Do You Filter Your Relationships? You Probably Should.

Donald Miller

Growing up as a Christian I was taught I should forgive and accept everybody. I still believe that. But what forgiving and accepting has looked like over the years has changed.

One of the best pieces of advice I’ve received was given to me by my friend Ben. We were taking a break from a writing project, sitting out on my deck when I brought up some trouble I was having with a friend. I’d grown a little tired of this friend using me and I was losing trust.

Ben said something I’d never forget, he said You know, Don, there are givers and takers in this life, I got rid of the takers years ago and I’ve had it for the better. I’d recommend you do the same. To be sure, this was reductionistic but Ben was making a general point. The point is this: Some people aren’t trustworthy. He’s right. And if we don’t believe that, I think we’re being naive.

I took Ben’s advice. I let the friend go and I’ve hardly talked to him since. I simply lost trust in him. There were too many lies, too many victim speeches, too much manipulation. It’s remarkable to me how some people can’t learn and can’t change. He’d had a track record of building communities only to hurt people, play the victim and then walk away and build another.

To me, though, letting my friend go doesn’t contradict being accepting and forgiving. In fact, it was much easier to forgive my friend after I created a strong boundary against his schemes. I have no ill will against him, in fact, I’m grateful, my friend taught me what an untrustworthy person looks like and I am no longer naive.

In early Christian communities, God Himself rid the community of liars and manipulators. Honesty and transparency in community are incredibly important.

These days I have a filter against the kinds of people I’ll be close to.

Here are three kinds of people I keep at a distance:

False Victims: If somebody identifies as a victim (even a strong pessimistic attitude toward life) I keep my distance. Sooner or later people who identify as a victim are going to paint you as an oppressor. Victims need to be victims of somebody, and you can count on it that that somebody is going to be you eventually. Believe it or not there are people who want to be victims because if they are victims they don’t have to take responsibility for their lives and they think they will attract help or a rescuer. Certainly you may wrong a friend, we all do, but you want friends who will talk openly and honestly about what you’ve done and make amends, not flop on the floor like a European soccer player. If somebody is overly victim-like, be careful.

Bullies: The quickest way to identify a bully is to notice what a person laughs at. Bullies do not laugh at themselves, they laugh at others. If somebody makes fun of others but isn’t self deprecating, they’re a taker and not a giver. Ever heard a loud-mouth political talk-show host make a self-deprecating joke? Most likely not. Bullies make great radio-show hosts, for sure. I keep my distance from people who can’t laugh at themselves and have zero friends who aren’t objective about themselves and others. There’s an entire Pandora’s box that goes along with this personality and I’m not interested. If you have friends who are bullies, it may be because they “protect” you in some way. I’d keep my distance all the same. Bullies protect others on the condition that others submit. That’s an unhealthy relationship. Get some strength and learn to protect yourself. You don’t need them to do that for you.

Overly Religious: I love people who have a sincere, open and honest faith. These are some of my favorite people. But when a person starts proof-texting using Bible verses about why they’re right and somebody else is wrong (even if it’s true) and I’ll keep my distance. This goes along with bullying, to be honest. It’s all about controlling others. When somebody’s faith helps them realize their own depravity and walk in honesty, I want them close, but when somebody uses religion to gain authority, I’m out.

All of this may sound calloused, but as we get older, we realize there are people in the world who refuse to mature. Maturity means we are honest, safe and transparent. A mature person understands their faults and admits to them. An immature person is looking for power in some kind of game.

If you want to be mature, surround yourself by mature people.

Am I being unkind, leaving people behind? Perhaps. But being left behind was their decision. If a person wants to lie, make fun of others or not deal with their own depravity, they need to spend some time alone until they can learn to grow up.

I learned a lot about how to be a better person and how to surround myself with better people from Henry Cloud and John Townsend’s book Safe People (not a sponsored link and I’m not compensated for my recommendation). If you find yourself struggling with the quality of people you’re surrounded by, consider reading Safe People and creating some personal boundaries for who you’re willing to interact with. Another benefit of reading Safe People was that it helped me realize the many ways I was unsafe. I’d like to be more safe to my friends, for sure.

What kind of people do you try to surround yourself with? What are the qualities that you look for in friends? What’s an absolute no for you?

Donald Miller

Donald Miller

Donald Miller is all about story. His new book, Scary Close, is available now. Order it here, today. Follow Don on Twitter (@donaldmiller) and Instagram. To read more of his posts on the Storyline Blog, click here.

  • James in StumpJazz

    I think people who hold to this position take a very western view of people and their messy lives.

    I get what you are saying, but I cannot reconcile that to what missionaries, pastors, counselors, and awesome good people . . . deal with on a daily basis! You think Jesus did, what your friend Ben did and cut out the negative people? You think Jesus cut off the bullies? He ate with them….engaged them, even ask them to step into his 3 year mentoring program. I hardly call that reordering your social circles.

