Book Reviews, Emotional Abuse, Hope, Ministry, Pain and suffering, Spiritual Growth

When to Walk Away

I once had a toxic boss. Actually, I’ve had a couple of super toxic bosses, but I’m going to focus on one in particular. Back when I was working as a floor nurse, we had a new clinical director on our floor. She brought a new team manager with her. She actually asked me to lead a unit-based council, but it seemed that she was constantly pushing back the start, asking me to schedule time to discuss it and then postponing. I didn’t completely understand. At least not at first…

This boss came across as super sweet and caring. But, the more I got to know her, the more I recognized her toxicity. The team manager she brought with her had no experience, and her answer to everything was, “Because that’s the way Jane wants it.” (Jane was not her real name.) You see, Jane brought a team manager with her who would follow her without questioning, who had no leadership experience and would do whatever she wanted done. It gave Jane complete control.

You might think I’m exaggerating, but I’m really not. She wanted everything on the floor her way, all the way down to where the shampoo and conditioner were positioned in the med room. She didn’t like the way it had been, so she moved them and insisted they sit right next to the machine where we pulled medications. The problem was the new location was right where we as nurses prepared our medications to give the patients. What was more important? Having the space to accurately prepare medications or where the shampoo and conditioner set? Oh. And the team leader constantly moved them back where Jane wanted them reminding us, “That’s where Jane wants them.” She was unwittingly a puppet in Jane’s arsenal.

Toxic people have a murderous spirit, are control mongers, and/or love to hate. – Summary of Gary Thomas’s definition of toxic people

One of my fellow nurses was actually fired for insubordination. Want to know what she did? She got called away to check on a patient and accidentally left her drink next to the computer at the nurse’s station. Another one of my fellow nurses actually got in trouble because her shoes squeaked and it was disturbing to the patients. And do you know why the unit-based council never got started? Because Jane quickly realized that I wasn’t a yes-man, that I had a mind of my own and wasn’t afraid to speak up when things were wrong. She pegged my kind exterior to be the type to go along with her…but she didn’t know I had just escaped a toxic marriage and had no plans to ever be in a situation of abuse again.

Within six months of Jane starting as the director of the floor, there had been a 100%–I kid you not, every single staff member—turn-over on the floor. Not one of us remained. Whether it was because they were fired for minor infractions or because we left to escape the toxicity, every one of us left. And I have never regretted it.

Toxic people.

Sadly, they are everywhere and we must interact with them. We find them at work. We find them at church. We find them in our own families. Sometimes, we are even married to them.

Because I take an unpopular stance about divorce in the Christian arena, I often have toxic comments left on my blog or toxic messages sent my way. Sometimes I address them. Sometimes I don’t. The last really toxic person who was constantly criticizing everything I said was finally blocked. Interestingly enough, a new commenter immediately picked up where she left off. I am firmly convinced it was the same woman who just used a different email account.

It seems to me that for every Christian who is bent on seeking first the kingdom of God, there is a corresponding number of Christians bent on telling those seeking first the kingdom of God that they are seeking the kingdom in the wrong way. – Gary Thomas

Toxic people hurt. I don’t know how much time I have wasted crying over toxic people. I don’t know how many times my family has suffered because I was in a toxic environment at work. I’ve actually left two jobs in the last ten years because of toxic bosses (and I am happy to say I have an amazing group of co-workers and boss in my current position!). Sadly, I used to come home from work and my kids would just look at me. They could tell how horrendous the day had been, and they would just give me a hug and say, “We are going to bed. Love you.” They knew the toxicity had a tendency to carry over to our home.

So often, we as Christians (especially Christian women) are taught to be kind and loving and submissive in all situations. We never want to rock the boat. We just deal with it, let it eat at us, and allow ourselves to be walked all over. And when we take this approach, we are told how beautiful it is for us to suffer for the cause of Christ.

That’s a bunch of boloney!

These are the very teachings that keep so many of us in bondage to toxic people…whether it is at work or in a marriage or in church. These are the teachings that take a small segment of Scripture and apply it equally to all situations. These are the false teachings that cause women (and other Christians) to be used and abused.

When a woman forces a godly man into divorce, perhaps even divorcing him herself becase she has a mental illness or is addicted and won’t work on recovery or is cruel or just flat-out falls away from God, and we say that this man can no longer minister in a public way, we’ve exalted the shell over the soul of one of God’s sons. – Gary Thomas

Yes, Scripture teaches us to put on love above all else. But what if going along with a toxic person isn’t the most loving response? What if going along with a toxic person is actually sin? What if going along with a toxic person is actually enabling them to continue in their sinful ways?

I have to ask…how did Jesus deal with toxic people?

As I face toxic people, I’ve found myself asking this very question. Very quickly, a number of scenarios run through my mind. Think about the religious leaders. They were toxic. They were out to control people, to keep them in bondage to their set of rules. It wasn’t about God’s rules; it was about their man-made rules that expanded the Scriptures beyond what God planned. Did Jesus just go along with them? Or did He repeatedly voice what He thought?

The teachers of the law and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat. So you must be careful to do everything they tell you. But do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they preach. They tie up heavy, cumbersome loads and put them on other people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them.

