There are a few people in each of our lives that are, well, to be honest…difficult.  

They are like oil to our water, fingernails to our chalkboard, or rain to our parade. I don’t know about you, but when I think about the phrase “difficult people” a few faces come to mind.  God has a loving purpose for them, and some kind of purpose for them being in our lives, even when we don’t know what it is!

To be clear, it’s good to have healthy boundaries in our lives and interactions with people, so it’s okay to have reasonable limits in our relationships with difficult people. There is also a profound difference between someone who is abusive and one who simply “gets under our skin”. God does not look kindly on anyone who hurts someone else and wants to protect and deliver us from dangerous people and situations. 

Yet, difficult people are a reality in life, and we will all have experiences with them. In our world we have heard and somehow accepted that we have a binary choice when dealing with difficult people: either fixate on them in frustrating anger or write them off in avoidance.  But what if there were another path for us to walk upon to find peace with and acceptance of the difficult people in our life?

I was taking a shower when I happened to notice the directions for the shampoo I was using.  Now, it’s important to note that when I shower, I sometimes reflect on the events of my day. That day I happened to be thinking about how to respond to a person whom I would call “difficult”.  I realized I had been stuck on thinking about them, how inappropriate and off-putting they were, and how grating they have been to me. I was rapidly coming to the place of simply writing them off and coming up with ways to avoid them. 

Then I read the shampoo bottle and had an “aha!” moment. The bottle stated:

Shampoo, rinse, then condition.  

Through the object lesson of a shampoo bottle God was revealing a new way to deal with difficult people in my life.  The truth is that I can’t control any person—difficult or otherwise— or their behavior. I can, however, turn to God and receive His power to change my thinking about and emotional responses to that person. Let me elaborate using the step-by-step instructions:


Shampoo:

The reality is that I can choose to bring my thoughts and feelings about this person to God, who is able to cleanse my mind and emotions of the poison that comes from the unhealthiness of avoidance or fixation. My shampoo bottle uses the phrase “massage on wet hair”.  It’s a good thing to allow God to massage our minds and hearts with His Presence and Word on a daily basis. God loves to renew our minds and help us to see people through His eyes rather than through our jaded humanity.

Rinse:

There is a release that comes from confessing the need for forgiveness and a fresh bathing of God’s presence King David once wrote “Who can discern their own errors? Forgive my hidden faults” (Psalm 19:12). It’s spiritually healthy to do a check for blind spots in our lives. Physically or emotionally diminishing someone else misses God’s mark for valuing all human beings, whether or not we agree with them.  We are forgiven and cleansed by the living water of God’s presence, that purifies us from the negative thinking we have from time to time regarding other people. Remember, we may be someone else’s difficult person, so reflecting on and presenting our own faults and failings is essential to becoming the person God intends for each of us to be. 

Condition:

Finally, there is a conditioning of our soul that happens when we pray. Pray for the difficult people in your life, even when you may initially feel reluctant to do so. Pray for specific needs that they may have and even pray God’s blessing on them. Ask God to help you pray without judgment or passive-aggressive words or thoughts about them. The fringe benefit of this kind of pray is that it also changes us from the inside.

There is also the conditioning of our responses that takes place when we allow God to oversee our interactions with difficult people. When you come in contact with a difficult person, ask the Holy Spirit to empower your emotions and words. Pay attention to the quiet promptings of God’s voice inside your soul, and follow His lead. God wants to shape and condition us to be more like him in every aspect of our life so that this phase from the Bible becomes more and more real in us:

“For in him we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28)

Finally, on many shampoo bottles there is an additional instruction: 

Repeat!

This is not a “one and done” exercise, but an ongoing transformational process that God initiates and continues as we cooperate with Him each day. 

Allowing God to shampoo, cleanse, and condition our being will not only make us better people, but it may even influence someone else in a healthy way.

Blessings to you!
Chris Atkins