    Perhaps taking a break from these negative folks, and avoiding the bullies is wise on occasions, but I think we were made to engage them head on. We were made to love the unlovable. . . not wave them on to some other weak person who will struggle with them.

    I want the difficult person who doesn’t make friends easy. I want to listen to the person that everyone is running from. Don….if you find these undesirable people . . . send them my way. Give them my contact information.

    The authors do have the 25 years of respectable experience but that does not mean it lines up well with the needs of broken people. That mentality makes it seem like its all about us. All about me finding my stride. All about me being surrounded by positive people. It’s all about me being whole and looking whole. Well . . . . . you go on believing that if it gives you comfort . . . but that position lacks plenty.

    Broken people are people we marry, work with, get mentored by, go to school with and are in each others weddings. So if I took your above scope of rules, or filters and applied them…..I would loose about 50% of my friends. Friends I am in the long haul of life with. They do drag on me often, but (without sounding spiritual here) I get to pray for them in secret. I may be the only person praying for them too! What is that worth? I get to invite them into beautiful moments in life . . . and it almost always impacts them. Bullies are often deep, hard to reach people. Negative people are often deeply wounded people. I can’t run from these kinds of people. I have seen to many of these “types” turn into the person I would want to be. I’ve read to many accounts by our best writers (you included) about such people finding God because because Jesus finally broke thru using beauty from another person’s life. That’s the position I want to play on the field!

    I get what you are saying here Don, but it almost makes no loving sense. Sorry :(

    I’m a broken person . . . I hurt peoples feelings. I have broke peoples trust. . . . and people did not avoid or drop me . . . they leaned into me and helped me in a real way that showed their love for me. Any gospel they want to talk about . . . I’ll listen too for a long, long time.

    • Don


      To be fair, Jesus did let bullies go. Judas comes to mind. And God killed Anninias and Sapphira for lying to and manipulating the community. God also has created a place called hell. God has very strong boundaries, and you’re right, extreme grace. But at the same time, if somebody wants to be immature, God allows them to spend time alone.

      • James in StumpJazz

        True. But the momentum of your idea highlighted the *Cut-off*.

        Great closer nail:
        “if somebody wants to be immature, God allows them to spend time alone.”

        I resonate with that view as well. God is excellent at that. My recovering bully friends, and recovering negative friends have jaw dropping stories of those alone season(s).

        I have really enjoyed this past quarter of your blog work. Look forward to more Miller stuff!

        • Carissa

          Don, I am a big fan, but I am having a lot of trouble reconciling this post. I resonate with what James has said in this first comment a lot. I agree that people do need alone time to work out their issues and make their way to God…but I feel like that should be THEIR choice and not mine. I think that when people are confronted with issues they aren’t ready to deal with (even in a loving way), they choose break away on their own. (To be fair, I have no idea how you handled your friend and I know it could have happened this way.)

          I believe that God uses the people He puts in our lives as they are to work in us and make us whole. When we give to those who can’t receive or who hurt us, He causes us to see them the way He does and makes us more like Him. The “filter” system is a lot about ME being in control and choosing who I let in. I think that it fuels a human cycle of hurting people before they can hurt us. That is why the “protect me” mentality doesn’t work. When Jesus allows people to go off and be alone, I believe that is for THEIR good and not his protection. I think rather than trying to protect myself I should trust GOD to protect me by using whatever wounds people inflict on me for His purpose. Jesus never tried to protect Himself from the wounds He received on the cross, and I believe that in order for me to be like Him, I am going to receive some wounds too…

          • Andee

            We are absolutely going to get wounded as we seek to become more like Christ. However, I do not believe that God wants us to continue a relationship that habitually wounds us. He calls us to have self-respect. Yes, he does protect us, but often that is by giving us the strength to walk away and filter that relationship.

            I recently (in the past 3 years) had to experience filtering a relationship out of my life. I have come to find that many people do not fully understand this concept, perhaps because they have never had a relationship (friendship, not romantic) that was so toxic and emotionally challenging that it starting making you think you needed counseling to handle the other’s problems.

            Fortunately for me, I recognized this and chose to have a loving conversation and distance myself from this person. It does not mean that I no longer love that person or spend time with them. It means that I choose not be around them near as often. I have also set boundaries for myself in regards to that person. As a result, I have more joy in life and have grown as an individual through the experience.

            In summary, I think there are valid points on each side of this discussion, but perhaps we are talking about two different scenarios. We are all broken, and some chose to see their brokenness and we work together in communities to grow and mature. And them some people fail to see their brokenness, and they never accept the challenge to move past their issues and grow up. Yes, we are all broken, but if you are not on the journey with me to grow and learn, then I will politely ask you to get off the train and love you from afar.

          • Carissa


            I don’t think choosing to not have a filter necessarily means enabling a “toxic” relationship.

