Whether you have been in youth ministry for 5-minutes or 50-years, it doesn’t usually take long to figure out that there are some difficult people within our churches. You know, that parent who always seems to have an issue with something you’re doing. That elder who seems to never be satisfied with youth group attendance. Or that pastor who just can’t understand why you do what you do with students.
In our experience, it’s these difficult people within our churches that can be one of the biggest threats to our marriage. Jake has had countless times, especially early in his career, where he has come home frustrated and short due to a difficult encounter that day. We’ve had pending decisions from church leadership that impact our family’s wellbeing that seem to drag out forever. And we’ve had demanding parents interrupt family time because they want something now or else…
Difficult people are a guarantee in our line of work, but how do we avoid bringing them home all the time to our families?
- Understand that difficult people are difficult for a reason.
We have found it incredibly helpful for processing difficult encounters with people by doing our best to dig below the surface. It has rarely been the case that a person has a specific, personal vendetta against Jake and what he is doing. Often times, when we have taken the time to process and see things from their perspective, we have identified hurts, fears, basic differences of opinion, and other issues that greatly help us to not take difficult people personally. It also allows us to respond with more compassion. Colossians 3:13 has been a great challenge in this: “Make allowance for each other’s faults, and forgive anyone who offends you.”
- Understand that in our own ways, we are difficult too!
The rest of Colossians 3:13 goes on to say, “Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others.” Just as other people have things beneath the surface that drive their responses and reactions to you and your ministry, you have the exact same thing going on. When you have an encounter with a difficult person, it’s important to not only step back and assess where they may be coming from, but you need to assess where your gut reactions may be coming from as well. Are you being defensive? Could you have communicated better? What fears or hurts are going on in your heart? It is important to understand that we have just as many faults as the next person, and that we should treat others with as much grace as we require.
- Understand that just because we deal with difficult people, it doesn’t mean our spouse has to deal with them too.
Our spouses don’t need to hear and know every difficult interaction we have throughout the day. We have found it incredibly valuable for Jake to learn how to filter what he brings home with him at the end of a workday. Often times, Jake simply needs to vent or process a situation for him to move on from it, but the consequence is then that Melissa takes on the burden and is now worried or defensive in his place. Whether it is a phone call on the drive home with his dad or a mentor, or simply just a longer route home to clear his head, it’s important to find other ways to process the difficult people we encounter other than always with our spouse.