I want to make your life much easier, more joyful, less stressful, more productive, healthier, and richer relationally and spiritually.
You up for that?
I grew up in Washington State, famous for its rain in the West and its apples in the East (Washington produces about 2/3 of our nation’s apples grown for immediate consumption).
To grow great apples, a farmer must nurture great trees, and the way a farmer does that is by cutting off every branch that doesn’t produce good fruit. If a branch produces no fruit, it’s depleting the rest of the tree’s output. If it’s producing sub-standard fruit, it’s taking up space from a future branch that could hold delicious fruit. If it has diseased fruit, the disease might spread to the healthy branches, so it must go.
The wise farmer, the farmer who stays in business, the farmer who actually makes money and feeds his/her family well, cuts off the harmful, disease ridden, or barren branches without apology and with great expectation of what will replace it.
Your life is like a tree and people are the branches. Learning to handle toxic people is learning that, sadly, some branches (relationships) need to be cut off. Beginning a friendship isn’t a commitment to continue it until the day you die. Ministering to a person one day isn’t an iron-clad commitment to walk with them through every crisis for the next forty years. If someone is making you a less involved, less energetic, less caring person in your top-priority relationships, it may be time (and probably is time) to do some pruning.
Pruning isn’t about our comfort as much as it is about our productivity. Most of us want to be involved in people’s lives; we’re certainly not looking to increase “Netflix” time, but hopefully we want those relational encounters to be productive rather than wasteful.
I’m amazed at how our refusal to prune can put even strong and capable people in comical situations. I spent time with a high-powered married couple whom God is using on a national and even international scale. They confessed to me that when one particular woman rang their doorbell they both hit the floor, staying as quiet as they could, wanting her to just go away as they prayed she wasn’t able to see them through the windows. This is not a weak couple! Yet they found themselves in a comical, sit-com like situation because they hadn’t been able to directly “prune” this woman out of their lives. If you find yourself in a situation like this; if you wonder if it would be easier to get a new phone so they can’t contact you, switch churches so you won’t see them even once a week, move to a new house so they can’t find you, or even make your home in a new country, you almost certainly have some pruning to do.
For some of you particularly sensitive people (and I love you for this!), it may seem harsh to prune someone out of your life. It may not sound very “Christian.” But consider the words of Jesus: “I am the true vine, and My Father is the vineyard keeper. Every branch in Me that does not produce fruit He removes, and He prunes every branch that produces fruit so that it will produce more fruit.” (John 15:1-2)
God Himself does this!
The Jesus who told us to pray for more workers (Luke 10:2), who told us to seek first His kingdom (Matt. 6:33), who spoke with such urgency about our task (“We must do the works of Him who sent Me while it is day. Night is coming when no one can work” John 9:4) wants us to see that fruitfulness matters. Unfortunately, we live in a day where our faithfulness is defined by “piety” (avoiding sinful actions) more than it is by fruitfulness. You can make a strong case that God is at least as concerned with fruitfulness as he is with piety (witness his praise of King David, for starters). I don’t have a problem with pursuing piety; it’s just that piety without service is a sub-par faith.
If we value fruitfulness as much as Jesus does, then all of us—literally, all of us—will need to be more intentional about cutting some less than fruitful encounters and relationships out of our lives from time to time. Doing so isn’t an act of cruelty; it’s an act of discipleship and service. Another way of putting this, as shocking as it may sound, is that worshipping God may mean walking away from certain people so that you can walk toward the people he has prepared just for you.
It’s not that we don’t want to be bothered; as Christians, we live to be bothered! Instead, it’s about taking yourself and your calling more seriously. Be a tree that produces an abundant harvest. You won’t harvest great apples in the late summer and early fall if you’re not pruning in the winter.
Please, take a few moments and pray over this post. I believe God may have had someone in your life in mind when he led me to write this post. Ask God to reveal to you those unhealthy encounters—the ones you hide from, the ones that drain you, the kind that leave you lying on the floor of your house hoping the person knocking on your door won’t know you’re home, the one whose very name lighting up on your phone can spike your blood pressure—and take the hint. God wants you to be free to focus where He’s leading.
Maybe it’s time to do some pruning.
For more on this, please check out Gary’s upcoming book, When to Walk Away: Finding Freedom From Toxic People, now available for pre-order (the publication date is October 8).