Tom* had been coming to our small group for weeks but he just didn’t fit in. He often said things that were inappropriate, missed social cues and had a hard time adding to the discussion. I’d like to say that keeping him included showed that we were deeply in touch with the Spirit, but it was probably because our ministry was so small. We didn’t care who you were, just as long as you kept showing up. We needed Tom, but we soon found out it was more than just to fill an empty seat.
Tom was a difficult person to be with and it wasn’t like getting to know him better made things easier. He was always negative and had a list of problems. He would constantly ask for your advice, but then ignore almost everything you’d tell him, but we still needed Tom.
My friend Dick Foth likes to say, “Everyone is my mentor, because everyone has something to teach me.”
What did Tom have to teach us? He helped our group understand what unconditional love was all about. The years he was with us was a pivotal time in our group. We were setting the tone and culture of our ministry. The truth is, without Tom, it would have been easy for us to fall into the trap just loving the people who were like us and reaching out to those that could stroke our own ego. But Tom helped us see past ourselves. He made us understand that true love is impossible without keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus as our source and relying on the power of the Holy Spirit.
I’m happy to say that Tom did grow. His personality began to soften as he settled into the acceptance of our community, but the rest of us benefited far more. We got to see how potent Jesus’ love is…especially when we give it away.
Dealing with difficult people is never easy, but my experience with Tom helped me stop asking, “Why me?” and changed my question to, “What do I have to learn?”
* We have changed this person's name to protect the difficult.