Difficult: Requires much effort to accomplish, deal with, or understand

Toxic: Poisonous

We’ve all encountered difficult people who rub us the wrong way, frustrate us to no end, and make us more self-aware than God aware. Yet, isn’t it something how God uses those very people to shape us into His likeness? An old saint named Bob Mumford once said, “God will either bless you or afflict you with people, according to your need.” Ouch. But true. We all need people in our lives who will love us well in our worst messes. But we also mature when we learn how to humbly and confidently deal with the more challenging people in our lives.

Sometimes difficult people remind us of who we don’t want to become. Sometimes they inspire us to run to Jesus for defense and for wisdom. Sometimes they chase us right into our destiny, much like the Egyptians chased the Israelites to the edge of the Red Sea, only to have God part the waters and lead them to other side.

We’d all like to hang around people who see the best in us and love us while we’re in process. But we live in a fallen world and God makes us all different for a reason. Just as some rub us the wrong way, we, no doubt have the same effect on others.

The goal is to love difficult people and to allow their rough edges to soften ours. We won’t be delivered from these encounters until we see Jesus face to face. So, in the meantime, we love well and trust Jesus.

But what about toxic people? Are we to have a different strategy with them?

Recently on Middays with Susie Larson, I spoke with bestselling author, Gary Thomas about his book, When to Walk Away: Find Freedom from Toxic People.”

Gary did say that we often use the word, “toxic” too broadly. Difficult people aren’t necessarily toxic people. They require love and patience and that very process brings redemption to both the giver and the receiver. Toxic people, on the other hand, are poisonous. They’re destructive. They find pleasure in using their power to diminish others. And they’ll take advantage of a ‘giver’ whenever they find an opportunity.

Gary writes:

There are certain people who drain us, demean us, and distract us from other healthy relationships. Long after they’re gone, we’re still fighting with them in our minds and trying to get them out of our hearts. They keep us awake. They steal our joy. They demolish our peace. They make us (if we’re honest with ourselves) weaker spiritually. They even invade times of worship and pervert them into seasons of fretting.

What are we to do when we encounter a toxic person who seems to rob us of all that’s good in our lives? Well, it depends on the context of our relationship with them.

If it’s someone on social media, ignore them. If it’s an angry neighbor, disengage. If it’s a family member, try some healthy boundaries. Gary writes about that in the book.

God wants us to have such a vision for our lives, that we’re able to discern the difference between the difficult people He’s called us to love, and the toxic people that require a different and a tougher boundary.

Gary writes:

I have wasted way too much time on toxic people and not one of those toxic people came out the better for it. But many reliable people whom I could have interacted with were ignored or given less attention so I could devote my time trying to placate the malignant. I’m done with that. I repent of that.

I’m with Gary. I’ve lost sleep over mean, unreasonable people who really didn’t want help; they just want to be vindictive. There are plenty of desperate, hurting people who need what God has entrusted to me. The same is true for you. May God show you who He’s calling you to serve, and who require healthy boundaries so you can flourish, mind, body, and spirit.

My beloved friend, I pray that everything is going well for you and that your body is as healthy as your soul is prosperous.
3 John 1:2

Difficult vs. toxic people