How to Love Difficult People During the Holidays

It all happened years ago. The conversation that set the event into motion went something like this: “She has nowhere to go. Do you think we should invite her to spend Christmas with us?”

It seemed like something Jesus would want us to do, given that it is His birthday, after all.

However, the backstory made the invitation something JP and I needed to discuss: Several families from our church befriended a gal in her mid-twenties in the hopes of helping her through some serious financial set backs, a profound eating disorder, and a boatload of emotional baggage. One family offered her a temporary place to live, but needed a holiday break.

That’s where we came in.

And so it is decided: She will spend Christmas with us.

I’m excited to lovingly enfold her into our family traditions, and ensure she has a Christmas to remember. I buy gifts—the same number as I buy my children. I make sure she has Christmas pajamas to open on Christmas Eve, along with the rest of our family. I wrap gifts late into the night, wrapping her gifts with carefully selected paper and coordinating ribbon.

She joins our family for the Christmas Eve service, and spends the night at our home, all cozy and warm in her new Christmas PJ’s.

It feels like a holy night.

On Christmas morning, however, things take a turn. She questions my choice of Christmas breakfast options. She’s not satisfied with our traditions. She wonders aloud if we’re spoiling our children with the amount of gifts they receive. She mentions that when she has her own home she’ll decorate the tree differently. And make Christmas dinner better. I lose count of how many times I hear “Why did you do that?” and “I would have done this”. The list of complaints seems endless.

My husband and I try our best to keep an upbeat attitude despite her efforts to sabotage the sanctity of our family holiday. Finally, though, we give each other “the look”. The one that says, “Oh, yeah…this is why they call dysfunctional people, dysfunctional”.

Christmas isn’t at all what I’d hoped, or envisioned, or planned. It is Just. Plain. Hard.

Finally, darkness falls and desert is done. We hug her neck, close the door, and I breathe a deep, weary sigh. Relief spreads over me. And nearly as fast, so does guilt. Am I a terrible person? I wonder to myself. Why is it so hard for me to love difficult people—even when I genuinely want to?

My eyes glance toward the crumpled wrapping paper piled high in a trash bag in a corner of the room.

My love feels like the wrapping paper.

I’m not naïve enough to believe one family Christmas with us would fix her broken pieces. Nor did I need–or even expect–a “thank you”. I genuinely didn’t. But I didn’t want her negativity and criticism, either. All I really wanted was to show love, and have her receive it.

Maybe she didn’t know how.

And I didn’t know what to do with someone who didn’t know how.

Does your holiday season bring with it someone who is hard to love? Most of us have someone among our family, or co-workers, or neighbors that makes love just plain difficult.

And if you are like me, love feels most like love when it’s effortless.

But maybe that isn’t real love at all.

It's a mistake to believe love should be easy. The truest form of love takes effort. Click To Tweet

It’s a mistake to believe love should be easy. The truest form of love takes effort.

And that’s OK.

It doesn’t make me a bad person if I have to try to love someone who’s hard to love. It makes me an intentional person. It means I’m seeking to do what is right. It means I care.

But are there some things we should know as we seek to love a difficult person? Yes. Here a few things I wished I known then, that I know now:

  1. Keep your expectations realistic. Underestimate how well things will go, rather than overestimate them. This will go miles in helping keep your emotions in check, and it will guard your heart from hurt or guilt.
  2. Take difficult people in manageable doses. Don’t try to spend 24/7 with a person who takes every ounce of effort to love. You’ll eventually wear out. If you wear out, your ugly side will come out.
  3. Rely on Jesus. I’m being totally serious about this one. Keep a running dialogue with God. Ask for wisdom. Ask God to give you his eyes to see the person as He sees them. Read your Bible. Listen to worship songs. Go to church. Do whatever you need to do to fill your soul, so when the difficult person bumps into your happy, (and they will!) you won’t have to apologize for what comes spilling out.