The question of whether our personal relationships are healthy is ever-present in our society today. How many times have you stood in a checkout line at the grocery store and seen this question gracing a magazine cover: “Are you in a toxic relationship?” We are given advice and tips about how to get out of toxic relationships with partners, or how to fix those types of relationships with family and friends. However, is it possible that our most important relationship—our relationship with God—might not be a healthy one? When was the last time we thought about that?
One reason we don’t check in with ourselves about such a notion is that we don’t think of the possibility of such a thing as a toxic relationship with God. After all, God is love, and He is perfect. There is no way that having God in our lives can result in the negative effects that toxic relationships are known for. We can accept that, except that it means we err by missing one painful truth: often enough it is we who are the toxic ones in the relationship.
I found myself in a toxic relationship with God. I had seen the lives of others hardened and burdened by toxic relationships of various sorts, and have even lost a few friends to toxic relationships. When I found articles on the topic, I usually skimmed over or scrolled past them completely, feeling that I already knew what signs to look for. But when I finally found an article asking if I was the toxic one, something about it gave me pause, and in reading it I came to a realization. While my current human relationships were healthy, I was in fact being toxic toward God. I began to see how the same could be true of many of my fellow Christians.
We live in a secular world; and to say we believe in God sounds to some the same as saying that we believe in Santa Claus.
It is actually frighteningly simple to fall into a toxic relationship with God. It is important to understand that toxic behaviors are not always obvious to the ones committing them, especially if the other person in the relationship doesn’t call us out about them. Have you heard our gracious God saying that to you? Maybe not. So how can we check ourselves?
One of the easiest toxic behaviors to exhibit is denying God first place in our lives. If someone were to ask, “Who or what is the most important thing in your life?” as Christians our answer is most likely God. But is He really? Most of us include God in our “most important” list, but don’t mention Him first on that list. That seems to be the more honest answer.
Even those who do mention Him first could be all talk and no action. Do we spend most of our free time praying, reading the Bible, talking about God to others, and reflecting on our relationship with Him? Or does most of our day go toward browsing the Internet, scrolling through social media, and surrounding ourselves with material things and concerns? It is hard to step back from that, especially in a world that is so focused on everything but God. But taking baby steps toward prioritizing God as number one is a simple way to move toward having a healthier relationship with Him.
Living our lives not paying attention to how our decisions affect our relationship with God is a toxic habit. For some of us, “I’ll skip church this week” may be so easy to say and do. Going out or just lazing about the house can feel like a lot more fun than listening to someone lecture for an hour. The more times we do it, the easier it becomes, until one day we realize that it has been weeks or months since we last attended church. Lying, being disrespectful to others (especially parents), and generally behaving in a way that God disapproves hurts our relationship with God. Saying that we can pray about it later or “God will forgive me; it’s not as if it’s a big deal,” is lying to ourselves about real consequences. Yes, God forgives us when we ask Him, but we shouldn’t take advantage of that grace, behaving habitually as if His forgiveness is a small thing: “God cannot be mocked: a man reaps what he sows” (Gal. 6:7).
A bad habit many can fall into is being a fair-weather friend to God. They act as if they love Him and feel great about Him only during good times. But when bad times come (and they always do), He is easy to blame. Stated differently: some ask for God to be in their lives only if there is trouble; they ignore Him when everything is fine. As Christians we are in a relationship with God all the time. We do not get to pick and choose when we want Him around. In our relationships, don’t we care when people pretend to be our friends when they need something, or are friends only until things get rough? Then why should we act this way with God—with the one whose relationship is most important? It is not fair to God. Moreover, we seriously limit the richness of our lives if we aren’t having Him in all parts of it—on good days and bad.
In the Christian walk, there might be times when it’s difficult to stay loyal to God, especially if our friends and family don’t share our beliefs. We live in a secular world; and to say we believe in God sounds to me the same as saying that we believe in Santa Claus. Our world is encased in so much tragedy and cynicism that belief in an all-good, all-powerful Creator and Savior seems naive. And constantly being belittled for that belief by others can make some pull away from God. This is especially true when the arguments against believing seem logically persuasive.
Part of the reason that constantly defending ourselves against naysayers is so hard is because we don’t always have answers to their questions. This uncovers a deeper issue: how can we defend our beliefs if we do not know the root of those beliefs? How can we defend our relationship with God if we do not know Him well enough? Our relationship with God must be focused and strongly rooted to withstand all of that. And it’s difficult to get to that point when our relationship with God and knowledge of His Word are not top priority.
Playing the blame game with God is a great way to twist our relationship with Him. Blaming others for our mistakes is something humans have always done. It’s easy to blame God for life’s problems, for God is not in the business of defending Himself or retaliating. So this damages our relationship with Him in two ways. First, it is not healthy to be in a relationship with someone who, in our eyes, is the root of all our problems. Second, by blaming God as the origin of these problems, we neglect their true source. With that mindset, we are unable to resolve them in a healthy way, for we are denying the fundamental truth: God is not to blame for our problems.
It’s time to take stock and see if you are indeed in a toxic relationship with God. If you are, you may not actually be having a relationship with God. You may be calling yourself a Christian without the true value of what that relationship really entails. Just as any toxic relationship can be damaging to one or both parties involved, being in a toxic relationship with God is damaging. God loves every one of us. His relationships with us are important to Him. He wants us to be happy, healthy, and loving. Don’t let your relationship with Him embody anything toxic. He loves us too much for that. Ask Him for help and guidance in all things, communicate with Him constantly, and allow Him to be the best and most important part of your life.
Alma Garcia-Abascal is an education major at La Sierra University in Riverside, California.