When dealing with others who have wronged us, Christians often look to Jesus’s voluntary suffering on the cross as reason to give someone another chance or stay engaged in a relationship. We are told that forgiving 70×7 is the loving thing to do. We stay until the bitter end because Jesus “will never leave you or forsake you.” Translation: you never leave a relationship. You keep fighting. You give infinite chances for behavior to change…no matter what it costs you…because that’s what Jesus did.
Except that’s not what Jesus did.
Because Jesus suffered on the cross, many Christians see suffering as a badge of honor, and allow all sorts of abuses to continue in their own lives and the lives of others. Unfortunately and (mostly) unconsciously, the Church often perpetuates abusive situations under the guise of love and forgiveness.
My goal here is to clear up some misconceptions about suffering, discuss how to deal with abusive behavior, and reveal the secret to actually forgiving and freeing yourself from resentment.
Jesus voluntarily sacrificed himself for a specific reason. He allowed himself to be abused for a specific purpose, one time. And he died, as a martyr.
Before sacrificing himself on the cross, did you know that Jesus did not allow himself to be abused or mistreated 41 times throughout the four gospels?paraphrased from Gary Thomas, When to Walk Away
Repeatedly in Jesus’s daily life and ministry, we see examples of him setting boundaries, walking away from those mistreating him, letting others walk away, and fleeing dangerous situations:
At this, they picked up stones to stone him, but Jesus hid himself, slipping away from the temple grounds.John 8:59
Again they tried to seize Him, but He escaped their grasp. Then Jesus went back across the Jordan to the place where John had been baptizing in the early days.John 10:39-40
So from that day on they plotted to take His life. Therefore Jesus no longer moved about publicly among the people of Judea. Instead He withdrew to a region near the wilderness, to a village called Ephraim, where He stayed with His disciples.John 11:53-54
They laughed at him. After the crowd had been put outside, He went in and took the girl by the hand, and she got up. (Notice that he does not tolerate those being critical and waits until he is alone to do his healing.)Matthew 9:24-25
“[Despite Jesus’ plea that his miracles be kept secret] the news about him spread all the more, so that crowds of people came to hear him and to be healed of their sicknesses. But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.”Luke 5:15-16
So if someone is abusing you, mistreating you, demanding your time and energy or taking advantage of you in any way, ask yourself what Jesus would actually do. I believe He would set a boundary. He would walk away. He would not tolerate being mistreated. Perhaps we should heed his example.
These boundaries should apply not only to strangers and acquaintances, but also to the ones you love very much. As Jesus shows us, you do not owe your time, money, energy or presence to anyone who verbally, emotionally, psychologically or physically abuses you in any way. (This is not to be confused with parenting a young child. The young child’s immature behavior is due to an undeveloped brain and should be handled with healthy parenting [another post].)
When dealing with a toxic person, sometimes the holiest thing you can do is set a boundary. Or redefine the relationship. Or walk way. Or break up. Or leave.
You are not more holy for continuing to allow abuse. It is not loving to tolerate name-calling, manipulation, gaslighting (when someone denies a fact to make you feel crazy), lying, controlling behavior, physical violence (cornering, shoving, hitting, throwing or breaking things), passive-aggressive behavior, criticizing, belittling, etc.
Anyone treating you like this would qualify as a toxic person. This includes a spouse, romantic partner, parent, friend, boss, employee, brother, sister, family member, pastor, church etc. The proximity of the relationship does not diminish the importance of protecting and honoring yourself. In fact, the closer the relationship, perhaps the more important it is for boundaries to be in place.
It is unloving to voluntarily allow yourself to be mistreated. It is unloving to both yourself and to the other person.
It’s time for Jesus-followers to dispel the myth that being holy or obedient to God means tolerating the unchanging bad behavior of toxic people in the name of “forgiveness”.
The catch is that if you make a sacrifice for someone you care about, it needs to be because you want to, not because you feel obligated or because you fear the consequences of not doing it.Mark Manson
If you find yourself doing things you don’t want to do because you fear what will happen if you don’t (the person will become angry, they’ll leave, they’ll withhold love, they’ll shame you, they’ll send you on a guilt trip), you probably need to examine your boundaries and the health of the relationship.
Some great examples of healthy and unhealthy boundaries and red flags in relationships can be explored here.
The example Jesus gives us is: If you’re going to be a martyr, you really only get one shot, so you’ll want to make it count. Otherwise, protect yourself from toxic people before they literally suck the life out of you. It’s what Jesus would do.
In my next post, I’ll tell you the secret to forgiving, freeing yourself from resentment, and moving forward in your life.