September 12, 2019

When Dealing with a Toxic Person, the Problem isn’t Your Nose

Gary Thomas — 

After I had been hitting my head against a wall dealing with a toxic individual, asking myself “Why?” and “How do I fix this/handle this/deal with this?” a wise friend, Dr. Steve Wilke, dispensed some life-changing advice. He urged me not to deal with it but to simply walk away.

“I want you to go through the book of Luke and count how many times Jesus walked away from people or let people walk away from Him. You’ll be amazed.”

As I’ve said before, I’m not clinically OCD, but I live in the neighborhood right next door to it, so when a counselor tells me to count something in the book of Luke, I have to go through all four Gospels. I documented every case and came up with forty-one instances (all of them are listed in an appendix of When to Walk Away: Finding Freedom from Toxic People). While some of the citations refer to the same incident, and of course others might disagree with some of my interpretations, there are still at least a couple dozen occasions where an interaction with Jesus didn’t result in the other person agreeing or changing, and Jesus let the situation stay that way. Jesus didn’t give chase or further explanation, and he didn’t question himself or count himself a failure.

This was life-changing for me. I always looked at such interactions as failures on my part. Perhaps I wasn’t hearing God correctly. Maybe there’s just something annoying about me. Maybe I was lacking in my knowledge of the Word or was too compromised by sin or hidden attitudes. If only I could get closer to God and walk with more integrity, then that person would change and/or see the truth.

In other words, it was usually what is wrong with me?

But nothing, of course, was ever wrong with Jesus, so maybe I was asking the wrong question.

Some of you may, like me, come across a toxic person who—as an analogy—has horrendous breath, and if you’re like me, your first thought is, “What’s wrong with my nose? God, would you please heal my nose? I don’t want to think that this person stinks. Probably I’m being too sensitive or setting this person off. Please, fix me.”

But the problem isn’t your nose. The problem is the toxic person’s bad breath. Your nose is actually God’s protection, telling you there’s a problem and to stay (or walk) away.

Some of you won’t understand how willing some of us are to let ourselves be bullied or to blame ourselves or to think we’re the problem. For those of you who can relate, I believe When to Walk Away can offer some much-needed and life-changing perspective. It was astonishing to me to read the Bible with Dr. Wilke’s perspective. While not all of the forty-one occurrences could be interpreted as necessarily engaging “toxic” people (some were just needy people or close-minded people), Jesus displayed a unique freedom to speak the truth and let the person choose whether to take it further. Sometimes, even when people begged Jesus to stay, He still felt tremendous freedom to leave and disappoint them. I saw how Jesus responded exclusively to His Heavenly Father’s will (even above His immediate family), not the flattery, needs, or attacks of people. I wanted that freedom, and spent an entire year reading the Bible through that “walk away” lens, coming away astonished at all that was “new” in the Bible that I had read dozens and dozens of times.

Here’s just one example of Jesus walking away, taken as an excerpt from the book:


One of the most painful passages for me to read in Scripture occurs after Jesus demonstrates His power before a city by sending an entire herd of pigs tumbling over a cliff.

Having been visited by Jesus, these farmers were among the most blessed people in the history of the world by getting to hear God speaking in the flesh. When Jesus got in the way of their pig farming though, the loss of their business blinded them to the glory of the person standing in front of them. In a crude sense, this town chose pork chops over salvation:  “Then the whole town went out to meet Jesus. And when they saw him, they pleaded with him to leave their region” (Matthew 8:34).

Can you imagine an entire town looking at Jesus—the Messiah we love, the one we wish we could talk to face to face, the one we’d pay a years’ salary to get a personal audience with for one hour—and pleading with Him to leave?

And yet Jesus didn’t argue. We’re told that “Jesus stepped into a boat, crossed over and came to his own town” (Matt. 9:1-2)

He walked (or in this case sailed) away.

There’s a terrible messianic complex in many of us that thinks if we were more intelligent, a little holier, if we fasted and prayed a bit more, then everyone we shared the truth with would agree with us and welcome God into their hearts.

That didn’t happen for the real Messiah and it certainly won’t happen for us. It’s okay to walk away when people resist the truth. And it’s okay to let them walk away.


How do we know when to walk away? How do we distinguish between “toxic” people and “difficult” people? (It’s very important to do so.) How do we balance the Bible’s call to love the “unlovable” with Jesus’ example and admonition to “shake the dust off your feet” (Matt. 10:14)? What do we do when the toxic person is a family member or works at our office? That’s what this book explores, and it applies this principle to every relationship you can imagine: work, friends, family, church, etc.

I’m excited to finally be able to share all that God has taught me. After Dr. Wilke challenged me, it felt like I had been given a brand-new pair of glasses that helped me see clearly where before I had been blinded to so many obvious truths.

How You Can Help Spread the Word

In today’s publishing world, I can’t overstate the importance of pre-orders for a book’s success. Pre-orders alert the publisher and sellers that there’s an interest. Publishers and book sellers are, in the end, businesses that become very interested in something that shows the potential to take off. When you pre-order a book, it’s like purchasing three books after it comes out. If you purchase a book for yourself and two friends before it comes out, it’s like you’ve just purchased ten books.  If you think this is a message that you and others could benefit from, please consider pre-ordering from wherever you buy your books: your local bookstore, Amazon, Christian Book Distributors, Barnes and Noble, etc. When these entities see early interest, they’ll take the lead in featuring it and you’ll help spread the word even wider. I would be so very grateful for each reader who takes the time to do this.  And you don’t have all that long to wait; the date of publication is October 8. Thank you in advance!

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40 responses to When Dealing with a Toxic Person, the Problem isn’t Your Nose

  1. Thank you for adding that clarity about preordering. I had no clue it was so beneficial to the author and am compelled now to be sure to pre-order in the future to support those authors who’s work I enjoy and benefit from (including yours!).

  2. Does it address co-parenting with a toxic person? If so, I could really use it!

    • Jae-Jae,

      That exact scenario isn’t covered, though it does discuss toxicity in marriage. You could apply general principles. But no–there isn’t a specific section discussing how to co-parent with a toxic person.