Have you ever prepared yourself properly for spending time with difficult people? During the holidays, we often have more gatherings to attend, and more “opportunities” to spend time with difficult people. But we also pack our schedules with event after event after event. We stay up late online shopping, wrapping gifts, watching Hallmark movies, and drinking eggnog. We text our friends and family, commiserating about our mutual dislike of the difficult people in our lives, which only increases the frustration we feel when we are finally reunited with the person in question.
What if we approached this differently? What if we made a practical, biblical plan to prepare for peace rather than conflict? If you would rather spend the holidays filled with joy and peace instead of anger and frustration, here is a 3 Part Plan to Prepare for Peace this holiday season.
How to Prepare for Peace
#1 Rest Your Body
You guys. I am never nice when I feel like trash. Are you? When I’m tired, busy, hungry, dehydrated, I’m just not nice. I’m not even nice to people I like let alone difficult people. If I stay up late, go to every event possible, drink PSLs every day, and top off every meal with Christmas cookies, there is no possible way I will be ready for rudeness.
We all do it. We get extra busy during the holidays. We run ourselves ragged. We don’t sleep. We don’t eat well. We don’t drink enough water, and then we show up at holiday gatherings feeling awful, unable to hold our tongues or control our responses.
The truth is, dealing with difficult people requires physical energy. We need to do some honest “difficult people math.” Ask yourself: how much is interacting with this person going to cost me? Do I have that much energy in the bank? If not, you better start making some deposits.
I think it’s interesting that we see Jesus taking breaks in the gospels. If there was anyone who could go 24/7, and deal with every difficult person in creation without growing weary, it would be God of the Universe, but He didn’t. He would go away from the crowds regularly, setting a powerful example for us of how to live within our human limits.
Jesus even told the disciples to rest. In Mark 6:31 it says, “because so many people were coming and going that they did not even have a chance to eat, he said to them, “Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.” The disciples had just gone out to preach and heal, and Jesus knew they would be depleted. He didn’t say, “if you were a stronger Christian, if you had more faith, you would be able to pull it together and continue serving people.” He knew they would need to replenish our energy stores before serving again.
The same goes for us. Life is depleting. If we are going to take on tasks that are more taxing than usual (like dealing with difficult people), we need to replenish our energy stores. There are basic ways we can all make “deposits” and prepare our bodies for difficult interactions. Drink water. Get a good amount of sleep. Eat some nourishing food. Get outside. Move your body. Don’t pack your schedule. Take time to rest.
This will look different for every individual. Take some time to think through ways to make “deposits” into your physical energy bank, and prioritize those practices. We cannot be peacemakers with difficult people, if we don’t rest our bodies.
#2 Refresh Your Mind
In Philippians 4:8 it says, “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.” It can be hard to keep our mind on such things when we are anticipating time with difficult people. Our anticipation of their bad behavior takes over. Our minds are flooded with negative thoughts and our conversations are filled with complaints.
Difficult people make our blood boil, and we feel like if we don’t vent, we might explode. But the thing about venting is it might keep you from exploding, but it doesn’t actually reduce the anger or frustration. It doesn’t stop the boiling. Think of a tea kettle. The vent on a tea kettle stops it from exploding when the water inside is boiling. But you know what the vent doesn’t do? It doesn’t reduce the heat.
Complaining can never change our hearts. Complaining or venting can never make us less angry or irritated or hurt. In order for us to prepare our minds for peace, we need to turn our thoughts away from the negative and toward all things true, noble, pure, lovely, and admirable.
Let me clarify that complaining is NOT the same as seeking advice or seeing a therapist. You may need to talk all this out with someone wise. You may need counseling to heal from this relationship or to learn how to approach it in a healthier way. Wise counsel or good therapy is a great way to refresh your mind and to turn our minds to more positive things. Complaining is not.
Complaining is a temporary release, “blowing off steam,” but it won’t turn down the heat. If we want to be peacemakers, we need to stop complaining about the difficult people in our lives, and we need to stop listening to other people complain about them, as well.
This is what I call “catching bad attitude germs.” When one of my kids get grouchy or complainy, it doesn’t take long before the other kids get grouchy or complainy. It even infects me! Which is why I started telling them to stop spreading their “bad attitude germs.” Turns out I’m smarter than I thought. According to Trevor Blake, listening to too much complaining is bad for your brain in multiple ways. In his book, Three Simple Steps: A Map to Success in Business and Life, Blake shared how neuroscientists found that when you listen to someone being negative, “you’re more likely to behave that way as well.”
Of course, God has always known this. Proverbs 22:24-25 tells us, “Do not make friends with a hot-tempered person, do not associate with one easily angered, or you may learn their ways and get yourself ensnared.”
With all that in mind, you might need to tell your favorite person to spill the tea with, you aren’t going to participate in that this year. If you are going to refresh your mind, you need to be careful of what other people put in it. In order to prepare for peace, we need to cut out complaining.
#3 Remain In Christ
We cannot merely rest our bodies and refresh our minds without remaining in Christ. After all, we are like tea kettles, and we need our internal heat to be turned down. The only One who can turn down the heat completely is Jesus Christ.
There are several benefits to remaining in Christ when it comes to dealing with difficult people. When we spend time with Jesus, we receive God’s peace, a wholeness and completeness that transcends understanding. That peace is what keeps our blood from boiling, what turns the heat way down, what relieves that inner conflict and tension once and for all.
In John 15, Jesus says, “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” If we remain in Christ, we act differently. As this verse tells us, we bear much fruit, the fruit of the spirit. Apart from Him we can do nothing. We can’t respond with love, joy, peace, patience, gentleness, or self-control. We simply CANNOT be peacemakers without Jesus.
Another benefit of remaining in Christ, specifically spending time in the Word, is how God’s truth reduces the power difficult people have over us. If we spend time in the Bible, God’s Word will speak louder to us than the words of others. If we know the Bible, what they say and do won’t change what we know is true about us, it won’t shake our worth or identity.
Additionally, if we spend time with Jesus, we also feel understood. If there is anyone who understands your hurt, it’s Jesus. He knows this difficult person and every single thing they have said and done. He knows exactly what you have gone through. He also knows what it is like to be rejected and wounded by loved ones. He came to bring Peace on Earth, and he was mocked, beaten, murdered by His own. He continues to be rejected by the people He suffered and died for. When we remain in Him, we experience comfort and healing from one who deeply understands our pain.
Lastly, when we remain in Him, we can have hope. Some of us have stopped hoping for change. I know I have. Or I had. I was talking to one of my kids about a difficult person we both know, and my child asked what we could do to fix things. I said, “Nothing. I don’t think there is anything we can do” My child asked me, “Mom, we couldd pray about it. God can do anything, right?” Oof. You’re right, kid. If there is anyone who can change the situation, it’s Jesus. He died, was buried, and rose again. If He can come back from the grave, He can bring new life to any relationship. We need to remain in HIm, and not lose hope for hearts to be softened and miraculous change to come.
Listen, celebrating the season with difficult people is hard, but we can prepare for peace by resting our bodies, refreshing our minds, and most importantly, remaining in Him. Peace comes from God, not from people. Only He can truly prepare us to make peace with difficult people.