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Toxic People- How to Love

I am really excited to talk today about the fruit of the Holy Spirit and dig into this subject in a number of other ways.

Today we will talk about the subject of how to love. In John 15:12 Jesus says: “This is my commandment, you shall love one another as I have loved you.” It’s pretty common and most of us have heard that verse before, yet our current society has a very different definition of what is required to love others well. In fact, let me run through some statements. They are things I have heard made or are similar to things I’ve heard. Even in Christian circles. You may even have some of these floating around in your head or have said them before. 

  • “If someone is draining your energy, run away”. You will find a plethora of Facebook groups of women expressing problems and the comments will be flooded with things like the comment above. 
  • “Avoid people that repeatedly do things they know upset you.”
  • “Sometimes you have to remove people without warning.”
  • “You don’t owe anyone anything, except the same amount of respect they show you.”
  • “It’s so nice when toxic people stop talking to you, it’s like the trash took itself out.”
  • “There’s nothing wrong with avoiding people that hurt you.”
  • “The best way to deal with a toxic person is not to deal with them at all.”

It is a pretty clear message from these quotes that anyone who is a wreck isn’t worth your time or energy especially if you think they are going to continue to be a wreck. It sounds comforting in some sort of way to have permission to avoid difficult people. And let me tell you if you decide to just quit you will also feel relief. Just like if you are holding a big weight above your head and you set it down your muscles relax. 

So, it’s no lie if we put the hard work down it doesn’t feel hard anymore. There is a relief that comes, but the question is, does it actually line up with the command that Jesus gave to love others as He loved us? This is not going to be some make you feel good article. This is going to be a heart check. Are we being the kind of Christians that God has called us to be in how we love others and how we love them well? Do these ideas line up with how Jesus told us to love others? I don’t think so. 

I know this is a touchy subject, so I am going to lay some groundwork. I know there are people that struggle with severe physical abuse, domestic violence, rape, and all kinds of narcissistic tendencies and people who do come across as toxic. I will define some things and address those topics. Before we move to that, it is really clear that when Jesus said love we need to know what he actually means.

For the purpose of this article, I am going to suggest a definition that I have looked around and cannot find where it came from. Please consider this as an operating definition, if you don’t like it then what would be your definition of love? What do you think unconditional, sacrificial love looks like?

Here is the definition that we use: Love is the commitment of my will and resources to another person’s best interest regardless of the cost to me. This to me is unconditional, sacrificial love. That is the kind of love that Jesus has for us. His commitment of His will and resources to my best interest, regardless of the cost to Him. Do you agree? Is this how Jesus loves you? Does it line up with your experience of who He says He is in the bible and who He says He has come to be to save the world? This is the foundation that we have to start with. We have to get clear who Jesus is and how he loves us before we move forward to how we are loving other people. If He says we have to love others as He loved us, then that is the piece that we need to be clear on. 

If you agree that the above definition is an accurate description of Jesus’ love for us then we can use basic logic to determine that of course, this is also the instruction and challenge that He gives us when saying to love others in the same way. I won’t lie, this is a tall order and I don’t do it well a lot of the time. When my child is waking me up again for the 8th time in the middle of the night I definitely want there to be a limit to what it costs me to invest in that relationship. When people take advantage of me and I want to say “nope, it’s my turn to have my best interests come first”. I think it is natural to feel this way, I mean, after all, we are human and we don’t like feeling uncomfortable or the feeling of giving more than we have been given.

The truth is, if loving others doesn’t hurt sometimes then you probably aren’t doing it right. It’s probably more about loving yourself than it is loving them. While I do think treating ourselves as if we do have value because God showed that we have value is important. There is a fine line between acting as if we are stewarding ourselves and our bodies well and focusing on loving ourselves more than the people around us. That is a sneaky way to make selfishness sound spiritual, and it’s not. Loving people in such a way that never stings, feels hard, or causes us suffering is not sacrificial.

There are many times where love is equal and we enjoy each other’s company and both parties get something out of it.. and that’s okay! We only have the examples of Jesus to know that sometimes love costs everything. He was for example tired and went away from the crowds. Jesus wanted to rest, but the crowds followed Him and he displayed compassion towards them and allowed them to be there. He healed them and answered their questions. Of course, He loved us so much. Even though Jesus knew He was about to die one of the most brutal deaths possible on the cross. It was incredibly stressful and when He prayed in the Garden Jesus was sweating drops of blood. Jesus decided that love was worth the cost of stress, death, being misunderstood, torture, agony, and heartbreak. It cost Him everything to love us. Are we willing to let love cost us everything? It is a different perspective when there is nothing wrong with avoiding people that hurt you.

I challenge you to consider this aspect of love. What does it look like to love people from a selfless place?

We can address the elephant in the room regarding when is enough, enough? When I was preparing for this article I truly wrestled with this part. I can’t just go and tell people that they have to love unconditionally no matter what. There are lots of different situations like domestic violence, rape, narcissism, someone taking advantage of you repeatedly that are absolutely not okay and unacceptable. How are we supposed to know when to stop and how do we determine what that point is? The world says when you feel like you’ve had enough that it’s enough. Others would say that when you feel the stress in your body that it’s a symptom and time to walk away. That is not the example that Jesus gave. I would like to tell you that the opportunity to feel comfortable about walking away when it feels yucky or it hurts is totally fine. BUT if you are committed to being a follower of Christ what you said is that I am willing to love others as Jesus loved me. That’s what you said and walking away when it feels painful or physically stressful is not what He gave us as an example. Jesus was physically stressed out and He chose to go forward.

