Monday, December 5, 2016

Dealing with toxic people

Our community has a minimum security women's prison. Many of these prisoners are allowed to work outside in the community cleaning the roadsides, mowing grass, working at the animal shelter, and doing other work. Of course, they have a guard with them to ensure they don't walk off, but it's worked well for our city and I would imagine the women enjoy being able to leave the prison to do outside work.

I often pass these work details and wonder how these women became incarcerated. Specially, I wonder how many of these women got into trouble because they began to run with the wrong crowd? On a couple of occasions I've heard some of these women share their testimony, and this seems to be a common theme. They developed a relationship, often with a guy, that became toxic and they ended up committing a crime that landed them in prison.

Fortunately, most toxic relationships do not end in prison sentences, but they do have a negative impact on our lives. Toxic people cannot stand for anyone to enjoy any measure of success in their lives. Toxic people are often very sad individuals, and they want others to share in their sadness. They are very negative people, often perpetual victims in their own minds, who blames others for all their problems. They use people for their own purposes and think nothing of throwing them away when those purposes are finished. They always look for ways to pull others down to their level. They are often very needy individuals who look to others to validate their existence or to care for them. Toxic people are very skilled at hooking others with guilt. In the end, they will suck the very life out of other people if allowed to do so.

We all encounter toxic people in our lives. Sometimes a relationship doesn't become toxic at first but develops into one later. I recently ended a Facebook friendship with a couple of people. For much of that friendship we shared common interests and ideas with one another. After the recent election, their posts became very negative as they continually whined about how their candidate lost. I could understand their frustration for a few days after the election, but their negativity continued day after day. People were responding to their posts and the discussions were becoming more heated. Finally, I decided to pull the plug and end the relationship.

Of course, that's much easier to do on social media than in real life. On social media you can end the relationship with a couple of mouse clicks. It's messier in real life, but if you are in a relationship with a toxic person it needs to be done. A person will never get ahead if there are people holding you back.

We need people who encourage us in our lives, and we need to be such people for others. We need people who will cheer us on and believe in us. We need people who will love us unconditionally, and yet be willing to point out areas where we come up short.

In the few passages we read about Barnabas we find him being a source of encouragement. When Paul was converted and wanted to join the disciples in Jerusalem those disciples were fearful of him. Barnabas stood up for Paul and convinced the disciples they could trust him. Without that early trust Paul's later ministry may have looked much different.

At the same time, when Paul refused to let John Mark go on a second missionary journey Barnabas supported John Mark. He and Paul got into a heated discussion over the issue and eventually took John Mark on a missionary journey while Paul took Silas and went another direction. What an encouragement that must have been to John Mark, and yet we do not sense a breakdown in the relationship between Paul and Barnabas. They simply went in different directions, and later, towards the end of his life, Paul sent for John Mark as "he is useful to me for ministry."

In our personal lives we must avoid letting toxic relationships infect us. If we find ourselves in such a relationship, and it does not appear that it will become healthy, it's best to walk away. Life is too short to allow a steady stream of negativity to impact our lives. While walking away from such relationships is often not pleasant, it must be done if we want to be able to enjoy our own lives to the fullest and accomplish the things God wants to do in and through our lives.

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