            In the last year and a half I have also been learning a lot about relationships. I found that God made me open myself up to someone (friendship not romantic) even when there was a good chance that I was going to be hurt…and I was hurt a lot. But what I realized after awhile was that most of the hurt I felt was for my friend and not for myself. God brought me to a place where I finally had no expectations and simply saw him as he was, the way God sees him. I did end up leaving him alone for awhile so that he could work through some issues with God, and it was definitely the right thing to do.

            But I don’t see this so much as filtering…The problem I had with the post was that the goal was to “protect me.” I don’t think Jesus ever did that – when He distanced himself from people, I think it was to give them time to let go of their issues rather than fueling and enabling the destructive behaviors to continue. For example, when the Pharisees let their pride keep them from listening to him, he chose to walk away because continuing the conversation would have only enabled their pride to continue. So, I think distance can be good – As long as it is about doing what is best for the other person and not me.

          • Albert

            Really like this discussion thread — great points on both sides, like Andee said.

            I will say this: as much as our goal and desire is to be like Jesus, not everyone can follow the way you are envisioning Carissa. Each person has their own story and background. Some people may be hurting in some toxic relationships and need to filter aggressively so they can be around people who will allow them to heal. On the other hand, other people may be in great spiritual health and position now to take some wounds and be open to be molded even more by God.

            Just some examples, but I think what Don is getting at is pretty watchful of certain wolves among our sheep herds — we’d be fools to deny existence of those certain people. Boundaries are helpful to protect yourself and still allow room to grow.

            That’s my 2 cents of dead honesty right there.

    • shellybell

      James…when I read Don’s blog, whether I agreed 100% or not, I did think more about about “toxic” people rather than those who are on the typical ebb and flow of life. Unfortunately, there are toxic people who can cause great destruction in our lives.

      I would be foolish (Proverbs reminds me of that) to keep close company with certain people, because I can be easily steered down dangerous paths…the adulteress woman, the justifier of the wicked, the perverse in language, the crooked in mind, the woman of folly, and so on and on and on. :)

      And, I too, don’t want to be toxic…to anyone…or to myself.

      • James in StumpJazz

        Shelly, The post spoke of Ben getting rid of the takers. You could also say that Ben got rid of the “non-trustworthy” friends as well. On those sound bites, I had to stop and consider the ramifications for that kind of stance. we certainly do know of a person in our lives that we just have to block out. Mine is a former boss/mentor that comes from a good family. I represented 90% of his social life. I had to cut him off about 4 years ago. Now he attends my church. He continues his attacks on me but is excellent to my face. The dude is one of the most toxic, unloving guys I know. That is also the consensus of all the high school friends we shared in common as well as nearly all the people who work on his jobs the last 25 years. But I stuck it out with him too long. Don’s post means alot to me in regards to that person.

        I hear you Shell, and you are certainly right.

    • Justice

      yes!!! I always wanted to be that ‘unlovable’ friend that is around because someone wants to feel better about themself

  • Vince

    Good info as long as we let the Bible be our filter. Not just the verses that we like and pick out to justify our actions, but the bible as a whole. We have very clear instructions for life and relationships, how to manage them, when to sever them, and how to restore them. Lets not be quick to dump somebody because they become annoying, seem to be needy, or cramp our style; Jesus doesn’t do that to us. After all, this life is a journey, we all will go through times along the way when we struggle and will behave as a victim, bully, and be religious. Heres hoping that we don’t give up on each other too quickly and that we always seek to be restorers.

    • Linda

      Good advice, except I see no reason for non Christians to use the bible as their moral compas.

  • Micky

    What if these people are your family? My in-laws fall into all three of these categories, and being the girl who ‘took’ their son away, I am the villain. Anyone else deal with this? My husband has been great at setting boundaries, but I can’t help but hold out hope that they will come around. It makes me sad that there has to be so much distance. I would love some advice on this.


    • shannon

      Unfortunately, I have been there too. It’s alright to hold up that hope and pray for that close family relationship but I found that often they have issues letting go and accepting the outsider for who he or she really is. If they have acted as all three unsafe people, it is hard to express to them that you want a real genuine relationship. You might try to do as your husband does and try to set up those boundaries to make it comfortable for you. They may come around when you set the boundaries, but that’s up to them to be accepting, and its up to you to learn to trust them once they become genuine. Watch for the signs, I’m sure you can read them well by now.

    • Kim

      You might see previous post at 2:18 am….

    • Saradays


      I agree with Kim to scroll down to the post at 2:18am, March 27th. It is full of parallels and examples that you may find helpful.

      I’d like to share that one of the most difficult parts of this struggle is to identify the problem. Sometimes it is even difficult to discern between what is real and what is pretend with people. When those things are faked or otherwise messed up, it can be very confusing at best, or crazy-making at worst.

      So it is huge that you are seeing the problem and I’m extremely thankful your husband is setting boundaries with his folks. It sounds like he is choosing you and putting you first. That makes me happy.

      I always heard it put that married people are to “leave and cleave.” That is, to leave their families of origin in order to set up a new family of their very own. Not to cut off relationships altogether, but this is the formation of a new family- you and your hubbie- and that’s a joyful thing, a “very good” thing!

