A while ago, I had trouble with one of my coworkers. She would brag about herself in front of management but didn’t work as hard as the rest of the team. She talked about herself all the time but never showed any interest in others, and she was often rude to me, even pretending to sleep as I presented to the group. I often struggle with anger and resentment when someone around me is cruel or manipulative, especially when they are passive aggressive. When I encounter people like this, my anger leads me to seek retribution. I talk about the person’s actions to trusted family and friends, wanting to convince them that my anger is justified, and I waste my time imagining how I might set the person straight. Because I have been manipulated in the past, I fear unjust treatment, so I feel it is up to me to tell the person at fault that what they’re doing is wrong.
God revealed to me that I was deeming my coworker as unlovable. She irritated me to no end, and I couldn’t let it go. But as the words came out of my mouth, proclaiming all the reasons she irritated me, I thought: “Am I really justified to be complaining about her when I am sinful too?” I know that I have sinned in many of the same ways as other people, and I know I should love others. Over the years, I’ve tried to change my own heart, telling myself I should be able to do it—just act this way or change your mind that way. Despite my efforts, I’d still find myself encompassed by these bad thoughts. But God has been teaching me that he is the one who changes my heart.
Serving a Just and Loving God
When I come across people who seem unlovable, it is important for me to remember that God is the creator of all people, and he loves all people. As 1 John 4:11–16 reminds me, love is who God is. As his servant, I want to reflect his character by showing love to others. God enables me to do this by making me a new creation: I can put off my old self and put on my new self, created in the likeness of God (Ephesians 4:22–24).
God is my king and the ruler over all. I don’t have to prove that I’m right in any situation; he will take care of the situation the right way and the way he sees fit. I don’t need to worry about what people think of me. God has my back. I have asked him for help at work, and I know that when others have a good perception of me, it’s not because of what I’m doing but because God is enabling them to see the good he does through me.
I believe in a just God. I want to do what is right in his eyes and to please him. But when I try to bring about justice in unfair situations on my own, it only results in more anxiety, gossip and saying things I regret to the person at fault.
Reacting in Anger and Self-Righteousness
I genuinely desire peace, fairness, and goodness. But sin comes in when I let my ego replace God as the chief focus of my attention. I want to be seen as right, because I care about how I appear to my friends and family. They have seen me get manipulated before, and I believe that made me look weak. I don’t want to be seen as weak again, and because I seek man’s approval instead of God’s (Galatians 1:10), I lash out in anger and turn to gossip and complaining when someone is not treating me well.
But gossip only fuels my anger and discredits God. As James 1:19–20 says, “the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God.” When I seek self-assurance and the approval of others, I am not trusting God to handle the situation. And, when I gossip and say hurtful things to people, even when they have wronged me, I represent Christ poorly. I want to continually change to become more like Jesus, but I realize that when I do this in my own efforts I react in anger and self-righteousness. I need God’s help.
Resting in the Love of Christ
I am thankful for the work Christ is doing in me. Through Him my sins are forgiven and I’m free of guilt; therefore, I can experience God-given peace. It is comforting to know that Jesus experienced some of the same things I have—he was met with disapproval and treated poorly by others, but he went through it all without sin. Yet on the cross, he still asked God “why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46). He was honest with God and entrusted his feelings to God. This encourages me to be honest with God too, because I know he cares about my feelings.
Not only is Christ the perfect model for how I should behave, he is the one who enables me to obey God. I am reminded by Jude 1:24–25 that Jesus will keep me from stumbling and present me blameless before God with great joy. He died on the cross to forgive me of my sins but was also raised to new life so I can have new life in Him. This shows me all he has done for me—without him I would be nothing; I would be condemned. Without this truth, I would be stressed out and sad. It’s hard for me to grasp how much Jesus loves me—he presents me blameless with great joy! When I focus on what Christ has done, I am assured of God’s love for me, and that becomes enough so that I don’t seek out the approval of others.
Trusting God’s Power to Change My Heart
I know that I have the Holy Spirit within me to change my heart—God’s power is stronger than I can imagine. He is my strength when my flesh and heart fail (Psalm 73:26). With God’s help, I can approach situations where I find a person unlovable in a different way. My heart can be calm when ugly thoughts come into my head, and I can rely on God to help me quickly say no to gossip. I can pray over such situations, asking God to interrupt my thoughts and speech so that I don’t go down that path of anger and trying to prove I’m right. It helps me to spend intentional time in prayer by journaling—I write letters to God asking him to help me behave in a way that honors him.
Because of the Holy Spirit’s work in me, I can treat difficult people with love and kindness. In a heated situation, I can rely on God to prompt me to a loving response: I can take time to cool off, listen and not accuse, and even invite the person to lunch to get to know them and understand them better. I can talk to unbiased Christian friends who can help point me towards loving the person. Softening my heart towards people helps me to not ruminate on nasty thoughts, and therefore, I can come more quickly to a positive outcome that creates unity instead of stress. I am thankful for how God has been changing me already, and I believe he will continue to change me in ways that are still unknown to me.