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It might be a friend, a relative, or a coworker. Their one goal in life seems to ruin your life. And, since you try to be a good person (and Christian!), you try to love them anyway.
But surprisingly, sometimes the best thing to do is to walk away (or let people walk away). That’s even what Jesus did from time to time!
Gary Thomas’ new book, When to Walk Away: Finding Freedom from Toxic People, dives deep into this topic in the 30 Second Book Club Podcast:
What makes a person toxic:
If someone is getting in the way of you becoming the person God created you to be or frustrating the work God has called you to, for you that person is toxic. (13)
If you’ve thought you could save someone who is toxic:
There’s a terrible messianic complex in many to focus that thinks if we were more intelligent or a little holier, if we fasted and prayed a bit more, then everyone we shared the truth with would agree with us and welcome God into their hearts. (20)
When do we deal with toxic people and when do we walk away?
If I’m driving down the highway eager to get somewhere, I’m not going to stop whenever I see litter on the roadside. However, if something is blocking the road, I have to stop the car, jump out, and move it out of the way to get to where I’m going.
That should be your attitude with toxic people. Leave them in the hands of God when you can. Confront and remove them when you must. But always keep your focus on seeking first the kingdom of God. (67)
But if we walk away, who will rescue this toxic person?
A life of continued toxicity becomes its own punishment. Let the natural consequences of toxic behavior do their work in opening up a toxic person’s heart. If you try to bring the cure before the patient knows she needs a cure, you’ll create resentment, not gratitude. I’ll let a dentist drill into my teeth if I know I need it; if he tries to force me into that chair, I will likely respond with hatred. (83)
Confronting evil means dealing with conflict
You can’t fight evil and say, “So, no one’s feelings were hurt, and everyone comes out happy; let’s all hug and make up.”
But that’s what we hope for when we try to confront toxic people, isn’t it? And if the toxic person gets upset and the relationship turns messy, we think somehow that the Christian failed. We won’t think that, of course, if we remember Scripture’s skeleton: creation, fall, and redemption. Unfortunately, living in redemption doesn’t mean no one gets hurt. (134)
When you are toxic to yourself
Anything you wouldn’t say to someone else, stop saying to yourself. […] Jesus, not me is the hero in my life. When I expect myself to be what only Jesus can be–perfectly loving, infinitely wise, supremely strong– I’m going to hate myself for falling so fart short every day. When I accept that Jesus is my hero and will always be my hero, and that his life and grace are my only hope, when I spend more time thinking about his excellence than my pathetic weakness, toxic talk begins to die. (216-217)