I recently spent a few hours with a person who gets on my last nerve. I went into our time together with a less-than-thrilled attitude as I anticipated her irritating quirks. It’s not that I hate her. I just don’t particularly like her.
We know what to do with the people we naturally love. The Bible is clear about what to do with the people we hate. But what can we do about the people in our lives—and in our churches—who are hard to love? The ones who annoy us?
It could be a person’s communication blind spot (like never thinking to ask questions of others) that rubs us the wrong way. Maybe it’s a high-pitched, nasally laugh that makes our skin crawl. Perhaps it’s her habit of repeatedly checking her phone while in conversation. We might think annoying people are just a part of life, so we suppress an eye roll, tolerate their quirks, and move on. But what if God means to use the people who irritate us as tools in his hands—a bit like sandpaper—for our sanctification? If we approach these relationships seeking to love the people who annoy us, we may be surprised by how God will work.
Look in the Mirror
When we’re consistently aggravated by someone else, it’s worth considering what’s going on in our own hearts. Sins of self-centeredness, jealousy, envy, or pride often rise to the surface. As early as the days of Cain and Abel, man has had a tendency to blame and vilify others because of the sin hidden in his own heart.
When we’re consistently aggravated by someone else, it’s worth considering what’s going on in our own hearts.
After my recent interaction with the acquaintance I find annoying, I asked God to help me understand why I was so bothered by her. I really just wanted him to make the frustration go away. But the Holy Spirit used the Word of God to show me that I was jealous of the esteem she receives from many of our mutual friends. I wanted her honor for my own. It felt a little like heart surgery as the Spirit gently put his finger on this protected nook in my soul that housed the sin of envy under the guise of irritation.
This is part of the painful beauty of real community in the body of Christ. God uses his children—even their quirks and mistakes—to slough the rough edges off each other in ways we could never achieve independently. He’s making us his beautiful bride, transforming us from one degree of glory to another (2 Cor. 3:18)—one loud cackle at a time.
God often uses annoyances as an opportunity for us to dive deeper into other people’s stories so we can cultivate compassion for them. Christ-followers should be first in line to show mercy, because he who has been forgiven much, loves much (Luke 7:47). It’s shockingly easy for us to assume that everyone’s experience is similar to ours, but we all have different factors influencing how we live.
When we don’t understand someone’s behavior or choices, it’s wise to humbly ask questions to find out more about her life story. What sort of childhood did she have? What has his educational journey looked like? What does a regular day involve for her now? How’s his health? Almost always, some detail in another person’s story helps us understand why he operates the way he does.
It’s also worth calling to mind moments when we’ve irritated others over the years. Everyone has these. For instance, I have a strong personality and I’m a first-born daughter. No doubt I’ve steamrolled people and bossed them around—often without even knowing it. Many times, dear family and friends have shared that I hurt them by being pushy or domineering. If I’m not careful, I’m the annoying person someone else is having to talk to God about. When that truth settles in, mercy for others grows in my heart.
Watch God Work
We can each identify people who are hard for us to love, and if we’re honest, we may think that the less we interact with them, the better. They regularly buff our rough spots, just like the relentless grit on a sheet of sandpaper—and it’s uncomfortable. Over and over, we’re tempted toward rudeness, selfishness, or exclusion as we interact with them. But in the redemptive hands of God, irritating interactions can be a tool to transform our hearts. As we ask the Lord to give us a heart that looks like his, he’ll do it.
If I’m not careful, I’m the annoying person someone else is having to talk to God about.
The person who annoys us may not change. But our Spirit-inspired kindness toward her can smooth our interactions and bring delight where there was once disdain. As we lean into these challenging relationships, we get a front-row seat to real transformation. When my heart begins to change toward someone I once found annoying, I know that God is loving her through me, and I have witnessed his redemptive work.
Sometimes, the annoying things other people do are just human idiosyncrasies. Sometimes they’re bad habits. Other times, they really are sins like pride or self-centeredness. God is in the business of using all these things for our good and his glory. He doesn’t waste anything—not even frayed nerves.