Healthy relationships are one of the sweetest gifts we can experience on earth, aren’t they? A loving friend, a devoted spouse, or a wise and compassionate mentor are just a few of the types of connections that can bring joy, comfort, and encouragement to us. Yet relationships, like any gift we receive, can grow larger in our hearts than the Giver himself! We effectively displace God as Lord over our lives when we allow selfish motivations to pollute our relational priorities.
Our desire for satisfying and loving relationships is a good one because it is from God (see James 1:17). He is the Creator of relationships, whether in the context of friends, family, ministry, work colleagues, neighbors, or, of course, spiritual siblings in the body of Christ. However, God never intended for us to turn other people into our primary refuge or home.
God wants us to depend on him, to live under his authority and care, and to grow in satisfaction with his love for us. When we are secure in Christ, our love for the people in our lives can be healthy, holy, and honoring to God. But when love for Christ and obedience to him become secondary to our relationships or aren’t a part of them at all, friendships, romantic relationships, mentoring duos, spiritual leader/follower connections, and family relationships can all grow into a painful mess.
According to the Bible, whenever something or someone sidelines God from our thoughts, desires, and focus, our lives have gotten off track. The Lord clearly commanded, “You shall have no other gods before me” (Exod. 20:3), yet we easily forget this when it comes to people in our lives. When a person becomes the center of our universe, or makes us the center of theirs, it can feel intoxicating! The emotional buzz or euphoria that often accompanies intense conversations, physical affection, or a person’s adoration of us can be addictive. However, the dynamic of “I need your need of me, and you need my need of your neediness” is messy at best and destructive at worst. Instead of helping us to grow and flourish, sinful dynamics in our relationships imprison us.
I’ve had my share of relationships in which my love for and dependency upon God was replaced by my craving for a person’s need of me or my role in that person’s life. I know what it’s like to be anxious, fearful, jealous, and insecure when relational terrain suddenly changes, and you’re left feeling ousted, left behind, and brokenhearted. God has me on a trajectory of growing freedom from interpersonal patterns that were mired down for years in toxic, unholy dependency.
No matter where you are in your relational world, God is compassionately aware of the circumstances you’re in and knows, really knows, what you are feeling. If you are in relational turmoil, are you willing to have the eyes of your heart and mind reoriented toward him? To gaze upon who he is and then begin to diagnose why there is toxicity, or sin-poisoned motivations, in one or more of your relationships? To consider who Jesus is and then move toward humbly understanding that when he is in his rightful place in our lives, people will be in theirs?
Friend, you can start here with the words of David.
- Preserve me O God, for I take refuge in you. I say to the LORD, “You are my Lord; I have no good apart from you (Psalm 16:1-2). Ask God to help you turn towards him and help you believe that he alone is your unfailing source of love, trust, and value.
- As for the saints in the land, they are the excellent ones, in whom is all my delight. The sorrows of those who run after another god shall multiply; their drink offerings of blood I will not pour out or take their names on my lips (Psalm 16:3-4). God delights in his children delighting in each other; he does not want to destroy all of your relationships and leave you in a barren wasteland! However, he loves us too much to allow a person to displace him in our lives, as this dishonors him and results in multiplied sorrows in our lives.
- The LORD is my chosen portion and my cup; you hold my lot. The lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; indeed, I have a beautiful inheritance (Psalm 16:5-6). You are rich and filled through Jesus, even though you may not feel that in this moment. He loves you and will carry you as you move out of sinful, toxic patterns with people, and into the only true refuge, we have forever: Jesus!
This article is adapted from the introduction in Toxic Relationships: Taking Refuge in Christ by Ellen Mary Dykas, a part of the 31 Day Devotionals for Life Series, available April 7, 2021, through P&R Publishing.