“Everything they do is done for people to see: They make their phylacteries[a] wide and the tassels on their garments long; they love the place of honor at banquets and the most important seats in the synagogues; they love to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces and to be called ‘Rabbi’ by others. Matthew 23:2-7

Jesus didn’t just pacify them; He called them out repeatedly. He called them white-washed sepulchers. He defended the woman caught in adultery and reminded all of her accusers of their own sins. He wasn’t a kind, gentle, passive man who allowed others to walk all over Him. He called them out. He overturned their tables. He walked away.

And if we are to follow His example, maybe we need to learn how to do the same.

This, my friends, is the foundation of Gary Thomas’s new book, When to Walk Away. It is a powerful and eye-opening book that looks at toxic people from a clearly Biblical perspective, understanding how Jesus himself handled toxic people. It’s not about any one area of life; it’s about all areas of life. He starts by defining toxic people so we have a clear understanding that toxicity goes well beyond being difficult occasionally. He talks about a number of arenas in which we might face toxic people: work, church, ministry, marriage, family, and even being toxic to ourselves. The book is packed with powerful reminders that God values individuals and our ability to be on mission for Him way more than He values any institution.

It is a horrific thing for a man or woman to finally admit that they married an evil, toxic person. Think about if for just a second, and you can imagine how much of a nightmare that must be. What they’ve been living through may begin to make some sense when they finally apply the correct label, but the admission alone demands some sever remedies almost too awful to contemplate. Such brothers or sisters in Christ need the church’s support more than ever, yet they often feel this support pulling away, as if evil doesn’t exist or matter. “Try harder and pray more, and your marriage will get better.” – Gary Thomas

I’ve pulled out just a few snippets of the powerful truths presented in this book. Thomas’s other book, Sacred Marriage, has been used as a tool against so many of us who have decided to walk away from toxic marriages. We’ve heard the line, God designed marriage to make us holy more than happy so many times that we’d love to punch the person who says it. Just being totally honest here. In When to Walk Away, Thomas makes it clear that Sacred Marriage was never intended for toxic marriages; it was intended for difficult marriages where both parties are willing to look inside and surrender to Christ.

If you are struggling with toxicity, please do yourself a favor and pick up a copy of When to Walk Away. You won’t regret it.

7 thoughts on “When to Walk Away”

  1. I almost didn’t read this because I saw whom you were quoting. I’m glad I read and I’m glad he grasps this. His Sacred Marriage was used to preach at me and it hurt so much. I lost all reapectnfor him. I am so thankful that he has released this book. I may just read it. Thank you.

    1. Sacred Marriage has been thrown in my face so many times. I don’t know if this is a change or just acknowledgement of what he has always believed. Regardless, he differentiates difficult marriages from toxic and abusive marriages.

  2. I just received an email on Sunday as Gary Thomas’ book was the Bible study of the week. This is my third email I got this week about “toxic people” and I just told my counselor the other day of how I have a hard time of letting go of relationships. God must be telling me something😊

  3. Thank you for your writings, Dena. I have followed you for quite a while and I appreciate your fearlessness.

    I am a guy, so writing this response is very difficult given that public opinion, the courts, and the church blames/stigmatizes the man in the abusive relationship. That assumption must change as it is completely and devastatingly wrong.

    My wife of 30 yrs. comes from an abused background. Born out of wedlock her parents tried to abort her…and this is just the start of a terrible life history. I could go on for pages, but in short we have attended literally dozens of marriage getaways/small groups/online training/christian counselors, etc. to no avail. I have read book upon book (Chapman/Krieger/Thomas/Roth/Eddy/Engel/Kreisman/Vernick/Manning/Cloud/etc.) in an effort to understand the emotional catastrophe that is her life. Her diagnosis of BPD/Narcissistic disorder helps to quantify things but given that, the outlook is bleak.

    In the end I think the fundamental question is, “What if your toxic spouse cannot see that anything is wrong?” I do not think my Mrs. is “evil,” but instead is so hurt, so defensive that she cannot even conceive that any of her toxic behavior is her fault. Without the ability (call it toxic pride if you will) to face one’s true self, healing is impossible.

    Thanks be to God that this condition is one of the reasons Jesus came to set us free. This is what happened to me. I had to be totally broken of my arrogance and pride before He could pickup the pieces and rebuild. It was the most painful, humiliating experience imaginable, but now I am on the better path. My Mrs. absolutely refuses to consider this, even though she has been a Christian for the majority of her life. Bottom Line: Perhaps I must release her to the consequences of her choices…however grievous they may be.

    1. I’m so sorry. Yes, women are abusive too. Yes, many of the most grievous abusers are products of a painful past. Yes, many profess to be Christians. Sadly, they often have to hit rock bottom to realize their need for help. It’s so hard to reach that place where you feel God give you permission to walk away. But sometimes it’s the most loving thing we can do. Please know you are in my prayers.

  4. Wow. I may just have to read this book…among all the other books I am trying to read! Would you say there is a difference between toxic and abusive? Are there different “rules” between those two categories for Christians getting divorced?

    1. I would dare say toxic and abusive are almost interchangeable. Most truly toxic relationships will be abusive to some degree…whether it’s neglect or emotional abandonment or verbal and emotional abuse. If a marriage truly is/becomes toxic/abusive, I believe we do everything we can to save the marriage, but the time may come when it is time to walk away. The key is to seek God’s face and let Him guide your steps.

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