      “Cleave” is a cool word with two meanings: “split or sever” and “bind together; become very strongly involved with or emotionally attached to.” In regard to the splitting part, I think of one example of that in marriage as just in being financially independent- split- from one’s parents. Taxes, mortgages, debt, decisions, whatever- it is appropriate to be “cleaved” from one’s parents. It is a strong thing, not a mean thing. It sounds like your hubbie is cleaving to you in the emotional sense, which is why your statement about his reaction to how his parents treat you made me so happy.

      Other than this attempt to validate your feelings, I can just share these difficult lessons from my own life:

      -Consider that you are not cutting anyone off, but rather you are inviting them to live in a healthy way. It’s like waving to them and saying, “Come be with us, we want you!” as you walk down the healthy equivalent of a yellow brick road. That healthy way of living includes you and your husband being clear where your relationship with his parents ends and your marriage begins. It also means that you two are one now- to demean or maltreat you is to demean and maltreat their son. He doesn’t get most-favored son status at the expense of you.

      -As Dan Allender said in his book _Bold Love_, “frolic around the ramparts.” What he means by that is to let people live behind their fortress walls, but keep yourself too far away for their arrows to hit you. Then frolic. Be happy, love each other, maintain a lively, interesting, gracious circle of close friends, and do fun and creative things together. Or go shoot animals with soft brown eyes, if that is what ya’ll like to do together. (I’m not here to judge.) Anyhoo, the point is to be available to anyone who would choose to leave the fortress and stop shooting arrows at you and join you in your frolicking anytime they choose.

      -Finally, as my excellent, Christian domestic violence group leader said, “Jesus already died on the cross for your husband. He doesn’t expect you to.” In your case, recognize that Jesus died on the cross for the harmful, hurting people in your life. He can save them, you ultimately can’t. You can just point the way, invite them down the road, and frolic so they know how good a loving, healthy life full of quality relationships can be. Choosing kindness and love, just like choosing to follow Jesus, is ultimately up to them.

      Over time, I have learned just to be myself and also now that I am surrounded by primary relationships (which is what Don’s blog was really about, not cutting off pesky people across the board), I find I am shocked when I am maltreated. It shocks me to be yelled at or put down. These behaviors had been normalized for me, but I’ve changed and now I can’t take it. I have to tell them they must not speak to me that way and if they don’t, I leave. I don’t do it in hate; I just can’t take it. My amygdala has shrunk back to normal size now that it is not saturated with the cortisol and other hormones from living in fear and abuse. So I start to shake and have a normalized fight or flight response, like regular people do. Leaving (with your husband) does not make you guys unforgiving, it makes you human.

      I have worked on painful family relationships one person at at time, one gathering at a time, and one situation at a time. When I would think of the entire package deal, I became overwhelmed and full of despair. So encounter your hubbie’s family with a realistic expectation of what they can offer and who you are and decide in advance what you will both do if certain expected things happen. For example, when I spoke to a difficult person on the phone, I kept a 3X5 card by the phone with acceptable phrases and responses written down because they made me so shakey, I’d lose my head! Silly, maybe, but it worked for me. And I have figured out over 15 years how to love her well.

      I hope this helps and I hope you see my heart in this long response. You struck a chord in me because I was in your shoes and my husband did not set boundaries with his mean, crazy, drug-abusing family. He chose them and pushed me out of his heart entirely. I pray you and your husband will be a blessing whether we are talking about marriage (a huge deal) or if you are now or plan to be parents (also a huge deal). Anything you can do now to set up what is right will pay off years from now, perhaps when those folks are grandparents dissing the child’s mom. Be strong for your own sake and the sake of precious, confused kids and cleave your marriage. May God bless you and keep you.

    • Charlene

      Micky: I have struggled with the same thing. The bottom line for me is, is my response to them hurting or helping me. If I am constantly obsessing about how they treat me, what they are saying about me and how I can make them like me I am hurting myself and I am eventually going to hurt my relationship with my husband. I am just using up too much energy on people who I cannot change and who never asked me to change the situation anyway. Grieving over those dreams of having a loving family of in laws, everybody getting together for holidays etc. can take time, but living my life the way it really is, is a million times better than waiting to live my life until people who have been hurt and who are hurting others “get better” so I can feel better.

  • Amy

    I wish I had learned how to have boundaries years ago. I wouldn’t be in such turmoil in my personal life right now if I had. I read “Boundaries” by Drs Cloud and Townsend and it was helpful, but I admit I still struggle with how to keep myself safe without completely shutting others out of my life. Boundaries should be like fences with gates – they are protective, but you can see through them, you can interact with people over and around them, and when you choose, you can open the gate and come out or let others in. I am learning, but it isn’t easy.

