't like.  Remind me that you died for the person I like the least, just as you did for me.  Make me a reflection of Your glory to everyone I meet.

~ Barbara Dittrich

Photo Image Courtesy of 123RF

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