I was talking with an old friend the other day about letting go of toxic relationships. This is a sticky problem that virtually everyone faces, I suspect, at one time or another in their lives. I certainly know I have.
Admittedly, I have not handled this type of problem well in the past. I tend to be loyal to a fault. I give the other person the benefit of the doubt for far too long. I tend to examine my own behavior under a microscope looking for clues to what I must have done to cause rancor in relationships. I imagine that I am, somehow, to blame for being at odds with someone in my life.
When it finally comes time to stand up for myself, I hesitate because I don’t want to be hurtful or unkind to the other person, even if they’ve been hurtful or unkind to me.
In an effort to sort through a recent bump in a very rocky relational road, I prayed about it because I just couldn’t sort out how to work through this perennially problematic relationship.
The prayer part, for me, really helps me just calm down, in addition to helping me set off on the right foot in dealing with a problem.
Then I shifted to looking for guidance in the Bible.
As I wrestled with this issue of toxic relationships, a couple of scriptures popped out at me.
The first one is from Matthew chapter five where Christ tells his followers to work out any divisive issues they have might have with their brother or sister before they come to worship Him. The clear message is that being in the midst of conflict with people in our lives creates a huge distraction that gets in the way of spiritual growth. You have to clean the messes up before you can get a fresh start.
Later on, in chapter seven, Christ throws a flag on the play when people come to him complaining about how awful their brother has been to them. Jesus gets a little heated about this and delivers a message of accountability when He recommends that we all, “pull the plank out of our own eye before we start complaining about the speck in our brother’s eye.”
The very next scripture warns against casting our pearls (the best we have to offer) among swine because they will take the good that you give and destroy it, and then turn on you and rip you to shreds. (paraphrasing Matthew 7:6)
The juxtaposition of these passages has confused me for years because they seem so contradictory, but I think I finally get it.
I think the message is to be accountable for what we say and do. If we have an issue with someone, don’t go around complaining about it, take responsibility for your part in the argument and go to your brother or sister to try to make amends. Treat them the way you would want to be treated.
The ‘swine’ text that has always seemed to be so at odds with the earlier texts might actually be instructions for what to do when we do our best to make things right, but the other person is not motivated to respond in kind.
Maybe in these cases, you have to recognize that the words of peace that you offer in hopes of reconciliation are just falling on deaf ears. Perhaps these situations require you to simply move on and detach with love.
Stepping out the of relationships like these is about more than self preservation.
Clearing toxic people from our lives is necessary if we believe that we are each created by God to do great things in the world. Jesus says that we are destined to do FAR GREATER things than He did. This is a tall order and it requires all our energy and focus to live up to our divine potential.
Allowing ourselves to stay stuck in the mud with the swine of the world keeps us from being all we are designed to be.
With that in mind, it is so much easier for me to let go of toxic relationships, wish the other person well, and move on.
There is a lovely sense of liberation that comes with this realization. It is so freeing!
I share my “Aha!” moment about toxic relationships in hopes that my newfound awareness that empowers me to just step away from the muddy mess might help liberate you from relationship distress too, freeing you up so you can move forward toward greater joy, success and fulfillment.
With love and light,