Those are two words that strike fear and panic into the hearts of grown women and men everywhere. When I walk through my daughter’s junior high hallway, it all comes back, and immediately, I feel thirteen on the inside.
I am reminded of my childhood awkwardness, my lack of athletic ability, and my crazy hair (which could have qualified for its own zip code). But what I remember most were the on-again, off-again relationships. I remember feeling so powerless when I was left on the outside of friendships that I thought were as valuable to them, as they were to me. I remember the pain of rejection, and how hard I worked to get back on the inside again. I often found myself on the wrong side of a closed door.
For me, junior high was a constant cycle of relationships going from terrific to terrible and back around again. What I didn’t know yet, was that the cycle was toxic.
Fast forward to 2017. I’m in my forties, and even now, there are times when I feel thirteen on the inside, standing outside the door. Even now, I occasionally struggle with relationships that move from good to bad.
I’m learning that in situations like these, I need to pause and take a sober assessment of my choices before I move forward. Imagine those choices as three wooden doors, marked with signs that read: Toward, Onward, Inward.
The Toward Door
When we open the Toward Door, we “move toward” the person. We’ve determined that the relationship has value and we will attempt to restore it, pinpoint the problem, admit our own shortcomings, offer grace where needed, and grow in the process. While opening this door can be painful, the Toward Door gives us an opportunity to show compassion, and perhaps open a path toward the healing of another soul.
My friend Lisa-Jo Baker has often reminded me of words that Jesus’ own brother wrote:
You can develop a healthy, robust community . . . only if you do the hard work of getting along with each other . . . (James 3:18, emphasis mine)
Walking through the Toward Door is often going to feel like hard work. But just because it’s hard, doesn’t mean it’s wrong. Like Lisa-Jo said in her book Never Unfriended, “That hardness is a compass pointing us in the direction of what we’re doing right. Because it means we haven’t quit yet. It means we’ve decided to stick. It means we’re choosing not to unfriend with the swipe of a finger, but instead to give the gift of the do-over.”
The Onward Door
When we open this door, we “move onward.” We’ve determined that there is no going back to the way things were. The relationship is too toxic and too volatile. Sometimes, you may need a trusted friend or spiritual adviser to help you see what you couldn’t see before – that the person who once seemed safe, isn’t really safe at all.
Friend, maybe you need to know today that it’s time to move away from an unsafe person. Maybe you need to know that someone else’s toxicity could bleed like poison into your own soul — and your own walk with Christ. The following words from Scripture might be painful to read, but sometimes we need to hear it unvarnished:
Associating with bad people will ruin decent people. (1 Corinthians 15:33)
Maybe you needed to know that moving onward from such relationships doesn’t make you sinful, it makes you wise.
The Inward Door
Unfortunately, many of us choose to walk through the Inward Door. We turn inward, allowing difficult people to linger on the forefront or fringes of our minds, long after they’ve moved on. I’ve walked through the Inward Door in the past, and I know firsthand how it made me spiritually sick to constantly replay conversations and nurse old wounds.
Introspection is helpful, but if you walk through the Inward Door, don’t stay here too long. If you stay inside the Inward Door, a wise mentor once told me, “You let people live rent-free in your head.”
Toward. Outward. Inward.
Where are you today, friend? The doors are set before you, and when you walk through the door, you don’t go alone. Jesus walks with you.
Open the Toward Door if you can, or the Onward Door, if you must. And have the courage to close the Inward Door. Don’t let toxic people live rent-free in your head.
Dear Lord, Someone reading these words today is standing outside the three doors. Lead your daughter to the door you have picked for her — the door of healing and wholeness. Lord, where there is reconciliation possible, reconcile. Where there is forgiveness required, reveal it. And if it is time to move onward, Lord, give your daughter the courage to open that door and walk through it. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
By Jennifer Dukes Lee, author of The Happiness DareLeave a Comment
Michele Morin says
I feel as if I just got a much-needed refresher course from Lisa-Jo’s book — and it’s true that we’re all in Jr. High when it comes to girl-friend issues. But this three-part image you’ve shared is so visual and helpful, particularly in giving us permission to move on when a friendship is tearing us down.
