Thank God for Difficult People

What did you think when you read the title of this reflection? Did you think, “How in the world can we thank God for difficult people?!” 

The truth is, most of us do not like living or working with difficult people. What is a difficult person? It’s someone we don’t get along with. Someone who is different from us. Someone who annoys us. Someone whose mood is unpredictable, whose manner is irritating. And the list goes on. If this is true, then how can we thank God for these people in our lives? I think there are basically two reasons we can thank God for them. First difficult people can give us important knowledge about ourselves and about people in general. And secondly, they have the power to bring forth good qualities in us—even more so than the people we naturally get along with. Let me explain.

Difficult individuals are found in every type of community. We tend to give them wide berth.

Difficult individuals are found in every type of community. They tend to ruffle our feathers, so we usually give them wide berth.

For most of us, difficult people are  a source of pain. Don’t we sometimes call them a pain in the neck? In Sanskrit the word for pain is vedana, a word that means not only suffering but also knowledge. The pain of dealing with difficult individuals can give us knowledge about ourselves and about human beings in general. By dealing with them, we learn, for example, that we are not perfect, we are not always patient or kind, we are not as strong as we may have thought. Difficult people also give us knowledge about human beings in general. They tell us: Everyone is different, I cannot control other people, my way of seeing things is not the only way, or simply, every individual is a profound mystery.

Secondly, difficult people can bring forth good qualities in us. Mark Rosen, a management consultant, has written a book whose title captures this concept: Thank You for Being Such a Pain: Spiritual Guidance for Dealing with Difficult People. The basic premise of the book is this: Although congenial people are wonderful to live and work with, they do not elicit as much virtue from us as difficult people do. Difficult people can help form us into better human beings by calling forth from us a vast array of beautiful human qualities such as patience, understanding, compassion, humility, strength, kindness, self-control, and love. Especially love. Anyone who has ever raised a child (especially a two-year-old or a teenager) knows what I am talking about.

On the other hand, congenial people are very important in our lives too. They support and encourage us in our efforts to give and receive love—and in our efforts to deal with difficult people. But let’s face it: ordinarily, congenial people are easier to love than the difficult ones.  

It is easy to assume that difficult people are those other people in our lives. But we must be honest. We are probably a difficult person for someone else—no matter how friendly and sensible we may think we are. At this very moment we are probably helping other people grow in virtue! That knowledge can keep us humble!

Let us end this reflection with a little prayer:

God of Beauty and Mystery, it’s hard for me to live and work with difficult people. But help me to see that they can bestow certain blessings upon me. May my interaction with difficult people give me important knowledge about myself and about human beings in general. May my interaction help form me into a better person, a more loving and virtuous person. Help me to acknowledge my own idiosyncrasies and shortcomings that sometimes make me a difficult person to live and work with too. In your great wisdom and ingenuity, allow my faults somehow to be a blessing for others. I ask for these gifts through Jesus who interacted with difficult people with patience, understanding, and great, great love. Amen.

 Have difficult people ever been a blessing for you?

Thank you for your prayers for the retreat last week at Lial Renewal Center in Whitehouse, Ohio. I had 14 beautiful retreatants: one lay woman, one Ursuline Sister, and twelve SND’s from Toledo. 

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  1. Shauna Bankemper on October 21, 2013 at 3:16 am


    I agree…well said, dear and good friend! You have never been a pain for me but oh, how I have learned from you!!! Blessings!

  2. Kathleen Magiera on October 21, 2013 at 5:00 am

    Sr. Melannie,

    What a beautiful message this morning on difficult people! This one really struck a chord with me.

    Difficult people can be a blessing because they help me to stop and think more about my own response to others. Am I really listening? Am I seeing another point of view beside my own? What can I do differently.

    Great message for the week!! God bless.


  3. Francismarie on October 21, 2013 at 6:23 am

    Thanks! I needed to hear this today! Puts a new light on a challenging approach. Will try to keep this in mind for the future.

  4. Helen Chasar on October 21, 2013 at 7:53 am

    Dear Melannie,
    Thank you so much for your words of wisdom.You “hit the nail on the head”. May the Holy Spirit continue to guide you.
    Much love and prayers,
    Helen C.

  5. Annie on October 21, 2013 at 8:18 pm

    I love the picture of the geese that you put with your reflection. Do you think they are mates? 🙂

  6. Janeen on October 22, 2013 at 9:32 am

    Thank you for this! I feel like I am surrounded by difficult people lately, and I’m not handling it very well. Thank you for a different (and better!) perspective.

  7. Diana Harkai on October 22, 2013 at 12:07 pm

    I enjoyed this piece, Melannie. As I get older, I liken a difficult person to wearing a tight pair of shoes. You can think of nothing other than how your feet are killing you. No matter what you do, how much you tug and pull and twist at the shoes, they just will not fit. You want to wear them because they look great. But, alas, sometimes you have to admit that they are not a good fit, and put them in your closet, perhaps next to other ill fitting shoes, still hoping that someday they will fit. Thanks.

  8. Path on October 22, 2013 at 8:51 pm

    Your blog made me think that sometimes I find the only really difficult person I have to deal with is myself…….and I need to give myself some peace by not searching for difficult people to make me look and feel better.
    Thank you for your Sunflower Seeds and your writings in Give Us This Day!

  9. Joan Campagna on October 26, 2013 at 11:51 am

    Sr. Melannie,
    Wow, this one hit home for me. Thinking about my 16 year old step-daughter, and remembering how often she says I’M a pain to her! Ouch.
    I will really take this devotion to heart.

  10. Chandra on October 26, 2013 at 12:15 pm

    I love this post! I bought the Rosen book when I was struggling with my sister-in-law, and it is a very good book. It happened to be laying on the table one day when she was here. She picked it up and exclaimed, “Oh, I need to read this! Maybe it will help me deal with (her husband)!” Isn’t perspective a marvelous thing??

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