We frequently hear about the dangers of toxic people. The internet seems full of warnings, reassuring us our happiness is more important and we do not need such people in our lives. If we believe the memes featuring people gazing peacefully from mountain peaks, we do not need that kind of negativity in our lives. We deserve better.
But if we are the body of Christ, the Church, should we not be able to adopt a better attitude than this? Christ certainly does not want us to be dragged down by sin or harmful influences. Here, of course, I am not talking about truly abusive relationships, whether physical or emotional. That is another topic altogether. While the Sermon on the Mount provides us with obscure warnings regarding throwing pearls before swine, we need to be careful we are using God’s discernment and not our own biases or frailties. We must admit it is often difficult to judge the purity of our own motives. Whom we label as toxic may simply be those who disagree with us or someone to whom we are called to extend God’s grace. By following God’s wisdom, we can navigate when to entrust ourselves implicitly to another.
Let’s agree, however, that labeling people as toxic is not speaking in a way that glorifies God.
“Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.” (Colossians 4:6)
In a world that is quick to write people off, to denigrate and dehumanize, let’s move away from shaming and name-calling. By demeaning someone with a label, we relegate them to remain where they are, not recognizing God’s desire to bring about change and maturity in their life.
People are not toxic. Individuals are not inherently poisonous, but they do make poor decisions at times or get trapped in impoverished patterns. Let’s be ready to see the difference.
How we use words matters deeply. If we close people off with labels, refusing to make room for growth, we refuse to view them through the compassionate and loving eyes of Christ. We refuse to see them as Christ sees us.
What is our attitude toward others in his body? Even toward others who are needy, irritable, or unpleasant? How does the Spirit advise us in the midst of an antagonistic, hurting world in need of divine reconciliation? Through prayer and love, we give them to God. We trust that His Holy Spirit will be present and may work in ways we do not imagine.
Can we write others off as toxic and ignore Jesus’ kindness to the hurting? Our Savior knew when to entrust himself to another and when to move on to another village. The Light of the World, however, saw people as individuals and did not confine them to pejorative phrases.
“Truly I tell you, I have not found such great faith.” (Matthew 8:10)
“Simon, son John, do you love me?” (21:17)
“Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace.” (Luke 8:48)
“Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing.” (Matthew 23:37)
He addresses their choices, their behavior, but does not define them by it.
Finally, we must learn to see our struggle as not with one another, but as against “the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” (Ephesians 6:12) If we see our neighbor as our enemy, the fight is already lost. The person in pain before us is not the problem, nor the issue, but someone created in the very image of God. Let’s not dehumanize others. Instead, in the suffering way of Christ, let’s love one another in both words and deeds. (1John 3:18)