I love the following story because it illustrates both our natural defensiveness when we are attacked and the potential for transformation. This only becomes possible when we take into consideration the story of brokenness of the one who has attacked us.

Chuck DeGroat, pastor, counselor, and professor of pastoral care at Western Seminary shares the following story from early on in his training as a counselor:

I had hit a rut in my pastoral life, fatigued by the complicated people I was trying to help. Most disheartening to me was the narcissistic executive who would “power up” in our pastoral counseling sessions, firing accusations at his wife like a lawyer nailing a case, and even intimidating me whenever he saw a chink in my pastoral armor. “Chuck, you’re young,” he once said with a condescending smile. “You’ve only been married a short time.

You probably don’t understand what it’s like to endure a woman’s crazy mood swings.” He was a master intimidator, and I wasn’t sure how to handle the situation. Part of me just wanted out. In a meeting with fellow counseling interns, I told my sad tale, looking both for sympathy and for a way out of this pastoral-care mess. And then my friend said something life-changing — something so truthful and profound that I felt as if she’d broken into the darkness of my cave of perception.

“You know, he has a story too.” My first thought was, Umm, what about me? I’m the victim here. How about some pity for the poor therapist of this jerk? But I swallowed those immediate feelings and asked what she meant. “He has a story,” she said. “Aren’t you just a bit curious about it?” With one question, she rehumanized the man.

Compassion welled up in my soul as I began to wonder about his life’s story. Had he been bullied at some point? Had he, perhaps, been a victim of abuse? And how powerless must he feel inside to so aggressively overpower the people he loved the most?

Our default mode when we deal with difficult people is to demand repentance or to devise fix-it strategies or to offer insights to straighten people out. But working with people requires a special kind of vision. It requires us to see the bigger picture. Whether we’re working with one difficult individual or with an entire congregation or company, our challenge is to keep that larger perspective in mind.

Chuck DeGroat, Toughest People to Love, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.

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