Lately, I’ve seen regular posts such as the one above come across my fb timeline. I’ve also read numerous articles of the same ilk. They press us to rid ourselves of those individuals who frequently use, abuse, fail, stress, and annoy us. We’re encouraged to surround ourselves with only healthy, creative, uplifting, high-functioning types, the end result being that our lives will then be filled with all the happiness, peace, and ease we deserve. For all of you who believe doing this is even in the realm of possibility, good luck. If you systematically work at this, I fear you’ll find yourself alone. Who’ll be left in your circle of friends? There’s no such thing as a circle of one.
The word toxic means different things to different people. Oddly enough, those who commit physical or sexual abuse, those destructive behaviors one would think would be associated with toxicity are absent in these articles and, instead, much milder forms of abuse are featured. Who among us hasn’t been unforgiving, self-centered, controlling, dishonest, manipulative, complaining, negative, critical, unkind, gossipy, jealous, unreliable, and inattentive at some point in our lives? I’m always telling my kids there’s no one who won’t annoy, disappoint, or hurt us, if we hang around with them long enough. Calling people toxic, the word means “poisonous”, is mean and smacks of arrogance. We’re toxic, the whole lot of us, whether we murder someone, cheat on our taxes, or call our neighbor a fool. We like to judge people by the harmfulness of their offenses and believe are tiny missteps and cherished, pet sins our innocuous. Paul references the Old Testament in Romans 3:10 where he writes, “There is no one righteous, not even one…”. We are a log-eyed people and if you don’t understand this, take a peek at Matthew 7:3. We all deserve to be ditched, but, thankfully, God is not the God of estrangement, but the God of Love. Romans 5:8 says, “…God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” His love met us at our most toxic, not when we’d reached some prescribed point of purity. Jesus said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” He came to call the toxic, the tax collectors, prostitutes, the loud-mouth, backwater fishermen, the masses, really those who were self-aware enough to know they needed forgiveness, not those who thought they had it altogether. This is the good news. None of us is perfect, but God loves us anyway.
Jesus in John 13:34 says, my paraphrase here, “As I have loved you (the toxic), so you also should love one another (the toxic who aren’t you).” He wants us to love our sinful, imperfect spouses, children, and friends, just as He loves our sinful, imperfect selves. Okay. We can do this. We like the ones we’ve gathered around us, the ones who agree with us and like the things we like. It’ll take some patience, but it’s doable.
Wait. He’s not done. He goes even further. In Luke 6:27-28, He says, “Love your enemies; do good to those who hate you; bless those who curse you; pray for those who mistreat you.” You know those toxic people who aren’t sensitive to our feelings and don’t respect our boundaries? Jesus wants us to lovingly do good to them, while upholding them in prayer. Who does this, right? Well, we’re supposed to do this. The father ran without hesitation to the entitled, ungrateful, hedonistic, failure of a son, embraced, kissed, and clothed him and proceeded to throw him a party. He didn’t disown him and have his servants close the gate in his face.
Where would any of us be without the unconditional love, mercy, grace, and forgiveness of God? 1 John 1:9 says, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” He knows how desperately we need to be cleansed, to know His forgiveness and to forgive ourselves and others. I recall the wayward woman from Luke 7 who didn’t hesitate to enter the Pharisee’s home, a place where she was undoubtedly unwanted, and knelt in the dust weeping, making quite a spectacle of herself. Using two of her prized possessions, her hair and her perfume, she washed the dirty feet of a rabbi she hardly knew who was causing a stir because he looked at people and loved them. Think about how shocking this is. What possessed this woman to do such a thing? She knew who she was. She knew she needed help. She wasn’t pointing any fingers.
When Peter asked Jesus how many times he would need to forgive his brother, we see ourselves in Peter, looking for a limit, hardened and stingy, holding on to our hurts, our victim’s status. We’ll never find healing by becoming closed and bitter. As many of you know, I work as a health care aide at a hospital on a geriatrics unit. When I come on during the day, I’m in charge of all the baths and showers. Often it takes a little coaxing to get my patient’s to agree, the mere thought of being cold agitates them, but almost unreservedly, once the warm water has washed over them and they’re clean, they relax and rest. We, all of us, need a soul shower. This is where peace is found, in the life-giving, soul-cleansing blood of Christ. Not in rejecting the brokenness around us, but in receiving God’s forgiveness and offering it unreservedly to others.
I’m not saying anyone should stay in a relationship where they’re being psychologically, emotionally, physically, or sexually abused. There are ill individuals in this world who are so twisted they only know how to harm others. Surely, distance is in order in these kinds of body and soul-scarring, life-threatening situations. In such cases, victims can only do their best, withdraw to safety, and commit the perpetrator to God.