Blessings to you, Jennifer!
Jennifer Dukes Lee says
That book of Lisa-Jo’s is rich with wisdom. Glad that the doors visual added more perspective. Thanks, Michele.
This is good, but oh so hard when the ‘toxic person’ who has moved on without you, is your child.
We have adopted 5 teens. I already have lost one, who moved out early, then died at age 23.
Now my 17 year old has become a controlling narsaccist, very toxic, but still lives at home.
I will keep walking ‘toward’ that door. I am ever reminded of Jesus washing dirty feet. I wanna learn to love like that.
Michele Morin says
So sorry Stacy. You’re walking such a brave path. Praying for you and your teens right now.
Beth Williams says
Praying for you sweet sister! It is super hard when children rebel & become toxic. May God give you the discernment & strength to continue walking through that door toward your child. I pray you feel His arms around you giving you a much needed hug.
Bev @ Walking Well With God says
As a mom, watching my kids, especially my daughter, go through middle school was particularly hard. Like you relayed, all those old ugly memories come a haunting. Girls at this age can be especially mean. “Drama” is the key word that comes to mind. But, even as an adult, I’ve allowed mean people to live rent free in my head. I’ve allowed too much drama. Thank you for this needed reminded that God gives us permission to move “onward” past toxic relationships. God cares about His children and doesn’t want any of them torn to shreds by another. Great analogy!
Jennifer Dukes Lee says
Thank you, Bev! Yeah … so you can be an adult and still have junior high drama, for sure!
Summer Rae says
Thank you. God knew I needed this tonight. Wow… He is so faithful… when I was starting junior high I was eleven years old and that was the year my mom went to home to Jesus. I am now twenty-one and I can honestly say me and relationships had never fully understood one another… until this past year when the good LORD beyond blessed me with an amazing family and woman who I am so fortunate to call, “Mama.” (Her name is Jennifer too!) She has taught me so much about focusing on God and setting boundaries with various people. Earlier today I was assessing an old/distantly current friendship and other various relationships. Then tonight I got a mere three or four sentences into an extremely challenging letter that I feel I need to write to someone else, and your words have really put it all, plain and simple, right here in front of me. We don’t have time to waste… or “room to rent for free” we are here for such a short time and our one purpose is to serve our Heavenly Father. (As I am sure it will for many,) The prayer at the end spoke straight to my heart. Thank you again Miss Jennifer; I pray you and your family have a wonderfully blessed day.
This side of Heaven,
Jennifer Dukes Lee says
Oh Summer Rae … I am so glad that a “Jennifer Mama” came into your life. And I’m happy to know that my words came to you at a time when, it sounds like, you might have needed a bit of encouragement in this area.
Thank you so much for this devotional, Jennifer. To see before me in my mind the three doors that you have described is an image I will take with me. My heart needed to read these words today. Thank you for giving us a piece of your heart–I felt like it was hugging mine as I read it. Blessings to you today!
Jennifer Dukes Lee says
I have too often taken the “inward door,” and dwelled there longer than I should. It’s so hard to walk through hard relationships, but we don’t serve anyone well if we “drink the poison” of toxic relationships.
Thank you so very much for writing this down, so true and so inspiring!
x finja | http://www.effcaa.com
Jennifer Dukes Lee says
Glad you stopped by, Finja!
Wow, THANK YOU! This was so timely and so wise. Thank you for taking the time to write this for us!
Kristin Davila says
I’ve been holding on to a friendship for a year after it was done!!! I thought it was wrong not to hope. I thought I would be the ugly one if I unfriended her like she did me. But staying just kept the cycle going and it allowed me to still “check up” on her on social media. Two days ago, I finally cut it off with the Lord’s and my sweet husband’s help. It’s been so hard because my friend and I did love each other very much at one time. Thank you for the reminder I’m not the only one whose had to end a toxic friendship.
Praying for you, Kristin! I have also had to do this on two different occasions. It’s difficult, but so healthy to do so!
