Dealing with Difficult People During the Holidays

Happy Holidays! We just celebrated Thanksgiving, Christmas is around the corner and with the holidays come holiday gatherings, and that means we’re going to see some difficult people.

There are all kinds, aren’t there? Maybe you just have a low grade difficult person in your life. An annoying neighbor or irritating coworker or a passive-aggressive relative or  judgy church lady. Or maybe… As soon as I mentioned difficult people, a situation instantly came to mind because there has been so much pain for so long.

I understand what it’s like to deal with annoying people. I think we all do. But I also understand what it’s like to be hurt by someone deeply, repeatedly. I understand feeling anxious leading up to seeing them and feeling drained, frustrated, and angry for days and weeks afterwards. I understand dealing with the same hurtful situation year after year after year. I understand sitting across from someone, trying so hard to be a “good Christian”, while every fiber of your being is vibrating with effort, and they have no idea. I get it. I understand what it’s like to struggle with difficult people when you just want to have a happy holiday.

I mean, it’s CHRISTMAS! The miracle that was prophesied in Isaiah 9:6

For to us a child is born,

    to us a son is given,

    and the government will be on his shoulders.

And he will be called

    Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,

    Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

That is who we are celebrating at Christmas. The Prince of Peace. Peace that had to come down from heaven because of all the pain and sin on earth. I think what makes dealing with difficult people during the holidays so hard: because of the chasm between our longing and our reality.

The Great Divide

We long for peace, but we experience pain.

In a season where we long to celebrate the arrival of Jesus, to fully and completely experience His Peace on Earth, we are also forced to interact with THESE PEOPLE. Peace Personified came to earth to save us from our sin and bring us new life, and yet we still have to deal with THESE PEOPLE. 

We are designed for peace. As human beings, made in the image of God, who IS peace, we are hardwired for peace. Yet we live in a fallen world. We are surrounded by hurt and hardship, annoying, frustrating, inconsiderate people. Difficult people are hard for us because we feel the tension, that we were not created for discord and conflict and yet we are surrounded by it. We aren’t finding the peace we long for in the people around us, so the whole gets deeper and bigger. The pain gets sharper. This was never God’s design or desire for us. He has something so much better in mind.

God’s Desire

God’s desire has always been for us to live in peace. He wants us to receive peace from Him. His design for humanity was a peaceful existence with one another and with Him in the Garden of Eden. It was sin that introduced conflict and separation. He doesn’t want us to have this inner tension and anxiety. He wants us to live in peace, and He wants to provide that peace for us.

And He lovingly provides that peace by completely getting rid of the difficult people in our lives. Wait. Oops. That’s not right. (Unfortunately.)

We wish He would. We wish He would remove those people from our lives or instantly change them into pleasant people. We also kind of think that the only way we could possibly be at peace is if those people were different or disappeared. That’s because of the difference between our definition of peace and the biblical definition of peace. 

In our language and culture, peace means the absence of conflict or strife. That would require difficult people to be absent or their difficult behavior to be nonexistent before we could experience peace. 

But the biblical concept of peace is connected to a Hebrew idea of completeness and wholeness. Peace is a state of tranquility or quietness of spirit that transcends circumstances. Which means, in God’s definition, we absolutely can have peace even in relationship with difficult people. 

Now, I do want to make one caveat. There are some relationships that are dangerous to us, physically and/or mentally. We cannot be safe or at peace while we remain in those relationships. That’s not what I’m talking about here.

Those of us, most of us, who deal with difficult people need to separate our definition of peace from their presence or behavior. Because peace is not contingent upon other people.


The Scriptures call Him the God of Peace. In Judges, He is referred to as Jehovah Shalom, The Lord is Our Peace. Phillippians 4:7 refers to the peace of God which surpasses all understanding. 

God is the source of all peace. Not other people.

One of the most painful lessons I had to learn is that people are NOT the source of peace. Even pleasant people should not be our source of peace. This is SO HARD. When you, like I, have relationships you expect to be the safe, to be a harbor in the storm, to be a constant source of peace, it is so incredibly hard to have those relationships be sources of pain instead. To have a hole in your heart where a healthy relationship should have been, where a life-giving connection should reside, is horribly hurtful. Yes, it was God’s original design for humanity to be at peace with one another, but people are not our ultimate source of peace, and they were never supposed to be. When we look for peace in people, we become dependent upon them in a way that should only be reserved for God.

PEACE COMES FROM GOD, NOT PEOPLE, and if we want a reliable, consistent source of peace in the midst of any hardship or conflict, we must turn to God. We can only receive peace from Him, through Jesus.

For God so loved the world, He sent His only begotten son. The Prince of Peace. To bring Peace on Earth.

Jesus came to reconcile us to God. Jesus’ life, death, resurrection reunited us with God. He removed the conflict and division we had, and brought peace between us and the Father. 

This peace changed my life. I came to church after high school, broken from painful relationships. I didn’t grow up in a peaceful home. I had no idea what peaceful relationships looked like or if they looked like. And I was looking for peace, for wholeness and completeness, in all the wrong places. Like I said, I understand longing for a safe harbor and not finding one. I understand dealing with the same difficult people pretty much your entire life. But when I heard that God loved us so much, wanted to be in relationship with us so badly, that He came to earth to die for us, I was floored. 

When you have experienced conflict and separation, learning that God went to such lengths to be IN relationship with us, to be reunited with us, to spend more time with us, to adopt us as His children, those truths are so incredibly healing. Being reconciled with God when we have experienced separation in earthly relationships brings wholeness to broken, wounded places. And knowing that we can never be separated from Him again is life-changing. Unlike human relationships where we can be loved one day and rejected the next day, we will never lose God’s love. We can never be separated from the love of Christ.

That is the peace we receive from God through Jesus. An unending source of peace, unshakable love and acceptance from Our Heavenly Father. Perfect Peace that can ONLY come from God. 

When we deal with difficult people, we do not have to depend upon them to provide peace. In fact, we shouldn’t. It will never happen, and in fact, it was never supposed to. Our peace comes from God alone through Jesus Christ. No matter what our circumstances or the brokenness of our relationships on earth, we can count on this unshakable peace that surpasses understanding. Forever and ever. Amen.

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