Anonymous asked a question:
I want to cut my brother out of my life because it’s hurting my faith & self-esteem. i wanted to know your opinion on taking bad influences like him out of your life … am i a bad person for even wanting this? how should i get past this whole ordeal?
Dear friend, first please know that cutting people out of your life is absolutely acceptable as a last resort. I say this with hesitation, since we’re all so quick to find reasons to give up on others (me included), but there’s no rational reason to stay in a place of abuse and endangerment. We must discern the difference between finding someone unpleasant and running from someone tyrannically cruel. If the person we’re talking about is mercilessly manipulative or physically abusive, then much of what I’m about to say must be cautiously applied, or even withheld. And forgiveness doesn’t have to mean friendship.
When it comes to family, the dynamics make it brutally difficult to exercise boundaries. Family is tangled with history and an almost helpless weight of loyalty. If conflicts with friends are firecrackers, then family is like defusing an atomic bomb.
Please allow some grace as I try to give unbiased advice both to you and myself.
1) Keep distance, but leave the door open as wide as possible.
I really believe having some space between you and your brother is a totally acceptable move. You are not a bad person for needing that distance. It’s the same way you need space from friends, from your spouse, even from your children. The amount of space is almost directly proportional to the hurt and healing process. In other words: you take as much time as you need.
But with family, it’s not really a space that can remain permanent. The phrase “cutting them off” is reserved for moochers and abusers and freeloaders. If your brother is lying, stealing, cheating, and basically all around a parasite, then of course you can cut him off: but for a season.
That season lasts about as long as your brother is acting a fool. But if he comes around again, whether for help or for the holidays, keep an open door. Severing ties with family should never be a one-time-for-all decision. Yes, he may be lying again: but having an open door absorbs the risk of that possibility.
Carrying hurt-baggage into the next cycle of life after your brother has changed (and I believe he can) will adversely affect your heart more than someone else hurting you, long after the trial is over. A grudge poisons at an imperceptible rate, drip by drip, until you’re closing doors at even the best people in your life. Those who are cold to their family have built walls that are impossible for others to climb. So please be wary of that and endeavor to keep the door of grace open.
2) Have the awkward, uncomfortable, straight-up talk.
If you simply walk away from your brother — which again, for a season you can — but then don’t tell him why, he’ll have nothing to consider. Even if you think he might know and he’s heard it from you before, it would be wise to tell him exactly what you’re doing and why.
There are some who would advise against this. “You don’t need to tell him a thing.” Or some would go hyperbolic and say, “Let him have it and then cut him off!” But as graciously as you can — preferably face to face though a letter works too — tell him what’s up. Encourage him with how things could be, but tell him how it really is.
Please believe me that when I was cut off before, I was told exactly why and I’m appreciative. At the time I hated hearing it and I came up with reasons why they were wrong and I was right. But I couldn’t escape the undercover truthfulness of their words. At times they would echo in my mind: If I don’t cut you off, you’ll end up nowhere. And later I found out they were right. I’m grateful they were honest.
I’m never grateful when people cut me off without a word. In fact, that’s really doing a disservice to someone if you don’t tell them what’s wrong. As hard and awkward as it’ll be, please succinctly prepare that in your mind.
3) Bad influences are bad. God is badder.
There are plenty of Bible verses about bad influences and wolves: we should be cautious around them. Light has no fellowship with the dark. Expel the immoral brother. There are wolves among us. Right?
But we must balance these with verses about the prodigal, the tax collector, and the whore. There is grace and mercy for them. As much as bad influences might “infect” us, there’s also a mission in which you, the good influence, have come to be a light like a city on a hill. Like C.S. Lewis says, you’re pretty much the good infection.
That will require more strength than you can muster on your own. Lots of prayer, which I’m sure you’re doing. Lots of saturation with the Bible, with other Christians, getting counsel (even through a blog like this), and dare I say being able to vent to your friends.
It’ll require daily forgiveness. Absorbing some of the pain he has caused you. Regrouping and replenishing when he’s been selfish. Pleading with the Holy Spirit to change him, but also change you. In short: when someone begins to cut into your faith, you’ll need to go back to the author of that faith and power-up again. Which brings us to the last thing.
4) In the end, this is not about you and him, but you and Him.
It’s possible your brother might never change and that the situation will stay the same. But God intends to keep working in you.
Your brother is not so much an enemy on a battlefield as he is a self-selected slave on a minefield. Of course you know it’s not your job to rescue him, but I do believe one day he’ll run his life dry and you’ll be the steady beacon that was always there. In the meantime, it will have been up to you to examine your own heart in this and grow in humility.
Your brother will remember your patience, if you were patient. He’ll remember your graciousness, if you were gracious. And even if he doesn’t recognize that, you will recognize that. God does too. Pray hard about what God is doing right now, because I believe He is definitely doing something — and He always works for your good and His glory. Believe that.