It is not that they are bad people, and most of the time their heart is even in the right place. And yet, almost every encounter with them leaves you just a bit off kilter. You know who I am talking about. They make you wonder if they are pushin’ or pullin’. So how do we deal with these friends?
Recently, some friends and I were having coffee together, and at some point our conversation turned to this one person we know. He is our difficult friend. He is a great guy. God made him. And he has his own strengths. One of his strong points, is this soft heart that desires to include those that sit on the fringe, in his life. Yet sooner or later, he invariably becomes the centre of the universe around which the interaction happens.
And when it does, it sucks the joy right out of the interaction. And so here we were doing the least beneficial thing we could. We were talking about him behind his back.
Eleanor Roosevelt is often credited for saying: “Great minds discuss ideas; average minds discuss events; small minds discuss people.” Regardless of who actually said it, it is something I try to remember. And yet, here we were, discussing our difficult friend.
As I sat there listening to each person talking about their encounter with our friend, I realized that one of our frustrations was that he wasn’t changing. We hadn’t accepted the fact that this is just who he is. The times we confronted our friend, seemed to have no long term affect. He remained our difficult friend.
And those moments where confrontation did happen, were more often unintentional than intentional. Most of the time, we would walk around on eggshells trying not to offend him because he was easily offended. And then one day, when the frustration built up, it would spill over, and… well… spillovers like that never make for good, constructive confrontations. Hurt is the only thing they achieve.
We need to be honest with our friend in a consistent manner. Accepting them for who they are doesn’t mean that we let them run away with every interaction, and ruin the party. It means that we quit trying to change him, and then we won’t be frustrated when he doesn’t change. That takes a lot of frustration out of the relationship right away.
Once you accept him for who he is, and just accept that this may always be a challenge, you embrace that these confrontations may need to happen every time you get together for life. If you can just be honest with him before you get frustrated, it can still be a simple kind reminder that allows the conversation to remain constructive. And yes, sometimes that may hurt him. Be honest anyway. Accept them for who they are, speak before you are frustrated, and then love them anyway. Especially when you know your honesty hurt them.
Don’t let his potential pain keep you from saying what needs to be said. Say it the kindest way you know how to say it, and be extra sure to demonstrate your love for him in those moments. Speaking to our difficult friend before we get frustrated will make it easier to love him the way he is. In fact, it is what we will do if we truly do love him. But especially when you start being honest with your friend, you will have to make sure that you also demonstrate your love for him consistently in a way that he gets.
If you can be honest with him consistently before you get frustrated, and you make an effort to demonstrate that a word of correction is in no way a judgement on them, you are showing them the truest acceptance you can possibly show them. That is true love. Always love your friends.
Changing your friend is not your responsibility. He will only change if he is ready to change. You cannot make that happen. You can accept him. You can be honest with him. And you can consistently love him. But you cannot change him, so don’t try. Let that go. Get good at loving him as he is.
And hey, who knows? If we take this approach and accept him for who he is, be consistently honest with him, and demonstrate our love for him, it just might create an atmosphere where he starts desiring change and have the courage to embrace change. We all know how hard it is to change when we feel the weight of condemnation or insecurity around us. I can bet you, he is not being difficult intentionally. You never know what it is that is blocking him from growth.
A healthy thing to remember? We all have things that make us a little bit difficult to our friends here and there. So always treat people with the kind of grace you hope they will have for you in those moments.