Thanks to the folks at Oxford Dictionaries, we are told the Word of the Year in 2018 is “toxic.” According to those folks, toxic was used over 40% more in 2018 than in the years before. They keep up with such things, in part because it’s their job and, I suppose, so they can keep us informed as to the highly-used words in our culture. If you think about it, toxic was everywhere this year. There were discussions about toxic masculinity and toxic politics and toxic conversations and toxic environments. Toxic made its way into every area of life.
Toxic has been around a good while already. In fact, for years toxic has been called to our attention about things in our own households. Things that we need to get rid of because they are toxic. You can look up lists of toxic things that may be in your house. Things such as non-stick cookware, flea and tick products, mothballs, air fresheners, furniture polishes, oven cleaners, washing products. All may have the possibility of being toxic.
The evolution of washing machine products is interesting. Do you remember when you could just buy a box of soap that would be used to wash your clothes? Slowly it has changed into fancy little pods, some of them looking like they just came off the cookie shelf. You put these pods in the washing machine with your clothes, and the wrappings dissolve and the cleaner is dispensed.
One of the big problems with that is it does look like candy or cookies or something that would be really attractive to a youngster who would grab it and put it in his or her mouth not knowing that it could be toxic.
As a result of it being toxic and attractive to little people, the cleaning product folks started packaging it in childproof canisters and putting warning labels on it and giving advice in advertisements to be careful and that it could harm your child. Toxic things are around us everywhere, not just in cleaning products and poison air but maybe far more harmful as we express them and show them and impact others unknowingly. Let me give you a quick list of ABCD’s of toxic stuff.
A – Attitude. Our attitudes affect people around us. Attitudes can be hurtful and harmful and at best just unpleasant. I was checking out at a store recently and the woman at the cash register was obviously not particularly happy. I spoke to her and she mumbled something. As she was taking care of my purchase, I said, “Are you having a tough day?” That was the open door for her to unload on me how she felt about her boss lady. She was rather loud in her expressions and clear in her feelings about the boss. I didn’t know who the manager of the store was, but I saw a woman standing 20 or 30 feet back in the store. I thought maybe that was the person she was talking about. I asked, “Is the lady back there your manager?” She said to me, “No, she left about an hour ago and probably won’t be back the rest of the day.” I said, “Oh.” I thought the person she was actually angry toward had left the premises. Probably had gone home and was enjoying life, but the attitude she had toward her boss was going to be spilled out on everybody who came through the checkout counter, at least for an hour, maybe for the rest of the day. Our attitudes are that way. They get ahold of us more than they affect the person toward whom they are projected. Having a good attitude or a bad attitude is a decision we will make, not just something that somebody does to us. It can be toxic.
B – Beliefs. Time and space will not allow me to talk about all the important beliefs in our lives related to God, His Word, and our relationship to Christ Jesus, but what we believe is important, infectious, or it can be hurtful. There are wrong beliefs, bad beliefs, hurtful beliefs, ungodly beliefs that some people project, but maybe none more destructive than when parents say, “I don’t believe in influencing my child about what they ought to believe. I think they ought to just grow up and make decisions on their own.” Really? The strange thing about that is that it only applies to a relationship to God and to His Son, Jesus. Otherwise, we want to influence our children’s beliefs: how they feel about certain people, how they feel about certain sports, how they feel about certain events. We influence them about that and just let them grow up harum-scarum, choosing whatever they want to believe about God. How foolish. How unwise. Beliefs ultimately shape everything about us. How we treat people. What we believe about our own life. What we believe about eternity. What we believe about the here and now. Wrong beliefs can certainly be toxic for a lifetime.
C – Communication. Hardly a day goes by and maybe a day doesn’t even barely begin without hearing some communication that is toxic, laced with vile, hurtful words and insinuations. Communication can be a terrible thing. The writer of Proverbs says that the power of life and death is in the tongue (Prov. 18:21). The wise man is talking about communication. You can hurt your children and damage their lives and their futures by crude, hurtful communication to them and toward them.
D – Discouragement. Discouragement can be highly toxic, and sadly there are many people who may touch our lives, maybe work around us, teach us, influence us, who discourage us constantly. There are some people who seem to have the gift of discouragement. Don’t you be one of them. I so often think about the day that after Moses had passed away and God put the mantle of leadership on Joshua, how easy it would be for people to discourage him. The new leader of Israel, the new leader leading them into the Promise Land, and God repeatedly said in chapter one of the book of Joshua – be strong and of good courage. Do not be discouraged (Josh. 1:9). Can you imagine someone coming up and saying, “Who do you think you are, Joshua? Do you think you are Moses?” No, he wasn’t Moses. He was Joshua, and he was God’s leader. Discouragement can harm and hurt and sometimes thwart the work and the will of God. It’s toxic.
Pause for a moment and allow God to help you take inventory of toxic things that may have found a resting place in our own hearts, our own attitudes, our own mouths. Ask Him to come and give us the kinds of things that will help the people around us and, in turn, help us. Maybe next year and the years ahead will not be filled with toxic things. At least, in the small arena where you and I exist.
The author can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.