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 Dare