Letting Go of Toxic Relationships
As a pastor, one of the most difficult and frequent questions I get asked goes something like this: "How long do I keep forgiving people who constantly hurt me?"
It's a good question, because Jesus clearly taught that as his followers, we should forgive those who persecute us, and even taught that you should forgive as many as "seventy times seven" times if necessary.
What I've learned over the years, however, is that there is a difference between forgiving someone who hurts you, and being in relationship with someone who hurts you.
Forgiving someone for hurtful words or actions toward us is something that we are compelled to do as followers of Jesus. We have been given radical and saving grace that we did not deserve, and in turn we are to offer that same kind of grace even to our enemies.
Forgiveness is, among other things, the act of setting yourself free--free from pain, free from guilt, anger, bitterness and anything else that keeps us from being the complete child of God that we are meant to be. Sometimes you actually forgive people who have hurt you, knowing that they would never ask for forgiveness, or will never really know or care that you've forgiven them.
On the other hand, some people are just toxic. It might not be entirely their fault. They may be hurt and wounded, angry and bitter for a reason, either real or imagined. Rick Warren famously wrote, "Hurting people, hurt people." Still, these people can be poisonous and being around them can prove fatal to your spirit.
This is a truth that not very many of us internalize: Just because you forgive a hurtful person, however, doesn't mean that you have to be in relationship with them--especially if they continue to hurt you.
Bishop T.D. Jakes recently wrote about when it's probably time to "burn the bridge" between you and a toxic person. Jakes said that it might be time to burn the bridge of a relationship when that relationship only leads you to hurt, compromises your core values or constantly drains you of purpose and joy.
Are there people in your life that you need to forgive and let go? Are there relationships that have become so toxic that you don't even know who you are any longer when you're with the person? Are you in danger of losing yourself, spiritually, emotionally or even physically?
Then maybe it's time to "shake the dust off your feet" as Jesus told his disciples, forgive them and set the both of you free.
May you find the courage to forgive in radical and life-giving ways. May you also find the courage to say no to relationships that destroy the light within you. May you find loving and peaceful ways to remove yourself from those relationships.
And may the grace and peace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you now and always. Amen.