  • Anna

    The three types of people you mention are also difficult for me to spend much time with. I particularly have great difficulty being around those who demean others. It is often easy for me to be gracious toward my fellow man, and I try leave a lot of room for us to be human and make mistakes, but when it’s someones very personality, it can be quite difficult. I don’t ever want to make myself entirely unavailable to someone, but boundaries are very important.

  • JE

    Another great book is “Changes that Heal” also by Henry Cloud. We had to read it for a class I was taking on counseling and it helped me deal with a lot of these things, so I could become healthy and in turn help others. It’s been very interesting reading all of your comments (and yes, I did read ALL of them). I like that discussion can be held in a forum where I hope all of you have responded with conviction in love. If not, you could be one of the three he’s talking about. :)

    In my own life, I have had to deal with situations like this many times. Twice it’s been a “best” friend, once a family member, and twice a co-worker. The bottom line is: God tells us who we are in His Word–a precious child of His. This gives us confidence and joy. However, we are constantly surrounded by others, believers and non-believers, who try to tell us differently. Satan likes nothing more than for us to be overwhelmed by these lies, to start believing them, and/or to get worn down by them so much that we become too tired, sad, or develop such a low self-esteem that we are near useless to proclaim Christ.

    What I believe Mr. Miller is talking about is (1) learning to recognize when this is happening in our lives, (2) to step back from these circumstances, (3) ask God to help us evaluate our own hearts in the matter, (4) spend time personally being refreshed in His Word/prayer, (5) be refreshed by communing with a genuine group of believers, and then (6) going back out “into the real world.” This may require us to be in contact with those who have hurt us (they may choose to completely ignore us) and will definitely require us to be in contact with non-Christians. Jesus Himself spent time with “those” people. He loved them as should we. But Jesus also spent time being refreshed. He removed Himself to a quiet place, talked to His Father, prayed, and fellowshipped with His disciples.

    Thanks for all of your discussion. I hope each of you has a great day.

  • Melanie

    Couldn’t agree more. Especially with your first statement about how we are taught in the church to love and accept everybody. And while I still stand by this, as you do, I came to a point where I realized the people I was “loving and accepting” were HURTING me. I gained a lot of strength from the Old Testament, in how sometimes God’s “love” looks a lot like “wrath” and not like love at all. A refining fire if you will. He taught me protecting myself was not an act of ill will towards others. Powerful lesson, one I still question, but an honest struggle, and I am much better off for it.

    Thanks for posting this.

  • Sandra Burke

    I am glad to see that there are more people clarifying that it is wise to set boundaries. After years of Christian Counseling and learning so much from books like Boundaries I have had to set some strong ones. Sadly it is usually family. Since then I have been told how can you call your self a Christian and I wasn’t showing forgiveness. I have tried to explain that there is a difference between setting boundaries and forgiveness.

    • Claudia Good

      Same experience Sandra!
      Have you found healing and a supportive community since setting boundaries with your family? Did you need to move away to find separation?

      I am working on this presently… it’s been tough.

  • Jayne

    I like this. This challenges me for two reasons.

    1. I want to have better people in my life; people who will encourage me in my faith, challenge me when I’m wrong, and laugh with me during the hard times.

    2. I want to be someone that people want in their lives. I can think of way too many times when I have isolated or acted as the taker. It’s time that I give love back to people who have tried to give love to me, and even just plain give love to others because of the love I’ve been shown.

    This is a good challenge for me to remember just now, as I prepare myself to return home to family and friends that I hurt badly a year ago. I’ve learned and tried to become better, so hopefully I can treat them much better now too. Thanks for the writing you do!

  • Ayo

    Thanks for this. It changed my mindset about being forgiving. Quite liberating :)
    Now, I’m just wondering what to I could do if the person is someone I work closely with in church. How do I set boundaries without affecting the church movement so much?
    Thanks again. :)

  • Chantal Riviere

    Thanks, thanks and thanks,

  • Claudia Good

    Donald- You threw yourself down an often unchosen but healthy path. Boundaries. Everyone needs them. Few act on this need! Congratulations!
    Thanks for this rockin reminder and the book recommendation!

  • Pingback: 5 signs you’re giving more than you’re getting from a relationship « A Woman's Guide to Women: A Blog for Men()

  • Pingback: 5 signs you're giving more than you're getting from a relationship « A …()

  • Episkopos

    Thanks for this post it is very relevant. When i think about this in a church setting i think of the scripture Proverbs 22:10 – Cast out the Scorner, and contention shall go out; yea, strife and reproach shall cease. Some peoples presence in our lives/church are destructive and in those times we have to be bold enough to let them go. Not that we hate them, or not care about them but becuase their presence will cause problems and have a negative effect on what your trying to build. If we want to see our churches built we need people who are loyal and work with us. God bless you! :-)

  • Pingback: Links of the Week | theilluminationdilemma()

  • Pingback: Wes Draws » Friday Faves()

  • James P

    I honestly want to thank you for this post. It has exposed a few things about me I didn’t want to hear, but needed to hear, and given me a lot to think about. Thank you for being so honest about this, it’s one of the most loving posts someone could post to be honest. Keep doing things like this, we need your voice.
    Thanks, JP.

