Five Strategies for Dealing with an Annoying Family Member
Overlook the annoyance/offense
“Good sense makes one slow to anger, and it is his glory to overlook an offense.” (Proverbs 19:11 ESV)
Proverbs is written to describe practical Christian living. Over the years, this verse has come to my mind regularly as I am deciding whether to be upset about something or not. It is a man’s glory to overlook an offense. This is describing a character quality. It’s the ability to be magnanimous toward the faults of others. Pettiness magnifies the little faults of others. Every little slight or fault is repeated and nursed into a grudge. But it is a glorious person who overlooks the offense.
As Christians, we have a very real basis for overlooking slights against us. God is the judge, not me. “I will repay, says the Lord.” (Romans 12:19) It goes on to encourage us to do good to our enemies knowing God will make all things just in the end.
Anger and bitterness come from me refusing to let God settle the score. I want to do it and my irritation, big or small, is my way of making you hurt back. The key is to be hard to annoy. Are you easily annoyed? Don’t be “annoyable.” How? Overlook it. To overlook is to choose not to look at something anymore. You overlook it.
One man in my life who epitomizes this is Dr. Wilbur Williams (See picture, left). He’s a long-time friend. Professor. Archaeologist. We have done several tours of Israel and Greece with him and people from our church. Put 45 people on a bus together for 10 days in a foreign country and there are plenty of offendable moments. I have watched him handle people with such grace. A few years ago, his wife got dementia. She still traveled with him. He told me, “I never want her to feel bad about this. She has loved me so well over the years.” He has incredible patience and willingness to personally absorb awkward people and a difficult health crisis. Overlooking is his glory.
Ask God to help you to be slow to anger
We all know how our fuse can get short when we are frustrated. Then any little slight and it’s Mt. Vesuvius on Pompeii. God is making us into the likeness of Christ. Jesus, hanging on the cross, completely innocent, prays over his enemies, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” (Luke 23:34) We don’t find an angry Savior on the cross.
“Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger.” (James 1:19) The culture of all our families would improve if we took a small step this week to be quicker to listen, much slower to speak, and very slow to become angry. A great prayer in the morning is, God, today, toward my family, help me to be slow to anger.
Choose to let love cover it
“Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins.” (1 Peter 4:8)
We have called this love “stretchy love.” Why? Because the Greek word for “covers” has that meaning. How does this work? Imagine you’re a rubber band stretching to cover over that irritation. See, if you’re a Christian, you understand that when Jesus died for you, that was a massive stretch where he covered or atoned for your sins. So he stretched a tremendous amount. That’s to the very limit of how far the rubber band will stretch. We get that. We believe that.
But then we go home. And we get irritation, irritation, irritation. And the elasticity of our love for others is shaped by the amazing, forgiving love of God toward us. So we stretch to cover the irritations of others like a rubber band stretching a little bit or maybe a little bit more.
Unless you don’t. And then every little irritation is a bomb exploding. If that’s the case, do you actually get the massive, stretchy love of God? Maybe that’s where you go back to the gospel and say my heart, my love, my relationships, are in no way looking like someone who believes in the gospel of Christ.
So, how stretchy is your love for other people?
The gospel keeps our love elastic by reminding us that the biggest stretch I have ever witnessed is God’s stretchy love for my sin. Make sure you keep your love for others elastic by preaching the gospel to your heart every day. I am the worst sinner I know. Jesus loved me and gave himself for me. God help me to love others like you loved me.
Who might God be calling you to not simply tolerate, but choose to actively stretch and love?
Bear with the annoyance and person
“…with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love.” (Ephesians 4:2)
Bearing insinuates weight. We say, “That is such a burden you bear.” We bear weighty things. Bear with one another isn’t describing how to handle the happy times. Bearing means there will be times of difficulty and distress. Human relationships, even the best ones, always require a certain level of bearing. Bearing means that we simply put up with it. Get along anyway. Suck it up, Buttercup. I’m bearing with him. I’m bearing with her. Sometimes that’s as good as we can do.
Note that it says, “bearing with one another in love.” Putting up with it while quietly being resentful isn’t biblical bearing. It is bearing in love. This means I retain a positive attitude and express positive energy toward the person. Bearing with them isn’t being passive aggressive, continuing the relationship while withdrawing emotional intimacy. No. I bear with them in love.
Accept the annoying person as God has accepted you
If nothing else is working, and you’re struggling to overlook, love, and bear with, how about simply accepting them as God has accepted you? “Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God.” (Romans 15:7 NIV)
We see here what is really on the line. This isn’t about our sense of justice or our right to be mad or annoyed or irritated. When we receive a fellow sinner into our hearts warts and all, we are reenacting how Christ accepted us into his heart and salvation sins and all. The purpose is “to bring praise to God.”
We see here how God is not praised or honored when professing Christians coexist in a state of perpetual annoyance. But when we are amazed that God would love a sinner like me, and that tenderizes my heart to love irritating people, and I accept them for who they are, God is praised by that.
So for all our songs about praising God, your greatest opportunity to bring praise to God might be how you treat your brother the rest of the day. How you bear with your overbearing mother this week. How you respond to your in-laws this week. God is praised in family relationships when they reenact the way Jesus accepted us.
This brings us back to where we tend to always end up. I am a great sinner and Christ is a great Savior and that reality lived out changes everything about me including my annoyance.
Overlook it. Be slow to anger about it. Remember that stretchy love covers it. Bear with the annoying person in love. And have Jesus-type acceptance for the annoying person, being thankful that Jesus loved me in spite of how dreadfully offensive I was to him.
Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.
Additional Scripture quotations taken from Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
© 2018 by Steve DeWitt. You are permitted and encouraged to reproduce and distribute this material in any format provided that: (1) you credit the author, (2) any modifications are clearly marked, (3) you do not charge a fee beyond the cost of reproduction, (4) you include Bethel’s website address (www.bethelweb.org) on the copied resource.
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