Life is an incredible journey, one that is filled with ups, downs, and in-betweens. Challenges are inevitable, and while we can’t control all of the challenges we are dealt, who we surround ourselves with can mean the difference between encouragement and help when those challenges come or just flat out making things worse and adding undue levels of complexity to our lives.
We have all heard the quote that we are the average of the five people we spend the most time with. Just take a moment to think about that. Does it excite you? Does it maybe worry you? Or something in-between? This isn’t a new concept. The Bible, especially the book of Proverbs, has much to say on the topic of friends, and specifically states certain types of people that you don’t want to be friends with, lest it do you more harm than good and you become like them. In our culture, these types of harmful relationships are often labeled “toxic” and while the labels “toxic relationships” and “toxic people” has a very harsh and negative sound to it, when you examine the definition and the effects that such a relationship or person can have on an individual they are rightly named. Toxic by definition means poisonous, it isn’t too hard to quickly put together a mental image of what kind of an effect a toxic relationship or person can have on our emotional, spiritual, and even physical health. “Toxic relationships” can undermine our momentum in life, distract us from the bigger pictures, and leave us feeling less than well.
Today, I have made two lists. One is 9 types of people I have learned to limit my times around, and the second is 8 types of people we should seek out to surround ourselves with.
Before we get started on these two lists though I’d like to make one thing clear. I am not claiming to be a relationship expert, not by any stretch of the imagination! (Anyone who knows me well is probably thinking “Well that is certainly a good thing”) BUT, I do live with 12 other people, and I haven’t exactly been kept in a box for 20 years so I have had some experience with relationships. 😉 With that being said, here is my list of 9 types of people and scenarios that I have learned from experience to steer clear of:
- The person who tries to change you or makes you feel uncomfortable being yourself around them. I’m talking about the wanting you to change to suit their personal preference, not the help you change to become a better person kind. There is a reason why God didn’t use a cookie cutter when He made each of us. (How about a party to celebrate diversity?!)
- Non-supportive. When the other person is zero supportive or excited for you about your goals and the direction God is taking you in life. or even goes so far as to discourage you from pursuing the goals, dreams, and desires God has placed on your heart.
- A judgmental attitude. Judgment and legalism seem to go hand in hand in Christian culture. In no way am I going to knock on the folks who carry with them these heavy burdens. Because that is what it is, a burden. I’ve been there, done that, and felt the weight of being the only one “enlightened enough to see the truth” on different topics. And sadly, also looked down upon anyone who didn’t see it the way I + the small group I choose to surround myself with saw it.
- The seasonal friend. When someone treats you as if you are best friends one day and completely ignores you or is cold the next depending on who is around, they probably aren’t really your friend. This “game” can really take its toll on us as we sit back wondering “what on earth did I do wrong???” and then try to do more in order to fix things.
- One sided friendship. A healthy friendship should be like a conversation or a tennis game: back and forth. If you are the only one keeping it going and there is little to no effort in returning the ball to your court, and further, they don’t even seem as though they want your friendship, its probably a good idea to consider if your time could be better invested somewhere else.
- Someone with little to no motivation outside of self improvement. The Christian walk isn’t supposed to center around self improvement and your climb on the spiritual ladder. This kind of person will try to engage you in making THEM your central focus.
- An angry person. This isn’t just Maria talking here. It’s Proverbs 22:24 & 25: “Don’t make friends with an angry man, and don’t be a companion of a hot-tempered man, or you will learn his ways and entangle yourself in a snare.” ‘Nuff said, and moving on.
- Mr. or Mrs. Negative. 9 times out of 10 they have more negative dialogue than positive regarding everything from how their day or week went to what the woman across the room is wearing. These types of people can suck the joy and life right out of a room the moment they enter. Being stuck in a perpetual world of negativity is NOT something you want to be drug into. If you find yourself being drug there take my advice and skip the other way singing “Happy” at the top of your lungs.
- The divider. They let little things such as doctrinal disputes, politics, differences in matters of opinion, and lifestyle come between them and other people. They also may divide other people’s relationship apart by trying to discredit the character of one or both individuals.
Most, if not all of those traits are fairly easy to pick up on and let creep on us without even realizing it.
Remember, the average of the 5 people you spend the most time with.
While reading through that list, did anyone come to mind? Let me just say, DO NOT start avoiding and or ignoring those people the next time you see them. If your best friend since kindergarten displays one or more of those traits don’t immediately go cut off your relationship with them. That isn’t healthy, or right.
First off, in any relationship grace should come into play. Ever think about how much grace is present in our relationship with God? Yeah, a whole whopping truck load (or 10). The amount of grace we need to show other people doesn’t even come close to a fraction of what God shows us. Understanding that we are all imperfect and have our own struggles is so very crucial. We are each at different spots.
Having said that though, there is a way to limit the exposure you have to toxic behaviors and the effects they have on you. You can limit how much of your soul you bare to these types of people, keep in check the amount of time spent with them, and keep them in the proper perspective and position in your life. I would not recommend putting someone who displays these traits into a counseling or mentoring position over you, nor would I strike up an intimate friendship with them.
Not seeking out a close friendship with them though does not mean you have to treat them badly. You can still (and should be!) friendly, respectful, loving, and even help them when they need it. Balance is key, so is staying in tune to the Holy Spirit and His leading.
The opposite of a “toxic relationship” is of course a “healthy relationship”. Healthy relationships/friendships are a give and take between two individuals who genuinely want what is best for the other person. Each are willing to help the other even at personal sacrifice, and lovingly hold each other accountable on the things that really count. They build each other up (and sometimes pick each other up when need be). What transpires in a healthy friendship should be a wonderful representation of Christ and His love.
With that other list behind us here is a list of people you should surround yourself with. People who:
- Encourage you in your journey. Though they may be pursuing different goals and paths in life, they are supportive of you in your pursuits and excited for you when good things happen to you.
- Are positive and upbeat on a regular basis. (bonus if they can still be positive when under trial)
- Are a fountain, not a drain. When you come away after interaction with them feeling refreshed and energized instead of drained and discouraged, this is a good thing.
- Have a vision for life. Something broader than their own self improvement. (Impacting others lives in a real way, multi generational vision, etc)
- Are administers of justice, mercy, and love. Does this really need anything more added to it?
- Challenge you. “As iron sharpens iron…” Proverbs 27:17 The type of person who love you for who you are, but pushes you to be the best version of yourself is a keeper for sure! This is different than trying to make you someone you are not. Its encouraging you to be to be the very best version of you that God gave you the ability to be.
- Make healthy lifestyle decisions. Mental, emotional, and physical.
- Don’t let little things interfere with the friendship. Doctrinal disputes, politics, etc. No one agrees 100% on everything. The ability to disagree and still respect and love someone is a trait to be treasured.
When you read over that list, did anyone come to mind? Those are the types of people you want to surround yourself with, and the traits that we should each try to cultivate in our own selves so that we may be friends that others can look to and rely on during the best and worst of times.
What do you think? Would you add anything to either list?