  • Barchbo

    Thanks for sharing this and providing some thought-provoking internal dialogue. I think this DOES apply to people of varying faiths and backgrounds: with whom do you want to surround yourself? I didn’t take this post to mean that we should have zero interaction with the aforementioned types – just that we should have healthier interactions with as many people as possible.

  • Rachael Lee Stroud

    Thank you so much for this. So timely and helpful. I am a 20 year old writer and you have inspired and encouraged me immensely.

  • Pingback: Friends from a Distance « gaffneyjournal()

  • Bryan

    Great post with a lot of wisdom obviously gained from real-life experience.

    This may fall under your third group of people (“overly religious”), but I’d say that overly critical people are also not safe. These are people who have faith and will admit their weaknesses in theory, but in practice, focus on your faults while functionally neglect their own. This usually stems from a failure to understand one’s own shortcomings and produces a relationship where it’s impossible to be honest. I’ve learned that humbly praying and hoping the best for these folks, from a distance, is the best policy.

  • SV

    Two comments:

    1. I attended a “safe people” workshop (based on the book) at my church. John Townsend made a suggestion that really stuck with me. I don’t remember it being in the book. There is a test to tell if someone new might be a safe person or not. You have to admit a fault of yours to them and see how they react. They will either admit a fault of their own, “wow, I do that too!” or they won’t, “gosh, I’m sorry, that’s too bad.” Obviously, you have to watch out more for the second person. Priceless!

    2. Henry Cloud always talks about “necessary endings” and “pruning rose bushes.”
    Perhaps “pruning” toxic relationships will allow your other relationships to bloom.

  • Marlene M.

    I’m not looking for a debate here, but I’d like to add some thoughts. According to your article, this is what I derive to be the definition of a “taker”. Taker: one who only takes away from a relationship but does not reciprocate.

    In a relationship, I think we out to not only be givers, but also receivers; receivers of encouragement, love, humor, pleasure, empathy, and more. If one believes themselves to only be a giver, then they are likely to feel unloved or underappreciated. Then that person can become unhappy or unsatisfied & prone to giving up on the relationship. I believe it is better to give than to receive, but we should also reap of all the positive & negative aspects of a relationship because receive what another has to give is what helps us grow.

    There are people in the world we can’t trust. It is healthy to keep boundaries & sometimes it is better to end a relationship that becomes toxic for whatever reason. This is not unkind. It is unkind to say that, “’s remarkable how some people can’t learn and can’t change”.
    I would reword this statement as this: “it is remarkable how the power of sin in that person’s life does not allow them to change”. They have let sin take power in their life, but they can learn to change. They can change, if they decide it. If they refuse to change, that is different; similar to what you said about maturity: “….we realize there are people in the world who refuse to mature.”
    I agree! However, I think that if we want to be mature, surrounding ourselves with mature people does not mean that through osmosis we also become mature. Maturity is a personal choice, & even those surrounded by materialism, dishonesty, deception, & superficiality can decide they will be different. Especially if there is a Holy intervention of sorts! But, like iron sharpens iron, those that have already matured can continue grow in their maturity by the company they keep.

    “Am I being unkind, leaving people behind? Perhaps. But being left behind was their decision. If a person wants to lie, make fun of others or not deal with their own depravity, they need to spend some time alone until they can learn to grow up.”
    I will have to disagree with most of this statement. It is not unkind to leave people behind if that person has cause someone substantial damage; it is fair. Whether or not that person deserves to be left behind is up to the person who has been hurt. If that person decides to leave that person behind, it was that person’s decision; not the one who did the hurting. Being left behind was not their decision. Being a horrible friend/companion was their decision. I am so grateful for the friends I have had that could have hung me up to dry because it was fair, but decided to confront & challenge my actions in a loving way. Those instances are what have made us even closer friends than we were before. “Takers”, however, are not what I have encountered in those situations. These have been friends who give & receive, as have I.

    Furthermore, spending time alone may not be how a “taker” will “learn to grow up”. It would seem obvious to me that this person (the “taker”) has some issues to work through. Many times, they cannot work through these issues alone. Actually, it may be when they work through these issues that they most need a friend. There may be something holding them back from maturity that they are not dealing with. It is our decision whether we are willing, or strong enough, to go through it with them. If another person’s issues are having negative effects in our lives, that is where a line needs to be drawn, & this line looks different for everybody (like you said).

    I don’t want to be overly critical here, but these are just some thoughts that were inspired as a result of your article. I do appreciate the topic of your article, as it is something that has not been discussed openly in my experience as Christian. Relationships are something that is handled differently in a belief system that calls us to “love our enemies”. And I wholeheartedly agree that there is a danger in being naïve in our relationships, & it is something I struggle with on a daily basis. It is very important to ask the Spirit to guide us in our relationships with others as we remember that our quarrels with others, believers & unbelievers, are not with humans but with the spiritual forces that influence them (Eph 6:12) and ourselves at times. It is unkind & not Christ-like to discriminate against individuals who have issues in their relational lives. We are called to love them, even it is from a distance. If we are going to draw lines in (or end) the relationships with those around us, may it be as a result of our personal boundaries according to our own resilience, strength, & wisdom found through the Holy Spirit.

