What Jesus Taught Me About Walking Away From People

Donald Miller

Recently I’ve been giving a lecture about how we will become like the people we hang out with. It’s true. In five years, you’ll become a conglomerate of the people you spend the most time with. In fact, if I wanted to know who you were going to be five years from now, I’d not ask what you do, what education you have, what you eat or whether you exercise, though all those things have an impact. Instead, I’d want to spend a little time with the folks you spend time with. That alone would tell me who you were going to become.

We are intensely relational beings. We become like each other. It’s just a fact.

*Photo by Jhayne, creative commons

For this reason, I recommend analyzing all our relationships. Literally put them all on a map and ask ourselves whether we want to become like these people or not. If we don’t, I strongly believe that, if possible, we should consider letting some relationships go.

It’s scandalous, I know. But I recommend it all the same.

Occasionally, if I’m speaking to a group of Christians I’ll have somebody ask whether Jesus would ever walk away from somebody. My answer is that He not only would, He did.

In the story of the rich young ruler, Jesus asked him to follow Him, to join Him, to develop a relationship on His terms. The rich young ruler declined, as we know, and Jesus stood and grieved because He loved the young man. And then Jesus walked away. Jesus didn’t go live with the man, giving up His important mission to settle down and play video games and swim in the guy’s pool. Jesus walked away.

Sometimes we take the idea that Jesus goes after the lost sheep to mean we should become like the unhealthy people around us. But this of course is foolish. We should have a direction in life, we should become people who are more and more sanctified, and we should be inviting others to join us. And if they won’t come, we grieve. But we move on all the same. Some relationships simply aren’t good for us. You aren’t rejecting them, they’re choosing not to come with you.

This simple paradigm shift helped me a great deal.

Donald Miller

Donald Miller

Donald Miller is a student of story. He helps people live a better story at Storyline through this blog and the Storyline Conference. He helps leaders grow their businesses at StoryBrand, where they get an entire marketing education in 2 days at his Workshop. Donald lives in Nashville, Tennessee, with his wife, Betsy, and their chocolate lab, Lucy. For regular updates, follow Don on Twitter (@donaldmiller) and Instagram. To read more of his posts on the Storyline Blog, click here.

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  • Matt

    Thank you for writing this.

  • jakedenning

    As someone who left an entire church community in the last year, this was a great read.

  • J Steele

    “Sometimes we take the idea that Jesus goes after the lost sheep to mean we should become like the unhealthy people around us. ” – Really? Example please. Sounds like a straw man. Also Jesus didn’t walk away from the man. The man walked away from Jesus. Seems like a significant difference to me.

  • Shay

    This is good and I think I agree…but, how come it doesn’t work the opposite way? How come people we hang out with don’t become like us?

  • CJ McKinnon

    Actually you are rejecting them. If you make a conscious decision to dismiss someone from your life, they will experience rejection and pain. I’ve experienced this from a dear friend who said she needed to “back away” from the relationship. There was no falling out, but I suspect some issues I was dealing with at the time were burdensome to her. I have been dealing with feelings of not being worthy of love since. Jesus wouldn’t walk away from me and we are to emulate Him.

    • http://www.lovealwaysjo.com/ Joanna Platt

      CJ – you are worth of love and belonging, just by being alive. Please know that (and tell that voice in your head that tells you otherwise to be quiet!).

      I recently had to back away from a friendship and I know I hurt the person deeply by doing so. This was not a decision I made lightly and I think of the person often. The friend I let go is worthy of love and belonging, just like you are worthy of love and belonging. The relationship just wasn’t working and I couldn’t give of myself in the way I believed I should. My hope is that in walking away from the relationship, it opened up a space in both of our lives to be filled with individuals that would fit better. I hope this can help you reframe your experience.

  • http://www.lovealwaysjo.com/ Joanna Platt

    Have you read the book “Boundaries” by Henry Cloud? That book was a game changer for me!

    • amy

      Thanks, yes I have and it has changed my life too! I recommend it to so many people! Also, thanks for commenting as it has brought me back to this article once again – which happens to be so helpful at this point in my life!

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  • http://mybarefootsoul.blogspot.co.uk/ mybarefoot soul

    Not quite sure this was the story Jesus intended for us to take from the story of the rich young ruler, especially when so many other of his actions suggest the complete opposite to the point you are making here.

    While I have no issue personally with encouraging people to set relational boundaries, I am not quite sure this is what Jesus was getting at with this story.

    He seemed to have no trouble keeping Judas around, even knowing the kind of man he was.

    Again, I have no problem with setting boundaries, and leaving relationships that are detrimental (and have done myself), your exegesis here seems a little far fetched. Jesus kept all kinds of unhealthy people around him, he just didn’t let that affect his vision and his purpose in that moment.

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  • David Ish

    “I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.”
    ― Mahatma Gandhi
    He might a well been in Pgh Pa.

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