I’m in a toxic relationship now. My marriage. He has been staying in my son’s room for almost 2 months. We’ve been together for 19 years and have 2 son’s, 17 & 12. The 17 yr old has followed in his father’s footsteps, staying out all night, partying, etc. I have no place to go or I would be gone by now. I cannot afford a place of my own as I am only working part-time and since I have fibromyalgia, and continuous sinus infections, I’m sick very often. I pray for help, I still love my husband and my son, but they disrespect me and treat me awful. I don’t know how much longer I can bear. I’m laying in bed now, worst sinus infection I’ve ever had and no one to care for me…
I pray but I still feel alone…
Gail Noe says
Maria – there is one who cares far more than you can imagine. Jesus!!! Stay in the Word and keep reaching out to the Lord. He wants to bless you and help you in this. It may not feel like the Lord wants a relationship with you, but believe me He does. I know, I have been there. Praying you allow Him fully into your heart to receive His perfect love for you(1John 4:16)
Prayers that you will overcome this and that all will be well.
Blessings to you,
Maria, please know I am praying for you!! Our Heavenly Father loves you and cares for you and is right there with you even when you feel completely alone. My prayer is for God to give you healing, answers and direction! I’m also praying for your husband and son. May they realize what they’re doing to you and to themselves and turn to Jesus! Hugs and blessings!!
Beth Williams says
Oh sweet sister-so sorry for this! Praying that you will feel God hugging you & caring for you always!!! May He send discernment, wisdom & strength to know what to do & when. Praying for healing of all your medical issues. God is still in the miracle business. Prayers for your husband & son also. May they come back to God & be the men you need.
Wow!! What an awesome word and visuals!! Thank you so much for sharing this with us. I too have a middle school girl and I am printing this for her to read and refer back to when she needs it, because the drama has already begun.
I’m sitting here literally shaking my head at the enormity of what I just read. I too struggle with taking the inward path and it affects my relationships and my emotional well being in such a negative way. One thought or word can turn into a full blown rehash of a situation or circumstance that really should be done and over with. Thank you for a set of “instructions” so to speak, that will allow me to redirect my thoughts and options to deal with these issues in a better way.
Jennifer, thank you so much for this timely post! My situation is a little complicated. My son remarried almost two years ago. He was living near us at the time and I was caring for my granddaughter (her birth mom was in prison for attempting to murder her). During that time, our precious 34 year old daughter passed away due to illness and my son announced he and his new wife were moving 500 miles away. It was a rough time to say the least but God was with us and saw us through. My new daughter in law is a Christian but she is very cold and has often made subtle insults toward me and my husband. I tend to be a people pleaser not wanting conflict. We have made efforts to welcome her and become close but she has rejected us. I will admit things were tense at first when they announced their engagement and plan to move away especially when I had just lost my daughter, not to mention that I had been a surrogate mom to my granddaughter for 4 years. But I moved on and accepted the situation realizing God was moving me into a new season. Just recently when they came to our area, my daughter in law was behaving colder than ever. I was inquiring about the health of her grandmother (which is why they were down here) and she suddenly turned toward me and my husband saying she won’t pretend to like us, she doesn’t want to have a conversation with us, be hugged or greeted, receive a text or birthday card…she wants nothing to do with us at all. She called us toxic and it cut so deep because we have only shown love towards her in the few times we’ve seen them since they moved away. We were stunned and hurt but all I could say was, “Okay.” My son looked so sad and he has made extra efforts to keep in contact and let us face time with our granddaughter. But my daughter in law is never present and she has no intention of ever coming to our home again. My heart hurts but I pray for her heart to be softened toward us at some point. We are family and all I really wanted was an open line of communication with her, not to be her best friend. But we will respect her requests and leave her alone. It’s very sad and sooner or later my granddaughter (she’s almost 6) will wonder why we never speak to her mom and visa versa. If I have to choose a door to go through, it will be the onward one because I’ve been letting her words give me anxiety and I replay them over and over in my head. Yet I pray for some kind of reconciliation some day. Again, thank you for your post because we often have to make very hard choices in relationships to be healthy. My daughter in law made hers (to cut us off). I only wish we could talk it out and find out why she resents us so much. I would ask her forgiveness if I knew what it was we did. Since I don’t know, I keep asking God to search MY heart and let me know if there is something I need to do. Bless you and all my Christian sisters out there who are struggling with something similar. Relationships can be difficult but praise Jesus, there is always hope in Him.