  • Pingback: Are You Over Exposed? | Joe Burnham is Restorying Life()

  • Steffan

    I think of the concept of the “weaker brother.” And also of how Jesus made deliberate choices as to who were really close to him. We will have three types of relationships in our life: Those where we help others, where we each other, and where we are helped. The problems come when we are desiring for one of those relationships to be something it’s not. Like when we want a relationship where we help each other from a person who needs more help than they can actually help us. Lastly, I will provide this quote:

    “As we mature both spiritually and with age, ending relationships should become more and more uncommon. The most important thing to remember is the why. If you ever have to distance yourself from someone toxic, the only reason is to protect yourself so you can be spiritually strong, know God intimately, and share His love. You must be spiritually healthy if you want to bring God’s healing love to a world of sick people.” -Craig Groeschel

  • Jay

    I read this post when you first published it, but went back to it today because of something I’m going through with such a person. I’m still wrestling with your thoughts and how I should respond in this situation, but I just wanted to tell you I greatly appreciate your words of wisdom nonetheless.

  • Ruben Cardenas

    I can’t stress how much I’ve appreciated this. Not until earlier this year did I begin to give myself and the people I have surrounded myself with some intentional and honest consideration like this. And this post has been such a helpful bit of counsel for me and some of the friends I’ve passed this article to as well. Thanks, Don.

  • Joan

    To everything there is a season. A time for every purpose under heaven (Ecclesiastes 3:1).

    With that said, there are some relationships in our lives whether romantic or platonic that are just expired. BE REAL WITH YOURSELF. LET IT GO. We all have the experience of a person in our lives that sucks dry our joy. When that happens, it affects us a lot. Sooner or later, we begin backbiting and resenting them. You will begin to see that just their aura is annoying. It’s like you pray and pray but you still feel the same way. Why go through the misery? Why be around a “friend” that causes you to become a hypocrite and cause you to sin because of their ways.

    In paraphrase, the scripture says that if the right eye causes you to sin, pluck it out. Make no mistake, one of the things that Jesus stood for was following the peace of God. So if peace does not resonate in your heart no matter how hard you try, why force a relationship? Sure we all have rocky relationships with some friends that are annoying but when a friend robs your joy, simply let go of them. An absence of peace is an absence of God. You can and will try hard to do the Christian thing and remain friends with them but remember, even the book of proverbs would agree that you would be foolish to give advice to a foolish man. That proverb applies in so many difference ways and not just advice.

    The point…staying in a “toxic” relationship does not make you a better Christian. Be prudent and detox a toxic relationship. If a person is not catapoling you closer to God or your dreams, let them go and when you do let them go, you will experience exceeding peace and joy. Remember to stay cordial to them. As a result of letting them go, you have no need to backbite or be resentful.

    Lastly, DO NOT EVER feel guilty or allow anyone make you feel guilty for letting that friend go. Critics are spectators looking in on the outside and whom do not even understand your struggle.

    God bless

  • Pingback: from Donald Miller’s Blog | Ron Gehrke II()

  • Elisa

    I think of it more as “tough love.” Once a person has let the other person know what it is that is obstructing the relationship, and this other person does not make sincere attempts to work together, it is time to part ways. Chances are the other is the common denominator in other hurting relationships. “Faithful are the wounds of a friend”: sometimes that means walking away from the relationship; one can still pray and love that friend, but the Lord has His ways of disciplining/teaching those who do not love the Body HIS WAY by isolating them, letting them have their way. It hurts for us to let them go–maybe more than staying in it–but we must obey if that’s His call.

    I don’t agree though with the idea of filtering relationships to protect one’s self. “Love doesn’t take into account a wrong suffered… Love endures all things…” HOWEVER, Love does protect others. It’s not just about the two, you know?

    There are seasons to friendships, I believe, and maybe I’m preaching to myself here over certain relationships, but sometimes we have to realize it’s winter when things are dead or dormant. We must wait for God to do His work in our friends from whom He has parted us for a while. And hope for spring.

  • JO

    I really like this post. I think it all depends on the situation that we cut people off. I’ve had difficulties with this area myself. I love helping people, especially people with problems. However, I’ve come to the point that if my help isn’t accepted and their purpose is to use and manipulate me, then I really have to let these people go. It’s painful once we’ve grown our relationships with these people, but maybe it’s better off to let them grow somewhere else with other people. God is still the ultimate healer. We can’t save anyone. We let people go so that God can help them.

  • RosePearl

    Thank you so much, Don, for sharing your thoughts and experiences!

