For the last several years, I’ve had to deal with a toxic person. You have probably had your share as well. Toxic people are usually family members, co-workers, church or PTA members with whom you must interact—even if it is on a limited basis. I am not talking about the person with the quirky personality that rubs you the wrong way. I am talking about the person who is not emotionally or spiritually healthy and brings intentional venomous energy to most situations.
Even when we have been treated unfairly, we are not 100% victim. As I write this I confess I am not innocent. While I can say with a clear conscience I have not intentionally or knowingly provided a justifiable reason for this person to consistently treat me in an antagonistic manner, I have responded to the energy in kind. You don’t want to speak. I don’t have to either. You want to be critical and nit pick. I can do it better. I have had some restraint. There have been numerous times I felt like I needed to remind the person I did grow up in the ‘hood and still know some words. And just as clear, I can hear the Lord saying, “The little words you know can’t compare to my protection. Just focus on me.” And with that, I am convicted about my bad behavior and even thinking I can control the situation.
So, what do we do when toxic people try to wreak havoc on our lives? What do you do when your spouse just won’t do right no matter how hard you try. Or, when your sibling walks into the family gathering and he or she can bring out the worst in you. Or, when your co-worker has created some competitive game in his head, but no one informed you that you were playing. How do we find our center in the midst of chaos? From this experience, I’ve learned three lessons.
- Look at difficult people with eyes of compassion. I must admit, I get this lesson intellectually. But, I have yet to master it. We don’t know everyone’s life story—even people in our own family. But, one thing is clear, anyone who chooses misery and to be constantly antagonistic with other people is at the least unhappy and probably emotionally and spiritually unhealthy as well. Once we can see that this person’s issues is not really with us, it makes it easier for us not to take their shots so personally. It helps us to see them as God’s children—God’s wounded child.
- Focus on God’s protection. I was recently talking to a friend of mine about not being able to master the lesson above, and she asked, “Why can’t you let it go? What ill-will has the person wished on you that has actually worked?” That was a good question. There was nothing. A person to whom we are subordinate can make our lives very difficult, but we must remind ourselves that God has the ultimate authority and He offers us the ultimate protection.
- Our ability to love difficult people is beyond our limited and finite power. I haven’t been able to master the first lesson because I’ve been trying to do it by my own power. Our ability to love our neighbor can only come from the power of the Holy Spirit. Loving people who are like us is easy. But, the difficult and toxic people are our neighbors, too. We aren’t commanded to only love the easy ones. God will equip and empower us to do so. We just have to ask.
So, I am going to pray and ask for opportunities for me to show love to my difficult person. And, I am going to expect that my difficult person will become even more difficult instead of the opposite. I do believe God has a sense of humor and I surely hope my prayer won’t be answered by having me and the difficult person stuck in an elevator during a storm and power outage for several hours. However, if that is His will I will trust he will equip me to endure it with a real smile. In the meantime, I will find my center in this particular chaos by asking God to give me eyes of compassion, focusing on His provision and asking Him for the power to do both.