So, in the section of Toxic Behavior, Groeschel breaks it down into 4 main behaviors that are toxic: self-deception, toxic thoughts (false beliefs), toxic language (power of our words) and last but not least, hiding our sins. So, lets dig in!
I want to start out with a quote from Groeschel on the issue,
“No matter how objective we hope to be, our viewpoint is always distorted to some — sometimes large — degree. Here’s the challenge. The longer we view ourselves through a distorted lens, the more likely we are to believe a distorted truth. The longer we lie to ourselves, deceive ourselves, or remain in denial about the truth, the more likely we are to base our decisions and actions on this false belief system.”
This is so true, and self-deception is such a hard issue for us to tackle because when you tell yourself something, or convince yourself what you are doing is fine, it becomes the truth for you. For me, personally, something I struggle with is being judgmental. For so long, and even to this day , I have worn distorted lenses in which I was pouring out judgment upon others in the name of “telling it like it is”, or “i’m just sayin’.” My husband often points out my tendencies to be judgmental, and I find myself getting defensive and saying something like, “That’s just who I am, I tell it like it is, whether it’s good or bad.” I want so badly to believe that he is wrong, that others are wrong, because it is easier to think they are wrong then to admit that I am in the wrong. Admitting you are wrong means showing humility and swallowing your pride and changing which can be so hard to do. However, Groeschel says,
“Stop lying to yourself, swallowing the poisonous self-deceptions that keep you from experiencing healthy spiritual growth. Admit the truth. Come clean. If you’re willing, the truth will set you free.”
I know that my tendency towards being judgmental can hinder my testimony, especially to unbelievers, and in order for me to grow spiritually I need to admit this issue and look to God to work in me and do what I can not do, change.
“If you think negative and toxic thoughts, you’ll become a negative and sick person. Your soul will stagnate and wither. If you think God’s truth in your thoughts, you’ll become like Christ. Your soul will flow with living water and flourish. If you’re not trying to translate the negative into positive truth, if you’re not willing to focus on God’s absolutes instead of your own mental chatter, then you’ll only drift farther away from what you desire most.”
Oh how true are these words? We must constantly be on guard with the thoughts in our minds so as not to let them drift away from Christ. Once we allow our minds freedom to drift from thinking on what is good and of God it is very easy to fall into toxic thoughts. For instance, if I am not careful my thoughts can quickly become negative. Not only towards myself, but also towards others (remember the whole judgmental problem?). When I strive to read God’s word and keep myself in prayer I find it easier to see the good in others and to remain positive, even when faced with a frustrating or upsetting situation. However, the moment I leave my thoughts to myself I return to my cynical, judgmental, toxic self. Groeschel includes anxiety and comparative thoughts in with defining toxic behavior, which definitely hit home for me because I am very anxious and I struggle with comparing what I have to what others do. Groeschel says,
“If you want to live a clean life in a polluted world, you must remove the seeds of poison from within. Practice taking every thought captive. Ask God to identify and help remove the life-draining ideas and images from your mind. Fill your thoughts with his truth and the beauty of his goodness. Renew your mind and watch your faith grow in ways that will astound you.”
When I am: judgmental towards others, critical of myself, constantly worrying, and coveting others, I am allowing toxic thoughts to control me and I am not glorifying God. I need to remove these toxin’s from my life and the only way I can do that is by focusing my mind on Him through prayer and His word.
“Sticks and stones can break my bones, but words can never hurt me.” False, false, false. Just false! I love, love, LOVE what Groeschel says on this:
“Perhaps the adult translation of this age-old adage is more like, “Sticks and stones can bruise your body for a few days, but words can scar your soul for life.” Like a neutron bomb which annihilates human life but leaves buildings intact, words can devastate. Your body may remain unharmed, but your heart suffers the deadly shrapnel of painful phrases. David, who knew a thing or two about having enemies in high places, wrote that evildoers ‘sharpen their tongues like swords and aim cruel words like deadly arrows’ (Ps. 64:3). Whether you’re eighteen or eighty, you can probably recall the pain of someone’s harsh words scalding your soul.”
This is something that is so easy to talk about, yet so hard to change. Especially for me, someone who is notorious for speaking before thinking. I honestly can’t pinpoint a specific time where I spoke without thinking, but I know I do it all the time. If you asked someone to describe me they would probably say, “She has no filter, she has a thought and then she says it.” I know this is a problem area, and reading this book was a gentle reminder on the fact that I need to pray on this and lean on God for the change I want to see. I am also a very impressionable person and I often take things to heart and take their words for truth. This has caused bruises and scars on my heart that are long lasting, but it helped me when I read this:
“When someone says something to or about you, train yourself to categorize the words the same way we train our kids with a game our friends taught us, Truth or Trash. Analyze the message and source before swallowing and digesting what someone else wants to feed you. Are their words true? Based in Scripture? Supported by data over time? If so, embrace them. Allow those life-giving words to minister to your soul and conform you to the image of Christ. If their words are untrue, mean-spirited, and critical without being constructive, then call them what they are — toxic waste. Reject those words. Don’t let them into your soul.”
There is not only power in the word’s we speak, but also in the word’s we hear. We are responsible for the words that we speak and for analyzing the words people speak over you (is what they are saying true or false?).
This subject reminds me of the story of Adam and Eve when they hid from God because they were ashamed (Genesis 3:8-10). Did hiding from the Lord shield them from being found out and punished for their indiscretion? No. Groeschel says,
“True to our fallen nature, most of us extend our failure by trying to conceal our sins. When we do something wrong and hurtful, we hope to bury our toxic actions so no one will know. We cling to the false hope that if others don’t know what we did, it won’t be as bad.”
There is something that is very secretive about sin even though we all do it, and we know that no one is perfect. It is hard to admit to others that we have problems, so we hold it in. So for me, I have struggled with anger towards a brother or sister in Christ and I have sinned by not taking the issue to them, but rather letting it fester within me. Now, when I became aware of my sin in this, I went to God and asked Him for forgiveness. However, I left it at that and as a result, I often think about what kind of reconciliation I could have experienced had I come to that friend to repent for my anger and sought reconciliation. Groeschel says,
“Confess to God. He sent Jesus to die for your sins. He wants to forgive you. But don’t stop there. Take the next step and confess to God’s people. Do it. Experience the healing power of love through God’s people. Rather than sinking into the quicksand of sin, you can swim in the clean water of God’s forgiveness and cleansing love.”
I love where he says.”Experience the healing power of love through God’s people.” I know that in the future I want to have the strength to not just go to God and repent, but also to His people, my fellow brothers and sisters and experience the healing power of love through God.
I can’t speak for others, but I know that I struggle in each of these aspects of toxic behavior in one way or another, but through this book I have been gently reminded or pointed out where I fall short and encouraged in love to seek out God in these problems. I honestly feel like anyone could benefit from this book all the while being pointed back into the loving arms of our Lord and Savior.