    Ima go ahead and share my story with ya… :0)

    Growing up in a Christian household, as well, my parents tried to teach my siblings and me to be loving and accepting, but also to be discerning when it came to our friends and those who we allowed into our “inner circle”.

    I don’t have many people who I consider friends; I have fewer close friends. Recently, one of my close friends and I had a falling out. It came as a bit of a shock to me, the way things went down, and I was completely unprepared. I didn’t know how to handle the situation, and reacted poorly. This was a person that I trusted, a person who knew me, inside and out. And man, did it hurt!

    I apologized for my words, and asked for forgiveness, but my friend refuses to speak to me. I shoot her a text every now and then, but she doesn’t respond. I found myself becoming angery and bitter about the situation. I don’t want her to hate me; I don’t want to hate her. But there’s a distance between us, and our relationship will never be the same.

    I like how you wrote that these are the people you keep at a distance, and I’m glad you didn’t say that these are the people you kick out of your life. I don’t reject this girl at all. We’re different, but I still care for her, and want the best for her, even if I have lost a little respect for her (I’m sure the loss of respect is mutual). I wish that our friendship could be the same. But… if I’ve done all I can, I know it’s up to her to meet me halfway, so to speak.

    Currently, I’m in the process of doing all that I can, so that I am able to leave our friendship in her hands. It’s hard, and it hurts, and I have to swallow a good amount of pride. But I’m getting there… my friend falls into all of the three categories that you mentioned, and I, myself, fall into two. It’s hard breaking out and being a better person. But I wanna be a better person. But gosh, it’s so humbling. I peed my pants once, in middle school, and my teacher helped me clean everything up. I was embarrassed and humiliated… all that to say that I think being humble and being embarrassed are really closely related.

    I read this post, in addition to a few others, and your experiences and wisdom are helping me to handle my own experience. I am very grateful that you’re so open and sharing.

    In answer to your questions, I try to surround myself with people who are accepting, non-judgemental, and respectful. Transparency is very important to me, but I can’t say that it would trump any of the other three qualities that I mentioned. I also like to be around folks who don’t take themselves too seriously. I’m a serious person, and shy, and like to be around people who pull me out of my shell. I also like to be around people who are motivated; as a mostly lazy person, being around motivated people is encouraging to me. And lastly, I like to be around people who are compassionate. I’m not the most loving person in the world… but I like to be around loving people. Because I want to learn to be more loving. Being around loving people, makes someone more loving, I think. :) Basically, I try to surround myself with people who are strong where I am weak, and I like my friends to be kind and gentle, not only with me, but with everyone.

    I don’t know that there is an absolute “no” for me when it comes to friendship. I’ve never met anyone that I felt I absolutely should not associate myself with that person. A person’s heart can change, for better and for worse. There are people that I would keep on the outer rim, but… I don’t know. I’ve never met anyone that I despised and looked down upon to the point that I would completely reject them as a person. I might reject their thoughts and ideas, but never the person. However, there are times when ya gotta let people go, and let ’em follow their own paths. This is a lesson that I’m in the process of learning. That is a really hard question for me. Where do we draw the line? Is it different for every person? I don’t know… in the end, who am I to judge a man? It’s not my place. It’s God’s. Whoever God accepts, I should accept. Whoever He rejects, I should reject. God’s judgement, however, comes after death. So… while we live, we should live as if He’s accepted everyone. He’s called to everyone, and we, humans, can’t see the heart. We don’t know what’s going on in everyone’s lives. And we shouldn’t fill in the gaps with assumptions and judgement.

    I think that’s a really high, and maybe even unreachable standard. For me, in particular. I don’t live 90% of what I just said. But I’m working on it; God’s working in me. Aaaaanyway… this is just what I think. I wanted to share, since you did. Thank you again! I really appreciate the fact that you’ve done a lot of the hard thinking, and left the easier thinking to the rest of us! Haha! Thanks you! :)

  • RosePearl

    I realized recently that physical violence and unmitigated accusations are where I draw the line, humanly-speaking. And I don’t mean physical violence/accusations against me, I mean against other people — weaker people — in unfair situations. Spiritually, I can’t reject anyone for anything. But humanly, I suuuure can! … Trying not to though. Trying to let the Spirit take control in situations like that.

    I’ve been on the attacking end, and I understand why a person can attack another person when they’re down, then blame the victim for the their crime. But I’ve matured since then, and though, at times I still attack the weaker man, I take responsibility for my actions and the consequences. (I’m working on not attacking the weaker man — or anyone, for that matter.)

    Among adults, that kind of behavior shows a disrespect and lack of maturity becoming of a child. Personally, I find that kind of behavior among adults extremely distasteful, bordering on intolerable. The only reason I don’t find this behavior intolerable is because I’ve been there. I’ve been the intolerable person. Whoa, just realized why I’m acceptable to God… been really struggling with that the past few weeks. Wow. To think that God’s been reaching out to me through a failing relationship. Wow. Thank you God, for using this guy Don! Wow… Thank you God.