I also believe it’s important for people to be careful about who they marry. My parents cautioned us to gather growing Christians around us when it came to romantic relationships and close friends. The disavowal of a marriage rips families
apart, leaving emotional and financial wreckage in its wake. People don’t waltz down the aisle in their fancy costumes dreaming of divorce, but the old saying “Love is blind” bears some truth. My dad was a pastor and performed many wedding ceremonies. He always insisted couples meet with him for premarital counselling. Premarital counselling doesn’t ensure there won’t be issues later in the marriage. Relationships between flawed human beings are bound to have issues, but counselling gives couples a chance to pause and reflect on the person they’re marrying and the state of the relationship. My dad agreed to marry a couple who lived in another city. This being before the time of zoom, he recommended some individuals who could provide counselling where they lived and they agreed to go. He conducted the ceremony and the couple was divorced within the year. It came out after the divorce; they had broken their promise to attend counselling, thinking it was a waste of time and money. My dad never married another couple without first making sure they attended counselling. He wanted the people he helped join together to have the best possible start to what’s supposed to be, according to God’s word, a lifelong partnership. Though it’s hard not to get caught up in the romance perfuming a courtship, one is wise to consider one’s own misgivings and the censure of others and not bind oneself to someone who could do a lot of damage down the road.
Yet, I still believe God can redeem and change anyone, even those the world deems hopeless. Who will love those wounded souls so bent on wounding others? How will broken people ever achieve a measure of health, if healthy people won’t invest in them? Would the Mustard Seed, an organization who has impacted the lives of thousands of the disenfranchised in Calgary, even exist, if four men from the First Baptist Church hadn’t given a young, homeless, ex-prisoner Pat Nixon a chance? Would ministry to the homeless, the addict, the mentally ill, the prisoner happen at all, if Christians the world over decided to ignore the call of Christ and, instead, wall themselves off in the name of self-love? I think not. I think as Christians, we are called to love the seemingly unlovable, to reach the unreachable, and to do the unthinkable over and over again.
This reminds me of the story of a chaplain my husband knew. His daughter was raped and murdered in a bus station bathroom some years ago. He dealt with the incredible, awful tide of grief by visiting the perpetrator in prison, by getting to know the man who brutally took the life of his beloved daughter. Take a moment to imagine looking into the eyes of your loved one’s killer! There’s not enough love in the world for someone who would do such a thing, except there is. This chaplain dug deep into the heart of God, the origin of love, and took from there. He went on to establish a foundation to help the victims of violent crimes and their families. We have access to that same boundless love. It’s there for the taking and giving always, especially when our own is in short supply, as is so often the case.
In some instances, we need to practice not taking offense. 1 Peter 4:8 says, “Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins.” Some things aren’t worth getting excited about. May we say with the Psalmist, “I keep my eyes always on the LORD. With him at my right hand, I will not be shaken.” Even so, we still need to set boundaries. When a deep wounding occurs, we mustn’t try to brush it off or stuff it down and cause resentment to build, but confront the one who hurt us in love. We need to seek reconciliation. Maybe we need time outs to refresh our patience and remember our calling. Maybe we need to tag team it and love certain difficult folks from the supportive confines of a group. Maybe we need to remind ourselves daily God can do miracles with us and others when we humble ourselves. People come into our lives for a reason and when we’re not afraid, but open to His purposes, that’s when we can make a difference.
I was ditched once in my 20s. I was friends with one of our pastor’s wives. Her husband was going through a very painful time at work and she confided in me. Of course, it was an extremely sensitive situation requiring the utmost discretion. I made the mistake of sharing the circumstances with a mutual friend, out of concern, but it was a very unwise move on my part. These things never stop travelling once you’ve unleashed them. When it got back to her that I’d betrayed her trust, she confronted me. I remember being contrite, apologizing, and asking for forgiveness, but our relationship was over. She never spoke to me again. I’ve grown in this respect, but still think of her with sadness. I understand why she walked away and I don’t blame her, but can we forgive someone when we intend to excise them from our lives? I’d like to think so. We’re broken people living in a fallen, fragmented world. Things will not be as they should be until we reach glory, but praise be to God, His forgiveness is relational and restorative. Did Jesus write Peter off after Peter denied even knowing Him in one of the most significant, difficult moments of Jesus’s life? No. The resurrected Lord welcomed Peter to join him for breakfast on the seashore and ordained him for ministry. His love is truly wonderful. One has no choice but to wonder at it.
I’m a big fan of The Lord of the Rings. I’m reminded of the moment when Sam reached down into the hell fire of Mount Doom, clasping Frodo’s disfigured, bloody hand, begging him not to let go. There’ve been times in my life when I’ve fumbled in the darkness. My thinking has been warped and my behaviour, despicable. My family and friends didn’t shun me. They reached out. They held onto me. They pulled me out of the pit. They were faithful, loving Sam to my screwed-up Frodo. We are a world of Frodos, toxic people who often choose evil, cherish it, and call it precious. We need more Sams, followers of Christ who are brave enough to stay close and love, to reach into the flames and so see the rescue and redemption of the world, for isn’t this why our Lord tarries? Who will you be, Frodo or Sam?
Posts come out when I feel like it. 😀 Scroll down to the bottom of the page to follow me or sign up to receive my posts via email. Take a peek at my Redbubble store. Pollyeloquent.redbubble.com. Thank you for giving me some of your precious time!