Boundaries Part Two

photo by Carl Zoch



“You make known to me the path of life; You will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand.”

- Psalm 16:11


Boundary-setting has consequences.


I feel like I maybe should have mentioned that in my first post, maybe should have let you know that in the past three months, if there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s that boundary-setting isn’t easy.


Simplifying your life while everyone else is adding things to theirs is difficult, tricky work, and not everyone understands it.


Like with anything else, setting life boundaries has to be done with grace. It is work that must be done with the Spirit’s help, and, if you’re willing, the help and the accountability of friends and family.


There’s one area of boundary-setting that I’ve found to be especially challenging, and of course, it’s the type of boundary that involves other people.


Other people complicate things, don’t they?


It’s why church can be hard.


Rarely do I hear stories about Christ-believers leaving the church over worship styles or service times.


But stories about hurt feelings and he saids/she saids? Those are a dime a dozen.


If you’ve spent any time at all committed to a church body, you must know: It can hurt. It’s not supposed to, but it does.


I’m still in the early stages, relatively speaking, of my own church experience, but I’ve been hurt, and badly. I cannot tell you the tears shed and the words I’ve exchanged with the Father. It has been painful, but finally — finally! — I am healing.


That healing is due, in part, to boundary setting, to taking a step back and recognizing that reconciliation doesn’t always mean renewed relationship, but it must always mean forgiveness.


My heart and soul can’t recover from past hurts until I learn to let go, until I set the boundary line that cannot be crossed.


In friendships and in relationships with Christ’s body, I am learning that it is okay to set boundaries.


In my last post, I mentioned that I’m a “yes” girl, a people-pleaser. I hate disappointing those I love, and while I wouldn’t like to admit it, there have been times with that fear of disappointment has led me to relationships that often became one-sided, friendships in which I became the giver and someone else the taker.


And it’s hard, isn’t it, because there’s a voice in the back of my head asking “What would Jesus do?” and the verses that spot Him quietly approaching the mountain top alone just can’t be found in my addled brain. Instead, I find verses about turning the other cheek, about giving someone my shirt when my coat has been taken.


The boundary lines get blurry then, and before you know it, I’m trapped in relationships that aren’t healthy, friendships that are harmful both to my spiritual growth and the state of my soul. My heart becomes heavy from the burden of carrying others’, and I become bitter and frustrated, and soon? Well, it all shows on my face. I become critical and cynical and my own eyes start to roll, because what started as a friendship becomes nothing more than a place where I am short-tempered and annoyed.


If I had set my boundary lines more quickly, that relationship might have been saved.


In their book Boundaries, Henry Cloud and John Townsend write that the boundary-setting is our responsibility. Meaning, it’s not someone else’s fault if we’ve let them traipse all over our hearts and invade all of our spare time.


It’s mine.


Boundary-setting will look different for every person, I guess, but let me tell you what it’s looking like for me.


My boundary lines at church have resulted in true forgiveness of those who broke my heart. I now worship freely and quietly, minding my own business, because the boundary lines have been set. I have learned to say “no” to ministries that I personally know I cannot handle, whether due to lack of time or lack of zeal or lack of proper leadership. That ability to say no has allowed me to say “yes” to other ministries, ones that I know need my help and my attention.


There’s a passage in 2 Corinthians where Paul is encouraging the believers to be more generous, to be joyful in giving of their money and time. The Corinthians had become distracted by church issues — distracted enough that they had forgotten what it meant to be generous. So they just stopped giving.


I don’t want to be distracted, and for me, that means setting some boundaries to ensure that my relationship with Christ’s body stays healthy and strong. In the past, I let myself become distracted by some church hurts and frustration, but today? I don’t have to time or energy to devote to past church hurts. I have had to forgive and press on.


Setting boundaries in some of my relationships has been more difficult. It’s a fine line, I think, between letting go and being Jesus, but I am trying. I respect my free time and remind myself frequently that I work full-time. I have a husband. I have a life that I love, and I do not have to do everything I am asked to do. There are respectful and loving ways to say no, and I am working on that.


