It sounds like a plot from a bad soap opera: there's the crazy ex-boyfriend who won't move on, and the nice girl he claims he can't live without. The phone calls I received over the course of the past six months didn't concern a television show, however—they were reports from my family, and the girl was my younger sister, Lucy.
"Evan called six times today."
"Evan was admitted to the hospital."
"Lucy had to get a new cell phone number."
"Evan tried to corner her at work."
"Evan snuck into the house last night."
The experience was many different kinds of awful. Lucy and Evan's relationship escalated from rocky to unsettling to alarming as Evan pursued increasingly dramatic courses of action to win Lucy back: relentless phone calls, incoherent and cruel emails, a suicide attempt, and outright stalking, all culminating in a Notice of Criminal Trespass from our family that legally barred Evan from attempting any further contact with Lucy or her relations.
Throughout the ordeal, our family struggled to determine how best to handle this complicated situation. As Evan's words and actions grew more and more irrational, Lucy felt increasingly trapped, caught between her desire to exit a bad relationship and her sense of responsibility toward a lost soul. Every time she moved to end the relationship for good, he would make her feel guilty for abandoning him.
"Love is sacrifice," Evan would insist to Lucy. "You aren't loving me like God calls you to."
As concerned friends learned of the emotional torment Lucy was suffering from, I heard similar stories of women stuck in relationships that were dissolving beyond repair, but in which they felt compelled to stay because their boyfriends were dependent on them for happiness. Like Lucy, these women were what the world would call nice Christian girls: raised to extend kindness and forgiveness; cautious about the movies they watched and the words they used; friendly and accommodating, and sensitive to the sorrows of others. They wouldn't—couldn't—kick the guy to the curb. Because that's not what nice girls do.
Evan often accused Lucy of un-Christian behavior. "If you really care about me, how can you be so unfair to me?"
What was this nice Christian girl supposed to say to that?
Here's the thing—"nice" has nothing to do with it. In fact, striving to do the "nice" thing is a recipe for spiritual disaster. God doesn't call us to be a force for nice but a force for good. Too often we mistake one for the other, and that's dangerous.
When being nice becomes our foremost priority, we choose what action is least destructive instead of most needed. We end up making decisions about what we can concede rather than what we can build. And ultimately, we shut God out of the equation, denying his role and ability to take care of the hearts at stake. We risk living in fear rather than trusting in Christ.
Nice Christian girls have big hearts—they feel others' hurts acutely, and they want to help heal the broken people around them. But while love is indeed self-sacrifice, it is not self-destruction. Love "rejoices with the truth." And the truth is that there is one Savior—Jesus Christ, our refuge and deliverer, who redeems the broken and saves the lost. Jesus sacrificed himself to the cross not because it was a nice thing to do, but because it was a necessary thing to do, and only he was ordained to do it. We are not that powerful or perfect. We love better when we love God first—when we admit that we will always be inadequate, and that we can never be enough for others.
The fact that Evan was convinced Lucy was his only solace did not make it so: in fact, it indicated just the opposite. Evan was looking for justification in a fellow fallen human being, which meant he needed the Lord all the more deeply and desperately.
So what does love look like when a relationship falls apart?
For Lucy, it was surrendering Evan to God's care. It was cutting herself off from him so that he might find healing apart from her. It was crying over his difficult journey. It was praying for him every day. It was trusting that if the door between them should ever be opened again, God would make it abundantly clear.
As Christian women, we need to reevaluate who we are supposed to be—first in Christ, and then in our relationships. We need to recognize our limits and boundaries. We need to remember the one who possesses the real power of restoration and trust him to love better than we ever could. We need to stop being so nice.
Shaye Gordon is a pseudonym for a writer living in the Midwest.