When I think of mean, I think of the Grinch (among others). And I’m sure if I were to take a poll most people would say there is someone in their life, whether it be a family member, a boss, a co-worker or a neighbor who they think will never change and will always be a mean person no matter what. Taylor Swift even wrote a song describing her mean person as “You, with your words like knives and swords and weapons that you use against me. You have knocked me off my feet again, got me feeling like I’m nothing. All you’re ever gonna be is mean. Why you gotta be so mean?” Unfortunately there are those who may be in your life who will never change. You may pray for them and try everything you can think of to win them over with kindness but they are unwilling or unable to change. As a Christian, does there ever come a time when you should walk away from a key relationship in your life or are we expected to just keep forgiving and praying no matter how bad it gets?
This is undoubtedly a difficult situation with no real easy answer. But I do believe there are certain circumstances that calls for us to step away from unhealthy relationships and before restoration of that relationship can take place, there must be defined boundaries in place. I have experienced this in my own family where a particular situation became so unhealthy and the person’s behavior so over the line, that the only solution was to completely cut off any and all contact with the individual. This was an extremely difficult decision because as Christians we are called to forgive and to walk in grace. But we are not called to be emotionally abused, controlled or manipulated by others. There are times when enough is enough.
Sometimes no matter how much you forgive, how much you pray, how much you encourage, how much you share your faith and God’s power to transform lives – some people just aren’t going to change and that’s hard to accept, especially when you believe in the God of miracles who can change anything or anybody. But the person has to be a willing participant for God to change them and that is not always the case. And when this happens, we need to guard our own hearts and protect our own emotions and remove, at least for a time, toxic relationships from our lives. In most cases it doesn’t have to be forever because it may be the very thing that makes the person realize they cannot continue their behavior without consequences so they may be motivated to change.
But unfortunately, I can’t promise you that the person you have to walk away from will ever change. Sometimes it just doesn’t work out that way. And I can’t give you scripture that specifically says it’s ok to walk away instead of continuing to forgive no matter how mean they are. I can show you scripture where one of the disciples asked Jesus how many times they were to forgive others who continued to sin against them and Jesus answered seventy times seven, basically meaning as many as it takes. (Matt. 18:21-22). I can show you scripture where Jesus told his disciples that if they did not forgive those who sinned against them then their Father in heaven would not forgive them (Matt. 6:15). Jesus even told them “If someone strikes you on one cheek, turn to him the other also” (Luke 6:29). So, is there ever justification to remove friends or family from your life when they treat you badly? There is an instance where Jesus was sending His disciples out to share the gospel and He told them “if anyone does not welcome you, shake the dust from your feet (Matt. 10:14). There are those people who are determined to not follow Christ, but instead they choose to continue in a perpetual cycle of sin. I believe when we encounter these people in our lives, God is saying to us that it may be necessary to move on when they are unwilling to listen because they are imprisoned to their sin.
When people are held hostage by sin, many times they take it out on others. It doesn’t mean that you have done anything wrong to deserve to be the target of their harsh words and actions. It simply means that they will lash out at anyone whose life reveals the darkness that is present in their own life. I don’t believe that God intends for us to be a target of people’s anger and outbursts simply because they are miserable in their own lives. I don’t believe He expects us to continue in familial relationships that are poisonous to our lives and our children’s lives. I do believe we are expected to forgive but I don’t believe that forgiving always means allowing others to mistreat you. There are examples in the bible where Jesus did have a righteous and justified anger toward the behavior of others (Matt. 21:12, Matt. 23). But in His anger He never sinned. If you are in a situation where you have a family member or close friend who continually crosses the line of respectful and acceptable behavior toward you and you have forgiven or overlooked the behavior to the point that you have decided the relationship has crossed over into an unhealthly situation, it may be time to disengage from regular contact with them. In my particular situation, after much prayer it was decided that we could not continue having contact with someone that was clearly in need of help. Years of unresolved anger, rejection, bitterness and unforgiveness had left her depressed and feeling out of control. Her response was to attempt to control and manipulate those closest to her. The ensuing result took its toll on our family and brought strife into our home. After forgiving and attempting everything we could think of to bring about a change in the relational dynamic, the line was crossed and the relationship had to be severed.
We had no set time period in mind for how long this would last but we entered into that decision knowing our intention was a temporary severance of contact. We began to pray for God’s wisdom and guidance to show us when the door could be opened to begin restoration. That time was a week ago and we reached out to make the first step toward reconciliation. But before the door was opened we sat down and discussed boundaries. We knew we could never go back to the way things were. If there was going to be reconciliation it was going to have to occur within healthy, well-defined boundaries. After years of dealing with this relationship we knew what the problem was. After years of following Jesus and studying His words we could recognize the symptoms that caused our family member to act the way she did. But just because we had identified the problem and the reason behind it didn’t mean the problem was fixed. We now have to begin the process of healing years of verbal attacks, manipulation of emotions and attempts at controlling that created mistrust and distance. I can’t promise the outcome will be favorable, that is up to her. I do know Jesus loves her and desires desperately for her to relinquish control of her life into His healing and comforting arms. He is the peace she so desperately seeks and our hope is that this time around our lives may reveal Him in a way she’s never seen before. Time will tell but for now we have hope that all she’s ever gonna be in the future is redeemed, forgiven, loved and restored into right standing with God.