Should Christians “Let Go” Of Toxic or Draining Relationships?

18208764578_c5d99b67e4_bIf you’ve read my blog lately, you know I devote the occasional post to Reacting to Internet Memes™. I didn’t intend for that habit to happen. Like tofu, it just kinda did.

Today, it’s this (and a collection of similar meme quotes):

“When people walk away from you, let them go.”

“Run, my dear, from anything that may not strengthen your precious budding wings.”

“Letting go of negative people doesn’t mean you hate them. It just means that you love yourself.”

“Keep people in your life that truly love you, motivate you, encourage you, inspire you, enhance you, and make you happy. If you have people who do none of the above, let them go.”

You’ve probably seen that. It’s about knowing when to let go of people. (Do not sing Frozen songs at me. I will hit myself with a chair.)

On one hand, I understand. Life would be so much easier if it wasn’t for people. God does say “bad company corrupts good character” (1 Corinthians 15:33). If your walk with God is threatened, we have Biblical basis to pull out of hard relationships. You owe God more than you owe anyone.

But the above collection of quotes – which is bombarding the “keep things positive” side of Facebook right now, I might add, and influencing an entire generation – is speaking of an entirely different motive: letting go of people simply because they are difficult. No character threat, just high-maintenance.

And absent anywhere in that line of thinking is the thought that it might actually not be about you at all.

Is your character is diminished by a friend? Yes, I can see moving certain people out of your life. But doing it because they’re draining?

No. I don’t think Jesus is impressed with that motive.

And the reason I can speak to that with such confidence is because Jesus’ mission, revealed in God’s Word, was basically the exact opposite.

For at just the right time, while we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. It is rare indeed for anyone to die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. But God proves His love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:6-8)

I don’t think we fully understand the quantity and patience of Jesus’ love here.

In my quest to prepare for good husbandship one day, I once asked my pastor how to weather the times in a marriage when the love isn’t flowing. What does one do when a spouse is distant, unavailable, selfish, perhaps even flouting their vows? His answer: “Love the other person.”

Part of me recoiled. Love the other person? When they’re giving you no reason to? Wouldn’t that just affirm their behavior? Where am I supposed to get the strength to do that? How will it ever work out in my favor?

The moment these questions raced through my mind, I knew the answer.

It’s not about getting things to work in your favor. It isn’t about you at all.

A marriage is an agreement to love unconditionally. It’s finding someone whom you can love even at the expense of yourself. If I’m not ready for that long, hard slog through dull stretches and tearful fights, then frankly, I needed to quit asking God for a wife, because I’m missing the point. You don’t marry for yourself; you marry for another.

And in that revelation, I got the greatest glimpse I’ve ever gotten of the depth of God’s love. God does this very thing with us.

He pursues us tirelessly, relentlessly, when we are doing nothing to love him back. Over and over again. For decades. When everyone in the world would label his indefatigable love as mere enabling of our sin, when nobody in their right mind would blame God for giving up on us, when some parts of the church are so unsettled by his determined grace that they label it as “God being mocked” and craft unbiblical theology about “losing your salvation” in order to scare parishioners into better behavior…Jesus is deaf to it all. He pursues. To the point of exhaustion, Mark 6 tells us.

I read another one of those quotes – “Let go of the people who dull your shine, poison your spirit, and bring you drama. Cancel your subscription to their issues.” And I shake my head. We do all those things to Jesus on a daily basis. I’m glad he doesn’t cancel on me when I get difficult.

No relationship is more toxic than that of a criminal to his executioners. Yet Jesus, lying on the cross, asked God to forgive the centurions wielding the nails.

I take my shoes off. This is holiness. This is love.

So, no…if you want to claim being a true follower of Christ, you don’t get to insulate yourself from every hard relationship.

This is what the modern millennial “let’s be like Jesus” movement often misses. True Christ-likeness isn’t the safe, inspiring pursuits like helping the poor or voting for change. It’s the dull, muddy, maddening stuff right in your front yard – taking that negative, drama-hawking roommate whom you’re absolutely sick of and doubling down, tripling down, on your love for her. Or agreeing to meet for coffee yet again with that friend who’s a shade overbearing and controlling, because you know he still needs a friend. Staying at Zacchaeus’s house.

These are the things that Jesus did. Why are you really tempted “cut and run”? His own good, or your own self-preservation instinct? Jesus cared more about others than himself – enough to where he could not see a crowd, even a nagging one with the memory span of a caterpillar, without having compassion (Matthew 9:36).

So what’s the secret? How did Jesus pull this off?

It probably helped that he knew he had access to a deep, living reservoir of holy strength, one much deeper than him.

How will I have the strength? I often ask myself. I’ve only got so much of myself to give out. And I’m right – if I’m relying on myself. But God has answered that dilemma by giving us his Holy Spirit. That’s the secret. He will empower us to pour tirelessly into any relationship he has deemed necessary. All you have to do is be willing.

Pray for that today.

15 thoughts on “Should Christians “Let Go” Of Toxic or Draining Relationships?

  1. I’ve asked myself the same question. If we let go of people for any offense, then is this the way we will react in marriage. My husband is probably one of the most patient people I have met and I thank God for that. He’s needed that patience with me. Great post!

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  2. Great post, Brandon! We have become so “Me” centered, that that mentality actually sounds right. But not by God’s standards. We are called to love. It is not about us. It is about the kingdom. Thanks for the reminder, the challenge, the charge.

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  3. Excellent points! I think if a relationship becomes toxic, it may be time to call it quits. That being said, when hard times arise and you can pull through it, I think it can make the relationship stronger!

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  4. Very interesting, thank you. I have been challenged about this area recently and think wisdom and discernment are needed. I have recently at ,my husband’s encouragement, evaluated some of my Christian friendships. Which ones encourage me, point me to Jesus and strengthen my walk with him (hopefully I do the same) and which ones cause discouragement ? I don’t feel any are toxic and some I am called to continue because I am called to love my friends who are struggling to forgive or who are in a season of bitterness. But I also need to be wise and spend enough time with those who help me in my walk and are willing to receive help from me too .

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  5. My boyfriend and I have been dating for a good five years now . It all started when I was 15 and he was 18. Our relationship has never been all perfect but we have always found a way to make it work. This year he proposed and I said yes. There are somethings I have always told him I don’t love but he keeps on doing. As much as I did condone such behavior before because I consoled myself with the idea that I am gonna love him no matter what and I will pray and believe God will ultimately make a way, I have to admit that since the proposal happened I am very critical. I have been becoming less intolerant of his behavior because as much as I love him and wish to grow with him in our Christian path but I am in fear of getting married and still have to struggle with those communication failures and maybe end up resenting him as my husband or regretting why I got married or even worse getting a divorce and having that crisis associated with why I even allowed him to marry me at such a young age. We both very matured in many aspects it’s just the communication sometimes beats us. I am really confused and I have been thinking of calling off everything . Can you please help me, can I continue to condone his behavior and choose to deal with it with ‘love’ because as much as I pray for me I really feel like if he doesn’t want to change my prayer is pointless, help me please 😦

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  6. It can be so easy to justify giving up on people, but we are called to love others — even the “unlovely”. And we must always ask ourselves, “WWJD (What Would Jesus Do)?”

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  7. Pingback: It’s Okay to Admit that Losing Friends Hurts | Brandon J. Adams

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