I am also constantly reminding myself that reconciliation and forgiveness doesn’t have to mean renewed relationship. God does not call me to be best friends with everyone, especially if I find myself growing bitter and weak in that relationship. He does, though, call me to love and to forgive. There is no way around that.


So I’m trying.


That’s what most of this journey is, isn’t it? Trying?


I guess what I really want you to know is that you are not alone. We’re all trying, I think, to be more graceful, to be careful and wise with our time, to remain focused on those “better things.”


But it is hard work, and I know from personal experience that not everyone understands.


That’s okay.


I think, if we prayerfully and wisely set boundaries out of love and respect, both for others and for ourselves, we will be rewarded. The Heavenly Father knows the desires of our hearts, the hurts of our souls. He is laying the groundwork for us; He will grant our boundaries to fall in pleasant places, and He will make our paths secure.

11 comments:

  1. This really helped to illuminate a relationship that brought me a lot of heartache in the past. Thank you for this. I've struggled to figure out what my boundary setting should have looked like...only to realize that it was all just a sign that I was needing a closer walk with Jesus. We are instructed to guard our hearts for they are the wellspring of life. But I think in the context of friendship (not romantic love), this wisdom gets a little murky when we are trying to figure out what Jesus would do, just as you say. Paul does not say love is guilt, love is compromising values. So often I have done things in the name of Love that have been so contrary, though.

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    1. I love that verse, Kendra, about guarding our hearts. I think I first heard that verse in reference to dating relationships, but you know what? It applies to so much more than that. It doesn't mean we become closed and shut off, hardened to the people around us. But I do think it reminds us to be mindful of who and what we give our heart to.

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  2. Thank you so much for these beautiful words. They were so encouraging to me!

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  3. I've enjoyed both of your posts on boundaries. I work at my church, have since we started it over 17 years ago. I not only work there, but sing in the House of Prayer, minister to children, am an intercessor, a painter and an admin assistant. It's very hard for me to say "no", because part of the saying "yes" is expected as a staff member. But I am learning to set healthy boundaries and let the pastors know when my plate is full.

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    1. I imagine working at a church sometimes makes it difficult to set healthy boundaries. (My own mother works extensively in children's ministry, so I feel like I've seen some of that first hand.) But it's more than okay to let those we love know when we've taken on too much... We're designed to help lift one another's burdens, after all. So glad you've found a healthy, happy way to balance it in your work at your church.

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  4. Wow. I could have written this post.

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  5. This is super encouraging! Thanks for sharing! I think for me saying "no" to things & to others can be difficult because guilt can easily sneak in. Whether I offend someone or not I always dwell on the no & often feel guilty even days later. I know it was the right thing to do, but the pleaser in me allows those thoughts to consume me. That's where I need His help...I need to dwell on the truth & let Him alone consume my thoughts!

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    1. A friend and I were just talking about this weekend. I don't know where my own guilty thoughts come from (I'm guessing, more often than not, it's actually Satan), but I'm trying to become better and listening for Jesus' voice in between my own voices of guilt and people-pleasing. I want to do what's best for my relationship with HIM... and in turn, I believe He'll bless my other relationships too.

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  6. I just "happened" to come across this website yesterday, and I've been reading the book Boundaries myself over the last few weeks. I can't tell you how encouraging it was to read this post. It's very timely from me. Another book that's been recommended to me that I plan on reading after Boundaries is Safe People by Cloud and Townsend as well. These two books seem to be great helps towards the road to healing after being wounded by the Body. Thanks for sharing!

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    1. La Donna, I just saw "Safe People" referenced in another blog post, and I've added it to my list. I'm still new at this whole boundary-setting thing, and certain areas of it are still really tough for me. I think "Safe People" might help... as soon as I finish "Boundaries." :)

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  7. Thank you so much Annie for your post. I really needed this today. I chose not to attend a ladies meeting at church last night and felt so guilty because I was not there. My work at church has become more of a chore than a blessing and I've got to step back and realize that I can't do it all. Our church is not small but seems the same people are doing all of the work. I had to decide last night that for my mental well-being, I have to pick a few things and do my best at those. After reading your post, I feel so refreshed knowing that other people experience the same things and that it's okay to say "no". Right now I feel such a sense of relief and thank God for opening my eyes today.

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