By Rebecca Barnes
I’m a bleeding heart. I take in stray dogs. I support the local high school marching band. I buy magazines and newspapers from at-risk kids. When the economy was bad I let two drug addicts regularly mow my lawn.
So when I am trying to handle “toxic” people in my life in a Jesus-following way, I have two opposing thoughts at the same time: I should stay away from difficult people, and I should love them. These thoughts obviously contradict. That’s why toxic people usually run down people like me.
Just to be clear, toxicity is something most people define as self-centered, manipulative behavior, that causes a person to take no responsibility for her own feelings or behavior, and to have no interest, care, or concern for others. A rude cashier is not toxic—just rude.
A friend or family member who constantly swirls in drama that’s always about him, and makes you feel you need to change your plans and help him—he may be toxic.
Jesus commanded his followers to love each other in ways so obvious that everyone can tell they are following Jesus. But at the same time, he told religious hypocrites they were vipers. (Sounds toxic.) He condemned their deceit. He said they were pretenders, who had no internal substance in their hearts, and no love for others.
Jesus didn’t spend much time trying to convince religious leaders of anything, or change them. Instead, he focused on teaching the masses, and healing outcast lepers, the “unclean”, prostitutes, and criminals. And Jesus didn’t stop there. Once well, clean, forgiven, and restituted, Jesus told people to walk away. He told them to stop sinning, and to follow him. Jesus was interested in change.
That gives me the idea that some people are not worth my time.
Jesus didn’t dismiss people because their actions were too bad, or they appeared to be too good. He judged hearts. People who didn’t own up to their crap, and weren’t interested in real heart work, and real behavior change, didn't get much of Jesus time.
The hardest part of dealing with toxic people is that I am usually the one who feels bad confronting them. But it’s the only way to get out from under their control.
I can’t change people or make them behave, but I can learn to control the way I act toward them.
If someone shows no signs of remorse or change, I have to change. I have to limit my exposure to that person. If someone continues to be abusive, or an addict, I would be stupid not to avoid him as best I can. Those are boundaries. Henry Cloud wrote a nice book all about it.
It’s really easy for me to get sucked in though. I don’t give up hope easily. I’m wired to believe someone will change, or to keep trying to help, or connect with someone who has told me in every imaginable way that she doesn’t love me. But that doesn’t help anyone—not that person, and not me. I’m doing myself, and the rest of my co-workers, friends, and family a favor to cut that person out of my life as much as possible.
Rebecca Barnes is married to an amazing man, who encourages her faith and listens to her typing a lot. She has three daughters and a son-in-law. She loves to cook for anyone who likes good food, and she feels competitive about weeding her flower garden. She lives in Old Town Lafayette because it’s a little eclectic, like her.