The next question I as myself is were there any examples in the bible of Jesus walking away? There are more than these 2, but I will just give you these:

·       When Jesus was under 2 years old and people were trying to kill Him the angel came down and told Joseph to flee. Jesus’ physical life was being threatened and God removed Him from the situation. Why? Why did that become the moment that God removed Jesus from harm, but did not save Him from death on the cross? Think about that one.

·       There is another instance of Jesus instructing His disciples to go and preach in different villages. He indicated that if the disciples went and tried to share the Gospel. If the people did not accept them, the disciples were to shake the dust from their sandals and walk away. This is in several different books of the bible such as Matthew 10: 13-14, Mark 6:11, Luke 10:11, Acts, 13:51. This has been repeated and important for us to know that there is a time for us to walk away. So again, I ask the question why?

Blessed are they who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake. He calls us to a life of suffering sometimes. He doesn’t say that the Christian life is all good and if it isn’t you don’t have to participate.

Let’s go over our definition again. The definition is: Love is the commitment of my will and resources to another person’s best interest regardless of the cost to me. So if it isn’t about the cost, then the other piece that is a deciding factor is the other person’s best interest. 

Our idea of Jesus fleeing to Egypt with his parents is interesting because if we look at this and as the question: Was it in other people’s best interest for Jesus to stay and be killed at that time? No, it wasn’t in the world’s best interest. Jesus’ time had not come. His ministry wasn’t started, He hasn’t lived a sinless life. It wasn’t a sacrificial death. That is not the purpose or the timing that God had for Him. Jesus dying as a child was not in the best interest of the whole world. It wasn’t about being in Jesus’ best interest, his death wasn’t in the best interest of the people He was trying to love. I suggest this as an indicator of when it is time to walk away, say no, or stop a conversation. 

Alternatively, when Jesus died on the cross it was in the best interest of the whole world and He knew it. Jesus even asked God if there was any other way. He explored the options and came up with none. There were no other options that would be in the best interests of the people in the world. When He realized there was no better way for other people than for Him to die on the cross as a sacrifice for our sins, then He surrendered to that calling and gave His whole life for us.

When Jesus pulled away from a crowd, He knew that it was in the best interest that He rests. When we attempt to share Jesus with others and they resist it is in their best interests for us to walk away and allow the Holy Spirit to work on them. Sometimes when we continue talking, they are resisting even more and do not allow for the Holy Spirit to soften their heart if it is going to be softened. Us walking away can be in someone else’s best interests. I think that is some of the reasons why He told the disciples to shake the dust off their feet when the town did not receive them will.

I dare say that to allow other people to continue living in sin, whether alcoholics, hoarders, or continuing to allow someone to abuse another person is not in that person’s best interest. By continuing to allow abuse to happen is to enable people to live in sin. What love looks like is committing my resources to another person’s best interest regardless of the cost to me. The cost may be a whole different way of suffering. You may have to evaluate what you need to do to remove yourself from the situation in order to love well. 

There are brave souls that remove themselves from abusive relationships and yet stay married because one of those things is in the person’s best interest and the other is. I am not here to tell you what you should and shouldn’t do. I am here to suggest that these types of situations are great opportunities to consider what is in the other person’s best interest and not your own. This is why parents release their children to a path that they are determined to walk even though the parent may disagree with, yet chose to stay connected.

It is the harder choice to watch someone behave in a way that appears to undermine the very thing they long for and yet resist to disconnect. You don’t have to take my word for it. I encourage you to test this definition out. Try it on, remember their best interest.

In a silly way, this is the reason I continue to sit in the passenger seat in spite of the certainty of death I feel every time my teenage boys are practicing their driving skills. It’s the same reason that I continue to show up for conversations that are some of the most difficult things I have ever experienced. I know that the result is in the other person’s best interest. At the moment I feel the pain, but the result can be a reconciled relationship. This is also why I chose to step away from the commitments that we had with bible school where I used to work. It wasn’t just about my own best interest. It became clear that as far as we could see it was no longer in the best interest of others for us to remain in that job. 

Now, you could make a decision and be wrong about it. You could try to make the best choice, considering the best interest of others while doing your best to love them well and then perhaps you discover that another choice was best. I get it, we aren’t God. Sometimes all we have is to make the best decision that we can. I will say that if we are called to love as Jesus loves then this is a healthy stance to make decisions from. 

Don’t buy into the lie to cut out everyone who offends you or takes more than they give. That kind of life is not going to satisfy. That is not who God made us to be. He made us to be a reflection of His love to others. That is where the satisfaction and joy come from. He called us to be witnesses to others. 

I hope you found this article to be as thought-provoking as I did when I put it together. I encourage you to take one relationship and take this definition of love and test it out. I want to read that definition one more time.  Love is the commitment of my will and resources to another person’s best interest regardless of the cost to me.

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