Is there someone in your life who takes and takes and takes from you, giving back nothing in return? Someone who is always negative, who just drains the life right out of you?
Have you dropped everything for them time and again, coming the moment they call, spending your money and your time and your energy and your very heart trying to solve their problems, only to be dropped yourself as soon as they don’t need your help anymore?
They are never there for you when you need a friend, but you’re the first person they call when they are in trouble.
They ignore you for weeks, then ask for money when they’re low on rent.
Or maybe they’re always in your life, criticizing and belittling you at every turn. You would actually love it if you only heard from them once or twice a year because their daily presence is sucking you dry.
They have nothing encouraging to say about you or anyone else. They refuse to see hope, refuse to see good, refuse to love and give and help.
Their presence in your life adds nothing good. In fact, it makes things worse because you are forced to exert so much mental energy to overcome their constant negativity.
So what do you do with these people?
Is this the best we can do?
Please understand–I am not advocating abuse. I will never counsel someone to remain in a situation that leaves them vulnerable to abuse or actual danger.
And I am also not advocating behavior that is simply enabling someone to remain in a sinful lifestyle. If someone is bleeding you and your bank account dry because they refuse to act responsibly with their money, stop giving them money. It would be unloving to continue to bankroll their sin.
But being taken advantage of is not abuse. Being on the receiving end of someone’s self-centeredness is not danger. And refusing to enable sin does not mean you have to cut someone out of your life completely.
We have bought into the lie that we deserve the version of happiness that has nothing hard in it. We have believed that hard equals bad. We have swallowed it hook, line, and sinker. Our itching ears like the sound of someone saying we don’t have to put up with those people who are so difficult. We prove it when we proudly post the kinds of words pictured above, and we turn our backs on the cross of Christ when we go so far as to live them out.
Jesus showed a better way.
Matthew 5:38-48 says:
You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you. You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same?And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
Isn’t this the exact opposite of the attitude expressed in those quotes?
Over 15+ years in ministry, we have had any number of people cross our path that were only looking for what we could give them or do for them. And I’ll be perfectly open: my attitude has usually been more on the “I’d like to delete you from my life” side than on the “Let me love you with the love of Christ” side. I get how draining and exhausting and frustrating it can be to see that person’s number on the caller ID again.
My husband has taught me much regarding loving the hard to love. Over the years, we have given people money (sometimes when we really didn’t have any to spare), given them food out of our pantry, given them clothes out of our closet, filled their tanks with gas, given them rides, paid for their prescriptions, paid for a hotel room, and even let one guy live on our couch for a week or so.
I say all that not to toot my own horn in any way, because I didn’t want to do any of it. And that’s the ugly truth. I went along with every instance (at least the ones I knew about beforehand) very grudgingly. I knew that it would cost us much, and some of them I knew would just be back in a few days or weeks or months asking for more.
But Clay knew that too, and he loved them anyway. And he shared Christ–both through his wallet and through actual words–with every one of them. Now, there have been times when we have had no choice but to say no, we just can’t do that for you right now, either because we didn’t have the resources or because it wasn’t a request we felt God wanted us to fill. But thanks to Clay’s leading, we have never said no just because we were tired of someone asking.
There have been plenty of the other kind of difficult people, as well. The negative, criticizing kind. I can think of people in some of our churches who could deliver daggers with a sweet smile, who could ask pointed questions that left me crushed, or who didn’t even try to disguise their criticism and just delivered it straight.
Sometimes, it was appropriate to talk with them about these behaviors. But remove them from my life, like those quotes above say? Not what Christ would do. We will all have people like this in our lives. They need love as much as anyone, maybe even more. Most other people are probably feeling just as fed up with them, and who is showing them any love or kindness at all? We are called to love the hard to love, not cut them out.
Frankly, the advice given in those quotes is not even possible to carry out. You simply cannot remove all the difficult people from your life. And the people you think are safe to keep will not always make you happy, either. This notion of constant happiness being achievable if we just manipulate the circumstances, delete anything or anyone that’s negative, and live in bliss from then on is pitiful in its futility.
So we have to figure out a way to live life even with these “toxic” people. And the answer Christ gives is not easy, but it is simple.
It may cost you. It may open you up to frequent calls for help. It may mean having to humbly take critical comments from someone who knows nothing of the real situation. It may hurt. You may never see any fruit from the love.
Mother Teresa is credited with this quote that I have loved since I first read it, and sums this post up beautifully:
I admit I still fight the impulse to draw in and protect myself from difficult people. I am thankful for Clay who leads me out of my comfort zone and challenges me to love. As I follow him, I see Christ ahead of him calling me onward in the journey of learning to love.
People are hard to love. Some people are extremely hard to love.
Let’s love anyway.