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Posts tagged ‘loving our enemies’

How to Handle Toxic and Critical People

SOURCE: Leslie Vernick

We all have encounters with difficult people who leave us rattled and shaken. A co-worker undermines us in front of our boss; our friend puts us down and says she was “just kidding.” Our spouse rages and then turns everything around to make us think that it’s our fault.

Most of us would prefer to minimize our contact with people like this but sometimes it’s just not possible. We may work with them, be married to them, or have some other connection that keeps us in regular contact with toxic individuals. For a long time, Christians have been taught to forbear and forgive. While Biblical in essence, most of us aren’t exactly sure how to live it out in real life.

We know that Jesus tells us that we’re to love our enemies and pray for those who mistreat us but actually doing it is much more challenging. The apostle Paul counsels us in these instances not to be overcome with evil but instead, to overcome evil with good (Romans 12:21). But honestly, there are times when evil feels stronger and we are not sure how to stop it from getting the best of us.

Below are 5 specific steps I have found helpful in putting these Biblical truths into practice, especially when dealing with a toxic or destructive person.

1. Press Pause: As soon as you feel that poisonous dart, take a deep breath and pray for God’s help. The words or behaviors of another person have just knocked you off balance and will infect you with its toxic effects if you don’t quickly apply an antidote.

2. Don’t panic and overreact or be passive and under-react. Stay calm and don’t fall for their bait. Try not to take what they have done or said personally (which is very tempting to do). Remember, the way someone treats you, whether it be good or bad, really has little to do with you. It reveals something about who they are.

3. Ask yourself this question: What in this present moment do I need to learn (or change) in order to become the person I want to become? Here are a few examples of things I have found I needed after I asked myself this question.

Courage

Humility

Generosity

To speak the truth in love

To set firmer boundaries

Patience

Not to worry so much what others think of me

Let go of my desire to make everyone happy

Not to let this person get the best of me or to make me act crazy

Believe me, it is very tempting in the moment to defend yourself, feel responsible for someone else’s feelings, become totally intimidated and overwhelmed, or strike back with your own attack. None of these responses will help you move forward with a toxic person. However, God does promise to use these painful moments for our good. Therefore, learn what you can and let go of the rest.

4. Teach yourself to respond out of who you want to be rather than how you feel at the moment. We already know how to do this when we act responsibly and get out of bed to go to work even when we want to sleep in or when we patiently work with our child on their homework even though we’d rather be doing anything else. If you must respond to a provocative situation, speak calmly, truthfully and firmly especially when you have to set a limit or say “no”. Refuse to engage in arguing, defending yourself, or circular conversations that go nowhere.

5. Practice (and this takes time) looking at this difficult/destructive person in a different way than you have in the past. Instead of meditating on his or her faults or sin against you, search for her goodness, his humanness, or his/her woundedness. When we can see a person in this new way, it’s much easier to allow God to fill us with His love and compassion for this pitiful person who would be so blind as to treat us (or anyone) in such a sinful way. Having this change in perspective doesn’t excuse the toxic person or give him or her license to continue to do damage, but it does help us not to judge and empowers us to forgive him/her, even if we can’t reconcile the relationship.

We can honestly pray God’s best for this person and leave him/her in His capable hands. We all encounter evil situations and difficult and destructive people, but by practicing these five steps, we can learn to overcome evil’s toxic effects in us with good.

Where’s the “Balance?” (in loving our enemies)

SOURCE:  D.A. Carson/For the Love of God

Reference:  1 Samuel 11; Romans 9; Jeremiah 48; Psalm 25

ONE OF THE STRIKING FEATURES OF the Psalms, especially the psalms of David, is the theme of enemies. This makes some Christians nervous.

Does not the Lord Jesus tell us to love our enemies (Matt. 5:43-47)?

Yet here David prays that God will not let his enemies triumph over him (Ps. 25, especially v. 1), calls them “treacherous” (Ps. 25:3), and complains that they have increased and fiercely hate him (Ps. 25:19). It is inadequate to ascribe the two stances to differences between the new covenant and the old.

Preliminary reflections include:

(1) Even Jesus’ teaching that his followers love their enemies presupposes that they have enemies. Jesus’ requirement that we love our enemies must not be reduced to the sentimental notion that we all become so “nice” that we never have any enemies.

(2) New Testament believers may have enemies who must at some level be opposed.

The apostle Paul, for instance, says that he has handed Hymenaeus and Alexander over to Satan to teach them not to blaspheme (1 Tim. 1:20). Both 2 Peter 2 and Jude deploy pretty colorful language to denounce fundamental enemies of the Gospel. Even if his language belongs to hyperbole, Paul can wish that the agitators in Galatia would emasculate themselves (Gal. 5:12). The Lord Jesus himself—the same Jesus who, while dying on the cross, cries, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34)—can elsewhere denounce his enemies in spectacularly colorful language (Matt. 23).

It is difficult to avoid the conclusion that, unless we are to accuse the apostles and Jesus of hypocritical inconsistency, the demand that we love our enemies must not be reduced to the sentimental twaddle that merely smooths enemies out of existence.

(3) A very good case can be made for the view that the primary concern of Matthew 5:43-47 is to overthrow personal retaliation, to eschew the vendetta, to overcome the evil we receive by the good we perform, to absorb the hatred of an opponent and return love.

But none of this denies for a moment that the other person is an enemy. Moreover, those in leadership may, out of love, feel obligated to protect the flock by chasing out a wolf in sheep’s clothing, by exposing the charlatan, by denouncing the wicked—without succumbing to personal venom.

(4) One measure of whether one’s response is the hatred of vengeance or something more principled that cherishes God’s holiness and leaves room for forbearance and love, is the set of associated commitments. In David’s case, these include trust (Ps. 25:1-34-57b,1621), repentance and faith (Ps. 25:71118), and covenantal fidelity (Ps. 25:10).

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