I find in Jesus, the perfect model for being a person of Grace. In fact, He is not just a person of Grace, He is Grace.
I think, for most of us, we want to be loving and extend Grace. Yet, when it comes to certain types of people and behaviors, we get frustrated. How do I give Grace to that person who drives me up the wall? What about the person who wrongs me over and over again? Does giving Grace mean I become a doormat for Jesus, devoid of having boundaries, never saying “no,” or creating space from certain types of people.
These are difficult and important questions that everybody wrestles with. Hopefully this post can shed some practical insight on how to extend Grace to difficult people.
o.o1 – At times we are the difficult person- The very Grace that we are having difficulty in giving or are not sure we should even give in the first place, is the very same Grace we need to be given. Chances are, right now, there is a person who is trying to figure out what it looks like to give Grace to you. The very issues you are wrestling with in giving Grace to difficult people may just be the same kind of issues someone is wrestling with in giving Grace to you. Those who truly know their deep, forever need of Grace are the ones most willing to extend Grace to others.
0.02- Grace is unconditional- We live in a deeply conditional world. You do this, I do that. If you do this, I’ll do that. You change, I will change. You take the first step, I’ll take the next. You say “sorry,” I’ll forgive. You change your behavior, I’ll draw closer. This is why Grace is so difficult and revolutionary. It goes against so many of our relational impulses. For many, Grace is blasphemous, offensive, and unrealistic. You expect me to do what? Grace is unconditional. There is no condition for which it cannot and should not be extended in some form or another. There is never a moment where Grace is not the best response. In fact, the only times when Jesus was recorded specifically in the Bible as being angry, His anger was directed exclusively at people who withheld Grace from others. You want to know what angers Jesus? Sin? Nope… withholding Grace! Apparently, that’s worse than sin itself.
0.03 Grace protects your being- Grace enables you to give to the ungiveable, love the unlovable, and forgive the unforgivable without loosing yourself. Grace is not the absence of being hurt, offended, or used, it is your divine capability to give Grace non-the-less. Ironically, it is in the withholding of Grace that offense, hurt, and being used are given life and power to stain and erode within you. Giving Grace disarms all offense. It is not denying nor pretending their is not a problem. Rather, it is the sure solution to the effect of the problem on and within you, and the only potential solution to the problem with or within the other person.
Grace costs you nothing to give because it is supplied by your Father, you cannot out-give the supply. It is what shelters you, protects you, and guards you in all your relationships. It is what keeps you from becoming the very person you are having difficulty trying to deal with.
Conditional love, however, lowers your shields to the hurts of others and gives them harbor and perpetual life within you. Conditional love grows the disappointment, resentment, and bitterness that comes from unmet expectations. Grace does not always say, “yes.” but refuses to say “never.” Grace is not the absence of boundaries, but an understanding that most boundaries that constrict the flow of Grace are not boundaries but a barrier.
The true danger in your relationships is not in the giving of Grace, but in the withholding of it. Withholding changes nothing and erodes most everything. Grace changes everything and erodes nothing. It is this irrational, indiscriminate compassion that is called Grace. It defies everything we have learned and believe works in a conditional world.
0.04 Grace confronts religious pride and injustice- There is a purpose in giving Grace to difficult people (of which we all are difficult at times). It is to heal, restore, and reconcile. Some difficult people are difficult because of their pride and/or behaviors of injustice. Ironically, Jesus confronted these types of folks very sternly, and yet gave great compassion, patience, and understanding to broken, sinful people.
What do people of pride and injustice have in common? Their refusal to be people of Grace, receiving it and giving it. They take away, when giving is what should be done. They punish when correction will do. They hold out rules and regulations when freedom and encouragement is what would gain the influence. They pretend they have it all together, when they don’t. They condemn, judge, and sow seeds of guilt and shame into people’s lives.
Yet, Jesus was and is Gracious to these folks nonetheless. They very fact that He didn’t go any further than giving them harsh comments of confrontation, stopping short of drop kicking them into hell, shows His abundant Grace. Sometimes, the deepest expression of Grace to these kinds of difficult people is in what we stop short of doing and saying. Walking away, kicking the sand of your feet can be a deep expression of Grace.
See, Grace is most attracted to people who know deep down they need it. Jesus spends most of His time making sure the broken, humbled, and hurt receive it instead of trying to convince the proud and unjust to receive it and give it.
With some people, the more you give Grace, the harder their spine stiffens. The more you try to confront their pride and injustice, they more they dig their heals into the ground. What should we do? Give Grace anyways, and still confront when necessary. Yet, spend more of your time extending Grace to people who aren’t hell bent on living against it in their lives and in the lives of others.
0.05 Grace does not invite sure physical danger- Giving Grace to difficult people doesn’t mean that if you are physically abused or are in a physically abusive relationship, you should just take it. It’s one thing to give Grace knowing that you might be endangering yourself physically as Amy and I did in adopting two of our daughters from China. The plane could have crashed, we could have been hurt traveling in sketchy parts of China etc. But, to invite sure physical (or even emotional) danger to you or those you love in the name of Grace is likely unwise. You can still give Grace to difficult people while creating necessary physical and/or emotional space. A good rule of thumb is, if in giving Grace you put yourself in a circumstance that will certainly damage you ability to give it because of the presence or level of physical or emotional harm, than chances are, you need to create some distance that allows you to give Grace, but not be harmed or have harm brought to the ones you love in the process. The stronger you are in your sense of identity in Christ, the more you will be able to give Grace to emotionally toxic people without losing yourself in the process. It is Grace that grows this strong sense of identity in Christ in you.
0.06 Grace receives from God and gives to people- With God, it is better to receive than to give. But, with people, it is better to give than to receive. Spend your time allowing God to be the supply of comfort, security, value, worth, applause, happiness, meaning, courage, etc. in your life. He is the One who can meet these needs completely and consistently. With God, spend much more of your time receiving the needs in your life than trying to give to Him.
Yet, with people, spend much more time giving to them from your well of Grace, instead of turning to them to be your supply. When we turn to others to receive, we create a level of “expectation” into the relationship. When we turn to people to give, we create a level of “uncondition” into the relationship. It is impossible to to give Grace and yet have connected expectations in return. If Grace is not given unconditionally, it is not Grace.
Difficult people, in some ways, become much less difficult when we aren’t trying to change them or get them to meet some relational expectation. Rather, we are simply trying to give Grace, and in doing so, we bring to the table the very thing that actually changes everything. When we stop trying to change and get certain things from people, we actually can bring to bare the one thing that can change people and behaviors… Grace.