Is anyone truly unlovable? So many articles today give tips and advice to help us navigate relationships with “toxic” people. Before the Lord, is anyone toxic, or are we mislabeling people as toxic, when really toxic sin has bubbled to the surface in a child of God.

All of us are created in God’s image. There is worth and value in every human life. The ugly reality of sin, though, is that is mars and covers that image of God. As much as we try to mask it, be around anyone long enough and the sin nature comes to the forefront. Maybe it is like nails on the chalkboard and you start to cringe every time you see them. Maybe it hits you over the head like a sledge hammer and the relationship comes crashing to a close. But eventually sin begins to drive a wedge between even the closest bond.

So what are we to do?

First, remember that God is love.

1 John 4:7-12 Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God.  Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him.  This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.  No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.

We do not generate love in and of ourselves, love comes from God. To truly love others we must continually come to the source of love to be refilled, replenished, and thus have something of true worth and value to give.

Second, remember that love is a choice.

The people who are hardest to love are the ones who need it the most.
                                                      Peaceful Warrior

We all have people in our lives who are difficult to love. Perhaps they are abrasive and critical. Perhaps they brag and one up endlessly. Perhaps they sabotage and undermine us, seemingly at every turn.

When choosing love we must first remember to love ourselves. We cannot give what we do not have. If we do not consider ourselves worthy of love and respect  we truly do not have any footing on which to stand from which to love another.

Sometimes, to learn to love others we must first learn to love ourselves.

Mark 12:29-31– “The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.”

There is no commandment greater than these, we must love God and love our neighbor as we love our self. If we do not love our self we cannot love our neighbor.

Why is it so hard to love ourselves, especially for those who are stuck in the mire of difficult relationships? For many of us, we never felt safe enough to love in our family of origin. According to , “Dysfunctional families do not acknowledge that problems exist. They don’t talk about them or confront them. As a result, family members learn to repress emotions and disregard their own needs. They become “survivors.” They develop behaviors that help them deny, ignore, or avoid difficult emotions. They detach themselves. They don’t talk. They don’t touch. They don’t confront. They don’t feel. They don’t trust. The identity and emotional development of the members of a dysfunctional family are often inhibited.”

Often it takes many years for us to recognize that our lives have merely been about survival. We could never trust ourselves or others enough to truly love. Often children, growing up in the midst of dysfunction, need to learn to shut down their emotions just to make it through. As adults though we can begin to heal and learn to choose love from the inside out.

Third, look for the good in others and mention it.

Most difficult people in our lives have redeeming qualities. Perhaps they took care of us when we were sick. Perhaps they made sure we were enrolled in school. Perhaps they contribute to the household finances. Perhaps there is an occasional kind word amidst the criticism. Perhaps they have a passion or hobby that they are positive about.

Make an effort to see the good and show appreciation for it. Many lonely and difficult people are not used to being heard, valued and appreciated. Perhaps they have put up walls and sabotaged nearly every relationship. A seed of kindness, appreciation and love may very well take root and grow into something beautiful someday.

Fourth, don’t expect to change the other person.

When we enter into a relationship with expectations we are usually setting ourselves up for disappointment. We cannot and should not expect to control another person. We can only love them and value them and hope that someday they may respond positively. More often than not they won’t though, and that is not on us.

So what to do when an act of love is met with suspicion, hostility, criticism, or anger? Remain calm. Meet anger with love. Don’t rise to the bait to give back insult for insult or meet criticism with argument. Many critical and difficult people are experts at cutting the ground out from under you. You won’t win. Logic will probably be met with defensiveness or insult. And even if you could debate them into the ground what would really have been accomplished?

When we choose love, we choose to do what is right. How the other person responds is entirely their responsibility and their choice.

The author of Tiny Buddha shared a story about a difficult friendship she had with a critical and judgemental  person in her life. Her mom gave her the advice, ““What if you look at your relationship with her as an opportunity to grow? What if you focused on what you could do and change instead of complaining about her? What if she were a friend not to hold, nurture, and support you, but to help you get a tiny bit closer to your own truth along with some pain and discomfort?”

Any fool can criticize, condemn, and complain, but it takes character and self control to be understanding and forgiving.                              Dale Carnegie

Lastly, keep on in well doing.

Galatians 6:9 Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.

We do not work for the rewards of this world. As much love and light as we can share in creation, it is our privilege, honor, and responsibility to do so. But ultimately we labor to honor God and hear from him, “Well done good and faithful servant.” (Matthew 25:21)

How have you survived and thrived in the difficult relationships in your life? Please share in the comments below.