Monday, September 15, 2014

How to Avoid and Not Be a Toxic Friend

When I was young making and keeping friends was so easy.  It was as simple as common interest and luckily, we all went to the same school so we had seven hours a day to invest in each other.  Then we had all the extra-curricular time too – band, choir, drama, trips across the state and continent.  Time was there.  All conflicts seemed to be settled relatively easily.  In fact, I am still friends with most of my high school friends. 

But, as I get older, as I move around a lot, I find making and keeping friends is so difficult.  There are less and less things like school to bring adults together.  There are more and more distractions to keep us from investing in each other.  Work, community service, kids, even family all seem to be obstacles to developing mature healthy relationships.  Sometimes we get so depressperate we even let toxic friends into our lives.  But it shouldn’t be that way. 

Friendship is good for the mind, body and soul. One study shows that people with the most friends over a 9 year period cut their risk of death more than 60% (Source: Dr. Dean Ornish, a pioneer in reversing heart disease, states no other factor in medicine, “not diet, not smoking, not exercise, not stress, not genetics, not drugs, not surgery – has a greater effect on how often we get sick than the healing power of love.” (Source:  In a study were women saw volunteer friends regularly throughout the year; they had a 72% remission in depression.  That is the same success rate as antidepressants  (Source:

But friendship is good for the soul.  People with strong social networks are more likely to survive major illness like cancer or heart attack. It reduces the effects of stress on the body and helps us heal. (Source:  And all of this was DESIGNED that way.  Gensis 2:18 states: “The Lord God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.”  So why do we stop investing as we get older? 

Life gets complicated.  That is the true reality.  And when life gets complicated and hard it is easier to stop letting people in and try to do things on your own.  But that is not the example we have been set.  Christ began his ministry by finding and investing in 12 close friends – what we know now as the apostles.  But more than that, he had 3 close friends - Peter, James, and John - the inner circle friends, friends of the circle of trust.  

Christ followed Proverbs 13:20 – “Walk with the wise and become wise, for a companion of fools suffers harm.” When Christ started his 3 year ministry which would be tulmultous and difficult, he found the company of wise men.  But more importantly, they found the company of a wise man.  In the course of these three years, these men would heal the sick, raise the dead, anger the political and religious leaders (in today’s terms the President of the United States and the Pope).  The were kicked out of towns, barrated, and eventually beaten and publically killed.  If wisdom was ever needed it was in these times. 

Although perhaps more extreme than what you or I might expereince today, the principle is the same.  Deciphering when to become intimate with a person, what happens if you made that decision to young and the consiquences that follow, perhaps it is a question of drug use or where to go to college or whether to join the service.  All of these life altering decisions need wise counsel.  So it is SO important to surround yourself with wise people.  They will help steer you away from the stupid mistakes while supporting you in the situation you are presently in.  

Proverbs 18:24 states, “One who has unreliable friends soon comes to ruin,
  but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother” and Proverbs 17:17 – “A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for a time of adversity.”  Here is a true life example of what this looks like. 

My kid brother was a senior in high school and went to a bachelor party of a life long friend.  This friend was not wise by any stretch of the imagination.  All the guys got drunk and my brother found himself giving it away in the back of a car to a girl he had broken up with numerous times with because she was unstable. 
One year later, in a happy relationship with the woman who is now his wife, he got a call from the one night stand, and was told he was the father of a bouncing baby boy.  In the utter shock and confusion of the situation he tried to do everythin on his own. In the processes, he alienated people who cared about him and unknowingly signed away his rights as a father and the child was illegally adopted. 

When people found out, he was kicked out of youth groups, Bible studies, and some community organizations.  Life was, to say the least, hard.  But he learned a valuable proverb – “A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for a time of adversity.”  In this process both he and his then-girlfriend, now wife, learned what real friendship is.  Being loved at ALL times – even when we make gargantuan mistakes.  The friends he had made that choice with ran away when life got hard, but some of the true friends stuck around and helped him through the very tough situation.  But he discovered what brotherhood was too.  In the process three of our siblings offered to adopt the child as their own, and all of us came around him to support and uplift him.  We all make stupid decisions, but the people who stick with us through those stupid decisions are the ones we know are our true friends. 

Healthy relationships are impotant, but we can’t just stop at having those friends in our lives.  We MUST  BE those friends to others.  Ephesisians 4:2-3 states, “
Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. 3 Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.”  Plainly speaking – be nice, even when it is difficult, be kind – even when you want to wring their necks, be  considerate – even when you just need to focus on yourself sometimes.  Never be the voice of dissention – unless it is to stop hurt and damage.  Always work in love, speak in love, and interact in love – even with strangers. 

Relationships are hard.  You are not always going to make the best decisions in them, but with a firm foundation you have a hope of it. Christ picked 12 close friends he walked with for three years.  One of them betrayed him into the hands of his enemy, sealing it with a kiss.  Juddas brought armed men to arrest the peaceful Christ and sold his best friend for a mere 30 pieces of silver.  Yet, Christ, knowing the betrayal would happen, still died to forgive his sins (had Judas asked).  After all, as John 15:13 says, “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” 

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