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Read this book!! Seriously, get a copy! I know so many Christians who desperately need the message of this book. To be honest, I less needed it personally, but it was a refreshing read, validating some past decisions, and providing solid biblical principles for the future.

Despite being a quiet-natured introvert, I’ve generally not had problems setting boundaries, knowing when to say no, withdrawing from certain situations, or standing up for myself/others when appropriate to do so. I’ve been puzzled to observe extroverted people struggle with such! But more than that, too many times in life I’ve been pained to see a Christian make their life unnecessarily difficult, not living in the fullness of life God intended, because of their inability to…say no, set boundaries, or walk away from a person or situation. They are controlled by other people, rather than walking in the Spirit and discerningly applying biblical principles to their life, realizing that there are times to stand up and times to back down, times to try to help and times to walk away. Enter this book:

When to Walk Away, Finding Freedom from Toxic People by Gary Thomas (Zondervan 2019). Available HERE.

While this book is about dealing with toxic people, in one sense that is actually the secondary concern of the book. The primary concern is that as a Christian believer, you have been given spiritual gifts and a path of Christian ministry, and we are to seek first God’s Kingdom (Matthew 6:33). Toxic people can divert us away from our service to God and eternal matters!

Oddly, we can think we are serving God by always dealing with and spending time focused on a toxic person (after all…turn the other cheek/love our enemies) but in actuality our piety is not helping this toxic person, only draining us, and diverting us from those the book calls “reliable people” – those that will benefit from our investment in them. People who really need us are neglected! It is about living more efficiently and strategically as we seek first the kingdom of God. Efficiency can be a bad thing (as in, we trample people in our drive to be efficient) but that is not what the book means, but rather using our time and gifts in a wise way that prioritizes the spiritual and eternal.

Several times the author Gary Thomas references the well-known Boundaries book by Cloud and Townsend, and that is a worthwhile book too. Setting boundaries and learning when to say no is important, but this book on toxic people takes the concept to another level. There are times we must do more than set a boundary or say no, but actually walk away.

The book is so full of wisdom, and makes important distinctions. For one, it clarifies what a “toxic” person actually is. The word toxic can be used too broadly, and three chapters help us note characteristics of a toxic individual. A toxic person is not just a difficult person or a sinful person! We are all sinful people, and each of us can behave badly sometimes, and we need to be patient and compassionate with each other. That is different than a toxic person.

The book carefully looks at the life of Jesus. We can focus on how Jesus “opened not his mouth” and allowed himself to suffer and die on the cross, and therefore think we must always do the same. But if we carefully look at the Gospels, Jesus behaved different ways at different times! Sometimes he quietly left a situation, not defending himself, and other times he spoke strong words of truth.

Thomas noted at least 24 distinct times in the Gospels when Jesus either walked away from someone or allowed someone to walk away from him – without going after that person. The occurrences weren’t always rooted in conflict. Jesus also walked away from people who wanted more of him, or he retreated for his own refreshment or protection. Jesus knew his primary mission on earth, and in order to keep to that mission, he sometimes had to limit his activities or walk away. If even Jesus (God Incarnate!) had to do such, certainly us too!

I thought a couple parts were particularly good when Thomas makes it clear that allowing yourself to be abused or taken advantage of is not always the holy choice! Proverbs 22:3 says “the prudent see danger and take refuge, but the simple keep going and pay the penalty.” You may suffer, not for your piety, but for being “simple” and failing to perceive the need to take refuge! Or in Matthew 10:33 Jesus said “when you are persecuted in one place, flee to another.” Jesus did not tell them to “stay there and let them hit you because they may finally come to their senses.” What about turn the other cheek? Thomas addresses that.

“We can learn to walk away when the time is right and as God leads (which is what this book seeks to teach you).” – page 24.

I think the book succeeds very well at this, accomplishing its goal.

The book is solidly based on Scripture, helps you apply biblical principles to everyday life, and provides many real life examples that the author has experienced himself or heard from others after many years of pastoral and counseling ministry. There are examples regarding co-workers, a boss, roommates, church folks, family, and marriage. And actually that brings in my only minor criticism of the book. I thought there were a few too many examples, and I thought the book’s length could have been cut by 10-20% and still have been just as effective.

Other than that, I highly recommend this book. It can do more than help you deal with toxic people, and also give you new vision and fresh enthusiasm for seeking first the kingdom of God and investing in reliable people!

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