Merry Christmas Friends,
I hope you are ready. If not, then let it go. It’s time to stop being frantic and remember what Christmas is all about.
Over the past few weeks I’ve answered several questions about boundaries and consequences. And, from your many responses, some of you are waking up to the idea that its okay for you to have personal boundaries and to implement consequences if someone chooses to disrespect them. Today I want to summarize this whole idea of boundaries and consequences why they are so important to healthy living and healthy relationships.
What is a boundary? Think of a fence around your house, with a gate or two that you can open or close or lock if you need to. This fence creates awareness of where something begins and ends. It helps my neighbor and me know what house I need to clean and what house he or she needs to clean, what lawn I need to mow and what lawn he or she needs to mow. In a pinch we may help each other out, but our property lines are clear. If my neighbor just walked into my house and helped himself to whatever he wanted, whenever he wanted and that bothered me but I never said anything, I would be guilty of not having good boundaries.
Personal boundaries help us clarify things, such as what we are responsible for and what are not responsible for. If my neighbor disrespected my feelings or my fence and walked into my house, I may have to set a firmer boundary such as putting a lock on my gate or a deadbolt on my door.
Boundaries help protect us. For example, our body has a fence around it called our skin. We have only a few openings, our nose, mouth, eyes, ears, and private parts. Our body is ours to maintain (unless we are an infant or incapable) and nourish. Our body is separate from other people’s bodies. If we are healthy, we ought to be responsible about what goes in to our body and what we do with our body.
It’s amazing how God has wired our body to be self-protective when things try to invade our body. When I put my contacts in if there is the tiniest hair or piece of dust still lingering on the lens my eye knows it and blinks, keeping the contact out. In the same way that my eye rejects the contact lens because it contains something harmful, our body often warns us that we are in danger or something toxic (physical or emotional) is happening around us. Our muscles get tense, our heart pounds, our skin crawls, we throw up. These are God’s internal warning bells for you. Something’s wrong. Pay attention.
Why are Boundaries Necessary in Relationships? When Christians talk about having personal boundaries in relationships, they are sometimes accused of being selfish or uncaring or putting up walls. They’re told that they are self-protective or self-sufficient or not trusting God. That’s not true.
Personal boundaries are necessary so that we take responsibility for ourselves and exercise good stewardship over our body, our time, our energy, our talents and our money. We are not God – with unlimited resources, omniscience, and omnipresence. We are finite, limited, fallible human beings. God knows that. He made us that way. We need not feel ashamed by our limitations.
For example, would you give someone unlimited access to your ATM card? Of course not. Why? Because your funds are limited and if he or she empties your account to meet his or her own needs, wants, or foolish financial choices, then what? You won’t be able to be responsible for your own financial obligations. Therefore you keep your ATM card in your wallet and your password a secret. That is a boundary – a fence around your ATM card and bank account. You may choose to be generous or even sacrificial for a friend in need, but you decide how much.
If your friend is reckless and foolish with his spending, you are not responsible to bail him out of his own messes. His messes are meant to help him learn to take responsibility for himself. However, if he told you that you were selfish or self-protective or not trusting God because you had a boundary around your ATM card, I hope you would realize he is talking nonsense. He is trying to manipulate you into having no personal boundary when you know you must say no or not now, or not as much as he wants.
In the same way when you have a fence around your time or your energy or body because you are trying to be a good steward of these things, don’t feel guilty because you aren’t able to do everything that the people in your life want or ask or need. Even Jesus accepted his limitations as a human being and disappointed people because he didn’t always do what they wanted.
Boundaries in relationships help us take ownership: One of the biggest problems in maintaining healthy relationships is the lack of ownership. We don’t take ownership of our own feelings. We are not authentic. Instead we placate, please, pretend or pass off responsibility saying things like “It’s your fault I feel so mad.”
We also don’t typically own our own wrong-doing and confess it. Instead we blame-shift, minimize, rationalize, lie and make excuses. And we don’t want to own our own limitations. Instead we over-function and end up feeling like victims (telling ourselves that we had no choice) or resentful martyrs (because we said yes when we wanted to say no).
Having a clear understanding of our boundaries changes that. Boundaries help us own OUR feelings, OUR thoughts, OUR needs, OUR desires, OUR beliefs, values, and attitudes, OUR behaviors, and OUR words. They are 100%, ours. Our boundaries help clarify what we have to work on (ourselves), and that we are not responsible to manage the thoughts, feelings, values, words, or behaviors or another adult person anymore than we are responsible to manage what they put into their mouth to eat.
Knowing our boundaries helps us communicate with people more clearly. I feel ________. I was wrong for ___________, please forgive me. No, I can’t do that for you. Please stop screaming at me, I feel scared. People may not always like our feelings, thoughts, values or limitations but if we want a healthy relationship with someone, they must be respectful of them. The Bible tells us, “Let your yes be yes and your no be no.” (James 5:12) Mixed messages happen and negative feelings build up when we say yes when we wanted to say no.
Two unhealthy relationship patterns that become destructive have to do with lack of good personal boundaries. The first is where one person in the relationship refuses to take ownership for their own thoughts, feelings, words, attitudes or actions. Instead they are always blaming their partner or making excuses. They believe everyone else is responsible for how they feel or act. That is not true but when you live this way you and your relationship is incapable of changing or healing.
The second relationship pattern that becomes toxic is where one person assumes responsibility for the thoughts, feelings, attitudes, and actions of another person – somehow thinking that it is their responsibility to fix or change him or her. When you work harder at managing someone else’s life and you are not being a good steward of your own, you are not healthy.
In summary: It’s important to have boundaries and know what they are. It’s important to share those boundaries with the people you have relationship with. For example, if I get sick when someone smokes a cigarette in my presence or I find it unpleasant, it would be important for me to communicate that fact to him or her. I can’t control whether or not they respect my boundary, but if they choose to smoke, I can choose to leave their presence. That is being a good steward of me, not trying to control them.
In the same way if I’m becoming weak or sick or harmed (emotionally, mentally, physically, financially, or spiritually) because of someone else’s negative behavior, I can ask them to stop or to change but I cannot control their behavior or change them. However, what I can and must do is to take care of me including removing myself from his or her presence if necessary.
That brings me to consequences. Consequences are part of God’s plan to help people learn to take responsibility, to be good stewards of our lives. Paul wrote, “Whatever a man sows, he reaps.” (Galatians 6:7) This farming metaphor made it crystal clear to the people in biblical times that if you didn’t take ownership of what seeds you planted you shouldn’t expect to reap good crops.
God told the Israelites “Because you have forgotten me and cast me behind your back, you yourself must bear the consequences of your lewdness and whoring.” (Ezekiel 23;35).
Negative consequences result from not taking ownership of your finances, your health, your feelings, your mind, and your part of relationship maintenance and repair. When we over-compensate for someone’s irresponsibility or sin and remove or mitigate the negative consequences we are enabling someone to stay deceived and shirk responsibility. They will continue to believe the lie that they do not have to take responsibility for their own choices. That’s not good for them, for you, or for the relationship.
Friends, share how you have learned through negative consequences of your own to make important changes in your life.