Thursday, April 06, 2023
Migrated Article: Original Post Date August 13, 2021
What Are Boundaries?
We all know the adage, “stay in your lane.” Boundaries are like property lines, fences, guardrails, and lines on the roads that keep us within our own lane. When we experience confusion about what our responsibilities and ownership in our lives are, this is a problem of boundaries. Thus, we need to set mental, physical, emotional, and spiritual boundaries in our lives to help us determine what is our responsibility and what isn’t.
Many sincere, dedicated Christ-followers struggle with their confusion about when it is biblically appropriate to set limits. Misinformation about the Bible’s answers to the issue of boundaries has led to much false teaching about boundaries. Boundaries are biblical. God sets boundaries, teaching us how to love him. By following his example, we set boundaries for ourselves, teaching others how to love us.
Good Questions Raised When Confronted About Our Boundaries
Many clinical psychological issues (IE depression, anxiety, addiction, eating disorders, impulsive disorders, shame issues, panic disorders, and relationship issues) stem from roots in conflicts with boundaries. Some good questions that have been raised when confronted with a lack of boundaries are:
Can I set limits and still be a loving person? (Yes.)
What are legitimate boundaries?
What if someone is upset or hurt by my boundaries?
How do I answer someone who wants my time, love, energy, or money?
Why do I feel guilty or afraid when I consider setting boundaries?
How do boundaries relate to mutual submission within marriage?
Aren’t boundaries selfish? (No.)
What Do Boundaries Look Like?
Boundaries define what is me and what is not me. The most basic boundary we have is our skin. But in the physical world, boundaries look like fences, signs, walls, moats with gators, manicured lawns, and hedges. In the spiritual world, boundaries are more difficult to see, but they are just as real.
Knowing what we are to own and take responsibility for provides freedom. If I know where my lane begins and ends, I won’t get in an accident. If I stay in my yard, knowing where my property lines are, I am free to do with it what I like. But if I don’t own my life, my choices become very limited.
We are responsible TO others and FOR ourselves. Many times, others have burdens that are too heavy to bear. They do not have enough strength, knowledge, or resources to carry the load, and they need help. Denying ourselves for others what they cannot do for themselves is showing the sacrificial love of Christ. Christ did what we could not do for ourselves, he saved us. This is being responsible “to.” (Galatians 6:2)
However, each one should carry their own load (Galatians 6:5.) Each one of us has responsibilities that only we can carry. No one can do certain things for us, and it is unfair to lay these things on other people. Our everyday load is meant to be like a backpack – easy to carry. We are expected to carry our own. We are expected to deal with our own emotions, attitudes, and behaviors as well as the responsibilities God has entrusted to each one of us, even when it takes effort!
Boundaries Help Keep the Good In and the Bad Out
Sometimes we have bad on the inside and good on the outside. In these cases, we need to be able to open up our boundaries to let the good in and the bad out: our fences need gates in them. Boundaries “guard our treasures” (Matt. 6:19-20) keeping “the pearls inside and the pigs out.” (Matt 7:6)
I’ll never forget the time my pastor told me “men are pigs” when I sought a divorce from my abusive ex-husband. The problem was, it was being used as a reason to “get over it” and stay. But the Bible clearly says to keep the pigs out. To this day, my ex-husband doesn’t like any boundary I set, but that is because he benefited from me having none.
Boundaries are meant to protect us from abuse – to keep the bad out. However, we must remember that boundaries are not walls. “We are not to be walled off from others, but rather be one with them.” (John 17:11) We are to be in a community with them, but in community, everyone has their own space and property
A “No Trespassing” sign or warning is a strong boundary. I had to enact this boundary on certain people who kept crossing my boundaries – coming onto my property without permission or any business being there. In these cases, when you confront them and tell them not to return, and they refuse, you can have the police give a trespass warning. Once there is a warning documented by the police, if they return they can be put in jail.
The Concept of Boundaries Comes from the Very Nature of God
God defines himself a distinct, separate being, and he is responsible for himself. He defines and takes responsibility for himself by telling us what he likes, dislikes, allows, will not allow, thinks, feels, and plans. This is the “getting to know someone” phase. Be it a friend, potential romance, or working relationship, defining ourselves and our boundaries is an important step to any relationship.
God also defines himself as separate from us (his creation.) He differentiates himself from others, and he tells us “who he is” and “who he is not.” For example, he says that he is love and that he is not darkness. (1 John 4:16; 1:6) He also limits what “he will allow in his yard,” guarding his house and not allowing things to go there.
God gave us personal responsibility within limits, and he wants us to be responsible stewards over the life he has given us. Words are our most basic boundary: the most basic boundary setting word is “no.” Being clear about your no, and your yes, is a theme that clearly runs throughout the Bible.
Dr. Henry Cloud & Dr. John Townsend. Boundaries. When to Say Yes, How to Say No to Take Control of Your Life. Updated and Expanded Version. Published by Zondervan. 2017
We are domestic violence survivors, co-authors of Relationship Detox, and Abundant Relationship coaches.
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