You might be assuming from the title that today’s post is about how to avoid negative mental patterns. While there is a ton of biblical material to back up why such an endeavor would be important, that’s not the direction we’ll be taking. Call it intentional misdirection. (Abracadabra!)
The danger of thinking about toxic people—or, more specifically, of thinking of people as toxic—is actually where we’re headed, and it’s quite a different conversation.
Have you ever encountered a really gentle presence? Someone you can trust your heart with? A safe place where you might fall apart or celebrate deeply? The gift of being that for others is wildly understated in this rough-and-tumble, me-first culture full of noise and rush and ego. Burden-bearing is precious work. So on behalf of everyone who benefits from your welcoming eye contact, your engaged leaning in, your thoughtful questions, and your Christlike softness, thank you. (And, hey, if you honestly feel ten miles from this description, the new mercies each morning can extend even here. It’s a new day—how exciting to begin an adventure in quiet!)
“And if he falls in love tonight / It can be assumed / His carefree days with us are over / In short, our pal is doomed.”
(Timon and Pumbaa)
I don’t remember how old I was when I first heard the saying about what assuming does. After recovering from the horror of hearing an expletive (I was sheltered, okay?), I let the actual message sink in. It made sense to me. But it didn’t stop me from assuming.
Cheeks flush, eyes water, and any shred of dignity is squished like a peanut butter and jelly sandwich at the bottom of a backpack. Thus begins an all-too-common struggle for people who were made to crave connection. It happens in the kindergarten class party. It happens in the high school lunch room. It happens in the teacher’s lounge. But have mercy on us if it ever, ever, ever happens in the church.
A lot of my thought life is taken up with the family of God, specifically the local church. As a pastor’s wife, it’s kind of my job. We make a big deal about one-on-one discipleship, small groups, Bible studies, Sunday morning services… but we don’t really talk as much about just hanging out with each other, getting to know the side of someone that only comes out during a good game of Scrabble or bowling or softball. As crucial as the serious stuff is, the “just for fun” category is equally important for building up the health of the church.
When it comes to sports, I don’t really know how the points work (like at all). I pretty much just care about which team has the best colors and cheer when everyone else does. (Yay! Do the thing! Win the points!) But despite my utter lack of knowledge about athletics, I do comprehend what a dream team is: a handpicked group of uniquely equipped individuals who strive together for a common goal. Or as Google puts it, a team of people perceived as the perfect combination for a particular purpose.
Since moving to Putnam, I’ve had more chats over coffee (well, hot cocoa, anyway) than I can count. This is one of my favorite parts of ministry as an introvert. I get to skip the typical small talk and dig deep one-on-one about what really matters: people’s hearts. Sometimes it’s not at the coffee shop—though it should definitely be on my business card as my place of work. Sometimes it’s at the church, alongside my husband, walking couples through difficult relationship issues. Or it’s on a living room couch as we do premarital counseling with a starry-eyed pair of twenty-somethings. Or it’s with a friend via texts, emails, private messages, or phone calls. The thing is, counseling doesn’t only occur in a therapist’s office; it’s a rhythm of life.
Our culture has gone through a gigantic shift when it comes to openness about sex. My grandparents’ generation could hardly whisper about it, but today, unless you’re Amish, you can’t go any significant amount of time without being boldly confronted by it via billboards, commercials, movies, music, magazines, social media, etc., etc., etc. I think pretty much the only exception is the pulpit. For whatever reason, believers in general still find bedroom activities fairly taboo.
Apparently God missed the memo that sex is inappropriate to discuss openly, honestly, and without shame. Poor God. He keeps breaking religious rules. It’s like He can’t help it. I’m being cheeky here, but if we are going to develop a deeply biblical worldview, we have to be willing to experience our own gigantic shift when it comes to talking about sex. If the wise, loving, and good Creator of sex wants to shed some light on it, why would we feel too pure and precious to have the sex talk?
I had three best friends when I was a preschooler: Jim, Angela, and Mossip Eyelash. Who cares if nobody else could see them? We had the best adventures ever. And then they moved away. But you know, whatever.
You could probably point to a different kind of friend for every major season of your life so far (and maybe even a few who have ridden it out with you over the very long haul). There are the fun friends, the sensitive friends, the common interest friends, the wise friends. Like it or not, God intended us for one another. No man is an island (but even a man on an island can create an imaginary friend. See Castaway for reference.)
The pastor proclaimed triumphantly, “You may kiss the bride;” just as the new couple commenced their long-anticipated Hollywood movie moment with the swelling music and admiring onlookers, the three-year-old ring bearer with a buzz cut—my brother—cried out in a painfully clear voice, “EWWWWW!!!”