Can I be honest with you? I don’t want to write this. I’m afraid of hurting someone’s feelings.
However, I believe that relationships can be one of the biggest things keeping us from a simplified life, and it’s worth a bit of discomfort if the end result is a healthy, simple life.
We were made for community. God said that it wasn’t good for man to be alone, and He’s right. Our lives are framed by relationships…family, friends, co-workers, schoolmates, those we lead and those who lead us. These relationships have a profound effect on our life – positively or negatively. They either add or subtract value.
Disclaimer: we all have seasons in our lives when we give or take more than normal in our relationships, and that’s ok. If your friend just lost her mother, yeah: she needs you to be generous with your time and your support. If you’re wrestling through a tough spot in your marriage, you need a compassionate friend who will listen as you spill your heart in the corner of a coffee shop. Seasons of unbalanced giving and taking are alright – consistent unbalanced giving and taking is not.
When it comes to positive relationships, let’s be brief. Prioritize the most important relationships in your life, and tend to them in that order. For example, I stopped leading Bible study when I got married. As much as I loved my Bible study girls and wanted to serve them, I also knew that my relationship with Hans was far more important. I didn’t make vows to and buy a house with my Bible study girls, after all.
Positive relationships are pretty easy. Here are the basics: Be there for them. Show we care. Help them grow. Have fun together. Nurture those relationships. Quality vs. Quantity.
Proverbs 18:24 A man of many companions may come to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.
When it comes to negative relationships, let’s talk.
Joshua Fields Millburn of The Minimalists put it this way: “We’ve all held on to someone who didn’t deserve to be there before. And most of us still have someone in our lives who continually drains us: Someone who doesn’t add value. Someone who isn’t supportive. Someone who takes and takes and takes without giving back to the relationship. Someone who contributes very little and prevents us from growing. Someone who constantly plays the victim.”
I’ve had my share of negative relationships, and I’ve been the negative person in relationships before. We’ve all been there, and we all know that such relationships breed toxicity.
So, how do we simplify our relationships, particularly toxic ones?
1. Evaluate the relationship. Is this person in my family? Are they a friend? A co-worker? How do they drain me? Do I dread spending time with them? Have I outgrown the relationship? Are they in my life purely out of convenience?
2. If it’s an essential relationship (ex: family, a co-worker, neighbor, etc.), seek resolution. Pray. Have a tough conversation. Resolve unforgiveness. Be honest about how you’re feeling and what you would like to change. Ask them their thoughts, and listen.
3. If an essential relationship cannot be resolved, “turn down the volume”. This advice comes from Lara Casey, and it’s wise. Set boundaries in the relationship, and distance yourself emotionally from it’s negative effects. For example, if you have a super-critical mother-in-law (I don’t, thank goodness), you do have control over how her snippy comments make you feel. You can choose to let her words roll off of you.
4. If it’s a non-essential relationship (ex: a friendship you’ve outgrown), cut it. (Here’s where I’m afraid of hurting feelings. But, you should have control over your relationships…I think that’s healthy) These are relationships that are unnecessary and harmful, and you will thank yourself for putting distance between you and the person. Gently but firmly stand up for yourself – you have the right to say, “This relationship isn’t good for me, and I need to walk away.” Drastically reduce the contact you have with that person and the time you spend around them. Toxic relationships can enslave us, but Christ came to set us free from slavery.
Galatians 5:1 For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery. I believe that managing our relationships in a simple and healthy way is responsible, and responsibility leads to freedom.
Relationships take time and investment, and the good ones make life exponentially more meaningful. Devote your time and energy to relationships that are mutually beneficial, caring, supportive, and life-giving. It will make your life simpler.
What can you gain from simplifying your relationships?