In the recent decade, I’ve witnessed tragic instances of broken relationships and detrimental rifts within various communities: schools, churches, neighborhoods, families and the workplace.
Many of us are sometimes caught off guard, berating ourselves for not catching the signs much sooner. Feelings of regret, anger and disbelief collide in one single moment of realization: How could this person slander and gossip about me? How could this person jump to false conclusions about me? How could this person fool himself into thinking I will not find out about it one day?
Before we strike the gavel and pronounce the verdict, let’s examine three signs to understand how a relationship, unbeknownst to us, can turn toxic so quickly.
There is an imbalance in the friendship.
A healthy relationship exists when two people are committed to building and developing it together. If you catch yourself being the constant giver and counselor, then you are in trouble. You are no one’s savior. You cannot provide all the answers a person needs—it is not fair for you to become the parent or guardian in the friendship.
Recognize your own limitations and bring this friendship before God.
There is a sense of guilt to prove yourself in this friendship.
Apostle Paul says it best with the following exhortation: “Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves.” The biblical sense of honor does not imply self-denial, stooping low and compromising your own beliefs, values and ideas for the sake of winning another brother or sister.
Neither does the Bible teach us that honoring means submitting blindly to another person, especially when God’s Word is compromised or taken out of context. If you find yourself currently in a guilt-ridden relationship, it is time to come out into the open. Confront yourself before confronting the person involved in a manner that is Christ-honoring. Trace and evaluate the root causes of your fear and guilt in this friendship. Then seek to reconcile and communicate with your friend, inviting the Holy Spirit to take hold of the situation.
There is passive-aggressive behavior in this relationship.
According to the English Oxford Dictionary, a passive-aggressive person is defined as: “A personality characterized by indirect resistance to the demands of others and an avoidance of direct confrontation, as in procrastinating, pouting, or misplacing important materials.” Passive-aggressive behavior is the harbinger of toxicity and destruction in any relationship. This is the type of behavior that waters the weeds of gossip to grow, leading to a vicious cycle of slandering and rumor spreading. It’s much more convenient to talk behind a person’s back in the disguise of seeking refuge and consolation from other fellow believers.
It’s much more convenient to play the victim, leveraging the sympathy and support of others. It’s much more convenient to rant in criticism behind the person’s back instead of mustering the courage to speak a single word to them. Do not be fooled. For a moment, you convinced yourself that you honored your friend by not shaming him directly. This is false honor. This is the beginning of cruelly setting a relationship on fire. “Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark. The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body” (James 3:5-6).
Take the time to pray and reflect on these three signs. For those of you who identify at least one sign emerging in your friendships, bring this friendship before the Lord. Ask the Lord for direction in speaking with your friend. If you’re unsure how to approach this friendship, make sure to surround yourself with a solid community of Spirit-filled believers who can support you and reach out to you and your friend.
If you’re biting your tongue as you read this, it is time for you to seriously re-evaluate your relationship with this person. It is time to humbly pray and surrender this friendship to God.
If the Lord is beckoning you to let go and move on from this friendship (in the event that you tried reconciling, but to no avail), take the time to grieve and mourn, then move on. During this process, pray continually, discern and seek godly confirmations from Scripture, the Church and trusted brothers and sisters. Keep in mind, the ministry of reconciliation is at the heart of the Father and the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Whatever you decide to do, speak and act graciously so that our Father in Heaven is glorified.