What a difficult and sad situation. I’m am so sorry for the way you and your husband are so selfishly being treated. Prayers that all will be well..
Blessings to your family,
Thank you, Penny. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could all get along and love each the way Jesus loves us? That should be our goal! I will keep my eyes on Him and pray for peace and reconciliation. Thank you for your prayers! Have a blessed day!
Praying for you, Cindy! I’m so sorry for your situation, but I pray that God would bring healing, reconciliation, and peace to your home.
Miss B. says
Amen to this. … Cindy, I am so so sorry. Like Amber said, May God bring healing, reconciliation and peace to your home and all your lives. Amen.
Gail Noe says
THANK YOU! Yes, relationships can be very difficult. I see it as an opportunity to grow in our relationship to the Lord and be what He has called us to be. He knows how to take care of those that offend .
This is remarkable and wise, Jennifer. Your writing is wonderful and I got a lot from this. SO much wisdom.
Thank-you for sharing this with us. You have helped me find some closure.
Have a blessed day all,
Leslie McCarthy says
The person i’m having to move away from is my son. It grieves my heart, but I sense in my spirit it is right, until and if things change. This has been coming for years, and though I have peace with it, you can imagine how it hurts at the same time. I would appreciate prayer for us, he is far from the Lord, his name is Josh.♥
Praying for you, Leslie! I’m sorry for your heartache.
Beth Williams says
Praying for you & Josh. May God change his heart & bring him back. Praying that you feel His loving arms around you giving you hugs. May God heal your heartache & being a peace & contentment to you mind, body & soul.
Wonderful post, Jennifer! And relatable! I’m one to continually walk through the inward door, and I’m thankful for the good relationships and wisdom from the Lord to be in a good place. It’s been a rough journey at times. I just posted on my blog about this last night, so this was amazing timing receiving your post. Thank you.
Pearl Allard says
I once received counsel from a woman I respected to move onward from a friendship. After weighing the situation and what I knew of scripture, I chose instead to go toward. I’m so glad I did! It was hard, messy work but worth it. I’ve also chosen onward in other relationships and felt that was the right decision. Thank you, Jennifer, for bringing clarity to a messy topic!
Rebecca L Jones says
That was a wise mentor. I don’t want anyone living in my head. And I hate that high school feeling.
Carol A. says
Nearly 20 years ago I had a friendship that I thought was wonderful. I gave away so much of myself in order to please this person. In time I cut her out of my life because I saw her for the predator she was. Still now I have moments where she consumes my thoughts. I really needed to be reminded once again that there are some relationships that are not meant to be. And by giving in to the toxicity I allow them to live rent free in my mind.
Thank you for this!
Afton Rorvik says
Thanks for stating it so clearly. I can remember three words! Sometimes that Onward door is the hardest to walk through, especially when we want to love as Jesus loved.
Beth Williams says
I don’t like drama or conflict. It can be hard to end some relationships-sometimes you just have to walk away & pray about it. Let God do a healing work in their heart & see what happens. Loved the analogy of the doors. It brings to light the choices we must make regarding friendships. Friendships can be hard & we must do our part to maintain them. Pray hard & ask God what He wants done with each friend. Don’t let them live rent free in your head-it only ruins your life.
Nancy Ruegg says
Yep, I’ve had a few of those toxic people in my life over the years. Should another come along, I’m going to remember your mentor’s counsel: Don’t let such people live rent-free in your head. Then I’ll remember YOUR advice: moving onward from such relationships doesn’t make you sinful, it makes you wise. Thank you, Jennifer!
There’s so much wisdom here, and relief, too. Thank you, Jennifer!
Erin Whitmer says
Thank you so much for this! You and Lisa-Jo definitely have something here. Friendship is so hard, and so is reaching out to women and being the first to be vulnerable. I struggle so often with rejection even though I’m the girl who most would be surprised to know that about me. But I think our rejection and the trials we endure when trying to let women into the deep spaces in our heart are what lead us back to Jesus. Because we need him in those moments. And we are reminded in those moments of how much rejection he endured – for our sake!