As I was squeezing the lemon into my iced tea at the back counter of a Panera restaurant in Florida, a man with jet-black dyed hair and the air of a used car salesman approached me with a wry smile. “I saw you reading your Bible in the back booth,” he said. “I love my Bible and I read it all the time.”
“That’s great,” I said, still squeezing the last bit of juice out of my lemon wedge. It truly would have been great if the conversation didn’t take a sour turn.
He explained that God told him he was on a mission to promote one of the Republican candidates, and he was sure that since I was a Bible reading woman I backed his man. In what seemed like an instant flash, this man turned on me with a vengeance when I calmly told him I didn’t support his candidate. He threw everything but the bucket of lemons at me; verbally abusing my intellect, political awareness, and even my faith. Good thing I’m no dummy. I explained that I’m actually pretty smart, incredibly faithful and attuned to God’s voice and guidance, and even worked on Capitol Hill when I was a youth. I think what made him the maddest is that I calmly answered every jolted jab he threw my way—and when he realized he couldn’t convert me—he was through. (Actually I was through, and had to excuse myself from his rude red face!)
When I sat down at my booth I realized I was exhausted in a sad sort of way. This man was annoying. He was arrogant, and used bullying techniques to draw unsuspecting people into his way of thinking. I began to think about how challenging it is to deal with annoying people. This obnoxious man is someone I’ll never have to see again (thank you God…) but what about difficult people that we have no choice but to interact with on a regular basis? How do we handle annoying people?
With a fresh breath of humility, let me just say that at times I’m annoying! Every single one of us is annoying at times. Because we’re humans with longings and needs and an incredible bend towards selfishness—momentary bouts of annoyance can be expected. But that’s not the type of annoyance I’m talking about. I’m talking about people that seem to bring a dark cloud with them wherever they go. When they leave a room you feel like you were sprayed with a cold hose.
Author Daniel Miller describes the types of pain these people inflict on others by using a harsh but real word—abuse. He labels the mental abuse by separating it into categories:
- Ridicule: “What are you thinking? How could you possibly do it that way?”
- Slander: “You are the most ignorant person I know.”
- Intimidation: “If you do ________, I’m going to ___________.
- Criticism: “Why can’t you ever do anything right?”
- Rejection: “No, I really don’t think you’d be welcome at the gathering.”
- Mocking: “Hey everybody, watch how __________ plays volleyball. She can’t even hit the ball!”
- Blame: “It’s all your fault. If it wasn’t for you, this never would have happened.”
- False Accusations: accusing others for things known to be untrue.
- Avoidance: avoiding eye contact, conversation, or any interaction of any kind. 1
Ouch. Just typing this reminds me of people that have scarred me with their words or intentional deceit. The question becomes, “How do we handle these abusers?”
As a Jesus lover I’m reminded of His words to “Love your enemies.” Notice He doesn’t say move in with them, hang out with them, or stroke their big egos. He simply says to love. Thankfully, love can be expressed in many ways that are healthy for us and beneficial to the annoyer.
Sometimes we have to love from a safe distance.
If someone continues to annoy or hurt us, and we know it’s damaging our lives—we need to get some distance between us and the annoyer. (If you’re married to the annoyer, perhaps the distance you need is a journal and some time to work through a strategy of boundaries that will protect you from harsh comments and behaviors.)
Several years ago as a school teacher I worked alongside an annoying teacher. She seemed ok at first, but one year early into our working relationship my oldest daughter was placed in her fifth grade classroom. It was then that I became aware of some dangerous cracks. She never finished projects she began with students, she stirred up conflict on the staff that carried over to her “chaos filled” classroom, and she was completely unaware of the needs of her students. My lamb hobbled through the year and we chalked it up to a wasted year of learning…(No student should have to waste a year with a poor teacher but sadly, research shows that most students will at some point in a school journey.)
The next year this teacher was moved to the third grade to teach, and joined my team as one of our grade level teachers. I was miserable as I endured even more conflict with this woman. Each year she would need some sort of surgery, and miss many weeks of school. Because my room was next to hers I was the “go to” for her long term substitute teachers—and ended up planning dual lessons to cover for her lack of planning. I could have handled that, but it was the annoying comments and verbal push downs that finally had me saying to my principal, “Either move me or I quit.” She informed me that she and many others had tried to release this woman from her contract, but because of district regulations the annoyer was protected.
So…we all suffered, until she had an outburst in a meeting with the Superintendent and he promptly had her fired calling her unstable and unfit for teaching!
In that tangled time I learned to love my annoyer by praying for her instead of spreading hate. I’ll have to admit I did share my struggles with a few choice co-workers. Not for the sake of gossip—but for the sake of sanity and clarity. And then I prayed for resolution like nobody’s business. Resolution took time but it did come—and my annoyer was silenced. If you love your enemy in prayer, God will either remove your annoyer or remove you from your annoyer’s grasp by taking you away from them, or giving you the strategy and strength to deal with them.
Sometimes we have to love with understanding.
Typically an annoyer is suffering from one of three problems: they’re jealous, they’re afraid, they’re prejudice. 2
All three of these reactions come because annoyers feel insecure about themselves. They lash out with harsh words that cut you down because they feel small themselves, and want some company in their smallness. In the Bible, a man named Nehemiah had the vision and passion to rebuild a broken down wall encircling the city of Jerusalem. When he began to fulfill his God-given call, two annoyers tried to crush him with their words and actions. They routinely made fun of him and his Jewish co-laborers. They even went to the authorities and spread rumors about him, and at one point threatened to have him killed.
It would be fake to say that Nehemiah and his people weren’t afraid of the threats, but they didn’t get stuck in them. As a matter of fact, Nehemiah’s response was, “I’m doing a good work and I can’t come down.” We have much to learn from that statement. “No matter what you throw at me, and no matter how much it stings…I know what God has called me to do, and who He has called me to be. I won’t budge from that stance!”
So I’m going back to my iced tea with a bit more resolve and understanding. Annoyers are everywhere; seeking someone to hurt because they are hurt. The words of my wise mentor ring loud and clear when it comes to annoyers, “Don’t let that person have one more minute of your time. God has bigger and better plans for you today!”
Daniel E. Miller, When Others Make Your Life Difficult (Berlin, OH: TGS International, 2014), pp. 37, 42-43.