So far this year I’ve had to say goodbye to a friend (see Feb. 24 post) and now an uncle. Miss Pat and Uncle Don lived their lives to the fullest. Church will never be the same without seeing Miss Pat in the choir loft, and our family’s lives will never be the same without seeing Uncle Don at my aunt’s side.
It’s hard to say goodbye to loved ones who die. But it can be even harder to say goodbye to loved ones who are still alive. How do you grieve the loss of a dead relationship?
Somewhere along the way, most of us have had toxic relationships. They poison our attitudes, they poison our outlook, and they poison our trust. They leave us feeling confused, broken and drained. Sometimes they leave us exhausted from giving until we have nothing more to give. But the toxin can be hard to purge from your system. Sometimes the other member of the toxic relationship will make you feel dependent upon him or her, as if that person has taken the place of the Lord Himself in being your self-designated true north. Or, conversely, you may be the only Jesus that person may ever know, and stepping away may leave that person in total darkness.
Such was my plight. But to honor my loved one, and to honor my Lord, the kindest thing I could do was step away. I continue to reach out from a distance, and I continue to reach up in prayer. But the relationship cannot be repaired on my end. That was a painful reality to face.
Hebrews 12:14-15 offers some great advice about dealing with difficult relationships: “Make every effort to live in peace with all men and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord. See to it that no one misses the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and define many.”
That bitter root can be the toxin of ungodly relationships. God’s word warns that that bitter root can cause trouble and defile many. In my case, I made the choice that the bitter root in my own life would not defile the many good relationships in which I have invested.
But what if your efforts to live at peace fail? What about that bitter root you feel taking hold in your own heart? How do you know when it’s time to step back from a relationship? Here are a few pointers from my own experience, none of which, it must be noted, apply to spouses or children:
- The relationship is perpetually lopsided, with one person doing all or most of the giving. The possible exception here is a mentoring relationship, but at some point you need to experience some reciprocity as a demonstration of developing maturity.
- The relationship is carnal. Typically we consider carnal relationships those that are based on worldly exploits, and that’s certainly true. But it’s possible to have a carnal relationship with a brother or sister in the Lord who, for whatever reason, brings out the carnal side of you instead of being iron sharpening iron (Proverbs 27:17). Two oversized egos can be just as lethal as two undersized ones. Those lacking self-esteem may seek to impress one another, rather than seeking validation in God’s sight. Focus on those relationships that build up and point upward.
- The relationship crowds out all others, including your relationship with the Lord or possibly your relationship with your spouse. Those are sacred relationships, so let none other encroach upon them, and always be open to new relationships the Lord may bring your way.
- The relationship cannot be trusted. Beware of betrayal, outbursts and negativity.
Stepping back from toxic relationships doesn’t have to be the end. We have a mighty Advocate. As Isaiah 59:1 reminds us, “Surely the arm of the Lord is not too short to save, nor His ear too dull to hear.” I pray at least twice a week for my loved one. Regardless of whether we’re able to share the plan of salvation (Romans 3:23, Romans 6:23, Romans 10:13), God is able to save and able to heal. He is sovereign. He is compassionate. He is gracious. He is Jesus. And He is my antidote to the toxins of this world.