It’s often been said that this life is a classroom, and that the people and situations that God brings into your life are all lessons for you to learn.
I really believe this, that everything, good and bad, easy and hard, everything is here to teach us, to help us grow, if we are willing. There is no tragedy or triumph, no beautiful friendship or hated enemy, that God has not specifically allowed to come to us for a specific reason, to make us realize something about ourselves that we did not know, and give us the opportunity to change if we are willing.
And I believe every single lesson is this: to learn to choose love. To choose love instead of fear or anger. To choose love wisely instead of foolishly. To choose love in big ways and small ways. To always choose love.
But what about the lesson we are supposed to learn if we have a toxic person in our life? Someone who is snide or self-absorbed or uncaring or even abusive? What is the lesson of love with them?
Years ago, I would have said, “Well, that’s where we learn more about how Jesus loved sacrificially, how we are to be unselfish and lay down our lives for others.” That sounds very noble and loving and Biblical, doesn’t it? It also sounds like a recipe for emotional manipulation and trauma that can lead us to spiritual sickness and exhaustion. We absolutely cannot use love to overlook or turn the other cheek when an emotionally toxic or abusive person mistreats another person. We cannot use the name of love to condone that which is not love.
So, what is the lesson of love when you are dealing with a toxic person? It’s the lesson of loving yourself. If you let a toxic person run over you, manipulate you, or abuse you, then God is trying to teach you to love yourself: to value yourself, to protect yourself, to remove yourself from harm, to even fight if you need to defend yourself.
Isn’t that what true love is willing to do in the face of harm? If you saw a bear charging at a baby ready to maul it, wouldn’t you do whatever it took to get that baby away from that bear? Wouldn’t you love that baby enough to take whatever action was necessary? Well if you have a toxic person in your life, God wants you to be just as brave, just as strong, and just as ruthless as you would be with that bear.
Your lesson is always to choose love. But it just might be that the lesson you need to learn now is to choose to love yourself.