It is likely one of the most challenging conundrums for Christians. How do we demonstrate Christ-like attitude and behavior with people who are toxic to be around?
Thankfully, Gary Thomas has given us a biblical and practical instruction manual in his book, “When to Walk Away: Finding Freedom from Toxic People.”
“If, like me, you’ve let guilt and misplaced ‘compassion’ tie you up in knots as you tried to figure out why a relationship or ministry situation made you feel like you’ve lost your mind, you may find this book to be very helpful,” Thomas so appropriately writes.
I recognize that many of you come to my site for information specific to marriage and sexual intimacy, and for that reason I couldn’t resist doing a review on Thomas’ book. While this book isn’t a marriage or sexual intimacy book per se, it does include insights that apply to many relationships and/or encounters, including marriage.
Some of you reading this right now may indeed be married to a toxic person and you want tools to better navigate that relationship. Or you are in a ministry or counseling position and your responsibilities include counseling troubled marriages.
Thomas includes an entire chapter on toxic marriages that I believe you will find helpful whether you are in a toxic marriage or trying to help someone who is. Whether you pick up the book because of a marriage relationship, another relationship or simply to better understand in general how to deal with toxic people, I believe you will learn a lot.
It’s really not a matter of if we will encounter toxic people; it’s only a matter of when. They may be in our workplaces, churches, children’s sports organizations, neighborhoods, families, or even in our own homes.
Early in the book, Thomas offers the below premise and builds from there:
“They are toxic, and we know they are toxic, but perhaps they’re a lifelong friend, relative, or coworker. You can’t avoid all troublesome people, can you? And aren’t we supposed to reach difficult people? Didn’t Jesus tell us to search for sinners? And so we keep engaging them, keep running into a wall, all the while thinking we’re doing the Lord’s work. But what if we’re not?”
By wisely weaving in applicable scripture, he digs into the messiness of such situations with much-needed clarity.
The chapters are comprehensive and easy to digest at the same time, making this a reliable resource, whether you find yourself faced with these toxic relationships now or you want to be proactive in how to handle them in the future.
Sure, who among us really wants to look at such a tough topic? We would rather that the toxic people would just go away rather than having to set healthy and reasonable boundaries ourselves.
But rarely do toxic people give up their toxic ways or just disappear from our lives. That’s probably in part what makes them so toxic — they are oblivious to how destructive and selfish their behavior is.
A few things in particular I appreciate about Thomas’ approach…
1. He clarifies the difference between people who are simply annoying and difficult compared to people who truly are toxic.
There is a difference. Jesus knew it and we can, too. Annoying people or people with whom we simply have a personality clash or people who always disagree with us may get under our skin, but toxic people eat away at our soul in a way that is debilitating.
Being able to discern the difference is vital to then knowing how to handle toxic people.
2. Dealing with toxic people doesn’t mean no one gets hurt.
Boundaries, especially ones that challenge longstanding patterns, are rarely easy for the person setting them or the person receiving them. Thomas doesn’t sugarcoat anything by giving us an unrealistic picture that this process doesn’t come with some collateral damage and hurt feelings.
But that doesn’t mean such healthy boundaries aren’t necessary.
3. There are strategies to handle toxic people without losing ourselves in the process or harboring bitterness.
Thomas helps us grapple with and lean into scripture that reminds us that God is a refuge and He equips us to set boundaries and maintain a tender heart at the same time. The more adept we get at setting healthy and necessary boundaries with toxic people, the more confident we will become and the more comfort we will find in God.
Study the scriptures, where examples abound of how Jesus navigated what it meant to deal with toxic people who are manipulative, controlling and full of hatred and ill-will. Jesus is indeed our best ally in understanding such treacherous scenarios.
4. We all need reliable people in our lives.
As important as it is to keep toxic people and their antics at bay, it is equally important (or possibly more important!) to build reliable and mature relationships with people we can trust. Thomas emphasizes the need for Christians to have reliable people in their lives.
“If we want to truly walk in the footsteps of Jesus, all of us will be willing to walk away from toxic encounters so we can walk toward reliable people,” he writes.
I couldn’t agree more on the resiliency and peace we gain by having reliable people in our lives.
Props to Thomas for writing a book that I wish none of us needed, but I know all of us do. Thomas is a prolific writer, and he shows us once again how to do a deep dive into scripture and come up better equipped to navigate day-to-day life.
I highly recommend “When to Walk Away: Finding Freedom from Toxic People, as it is full of relevant discernment on how we can learn from Jesus in the most challenging relationships we must navigate.
For more reading, cruise through my list of past posts.
And I have a 5 video series available on building better sex in your marriage. Great way to invest in your marriage! You can find out all about it at this link: Better Sex in Your Christian Marriage.
Copyright 2020, Julie Sibert. Intimacy in Marriage Blog. Links may be monetized.
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