The Boundaries {Unspoken}

By now, I think I’ve made a reputation among my regular readers for being someone who enjoys a book that makes me think. I want to process things and grow in the Lord. I want to draw ever closer to His design.

The book Boundaries by Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend has so accurately articulated a number of problem experiences in my life. I already knew I had a problem. But the detail with which they diagnosed my issues caught me off guard!

Here’s to hoping that the authors’ solutions will be biblically sound.

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The Dr.s Cloud and Townsend use the term ‘boundary’ to refer to limits in a person’s life (emotional, spiritual, physical, mental) to govern what they’re willing to do and how far they’re willing to go. Healthy boundaries allow the individual to reach out to others in loving gestures while setting limits in order to guard their hearts against harm – theirs and others’.

For example, someone might determine not to go out to social events on a Sunday afternoon so that they’re available to spend time with the Lord.

One point that this book brought up is “The Law of Exposure”. It’s an appropriate throwback to last year when I studied biblical vulnerability. Remember that?

The authors proposed this:

The Law of Exposure says that your boundaries need to be made visible to others and communicated to them in relationship.

-Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend, Boundaries

That’s where their thoughts end and mine begin.

I think that regardless of whether or not we admit it, everyone has boundaries. Some people confidently and clearly communicate them. They’re not afraid of saying “no” to things that threaten their established limits.

Others among us (and this is where I include myself) are ashamed of our boundaries clearly. We despise, downplay, and suffocate them. We want to be generous, selfless givers and we think that means that our time, energy and services ought to be at the disposal of others.

But no matter how much I pretend to cheerfully comply, I’ve realized this: hidden resentment testifies that my unspoken boundaries have been crossed.

My instinctive solution: hide it

I’m insecure about admitting that I have boundaries.

When people come to me with a favor to ask, I don’t want them to know that I wish I could say no. I see people who decline an appeal and I judge them for being unfeeling. Then I judge myself for being unfeeling in the theoretical situation that I might decline. So I say ‘yes.’ But I’m hiding a ‘no’ in my heart.

This isn’t good. The lack of honesty breeds resentment. It puts a barrier between me and the one to whom I said ‘yes.’ I tried to avoid being unfeeling, but my alternative is no better!

God’s redeeming solution: vulnerability

I want to speak humbly whenever I suggest something about God. What He does and how He is are His alone to declare. Let’s look at a passage from His Word (one that was key during my vulnerability sprint).

This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all. If we claim to have fellowship with him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live out the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.

If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word is not in us.

-1 John 1:5-10

With that context in mind, let me isolate some individual statements:

  • If we claim to have fellowship with [God], yet walk in darkness [ie. methodically hide aspects of ourselves or our attitude], we lie and do not live out the truth.
  • If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves.
  • If we confess our sins [ie. if we’re honest and vulnerable about ourselves and our attittudes], he will purify us from all unrighteousness.
  • If we walk in the light [ie. if we’re vulnerable], we have fellowship with one another.
  • If we walk in the light, the blood of Jesus purifies us from all sin.

Are you seeing what I’m seeing?

Someone asks me for a favor. If I pretend to cheerfully say yes, while harboring resentment in my heart, I’m heaping sin upon sin. I have feelings of hatred and disunity… and I’m walking in darkness, lying, and not living out the truth.

But I have this hope…

…that the Lord will make me into someone who is willing to own my reluctance to help. Not in a proud way. In an honest way.

Sometimes, by laying things bare between me and the other person, God might deal with any invalid reasons for not wanting to comply. At other times, I might realize that it was never my place to help in that particular situation. God might work through some other means. I’m not the savior of the world, after all!

Thanks for sticking with me through an unusually long post. Do you have your own thoughts to share?

  • Are you more likely to be clear about your boundaries or to suppress them?
  • Do you think that boundaries are a good thing? Or are they always and inevitably selfish?
  • When you need to say ‘no,’ how do you do it?
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4 thoughts on “The Boundaries {Unspoken}

  1. I’ve never really given much thought to boundaries… I guess maybe it’s soemthing I do naturally. I don’t think that it’s selfish, as long as you have the right motives and don’t use them the wrong way. Everyone needs boundaries- in every area of our lives – and that’s not selfish in my opinion. We can’t stretch ourselves so thin that we can’t give the best we can give to the areas we need to.
    When it comes to saying no it really depends. Certain things are easy to say no to, others not so much. I guess you just have to pray for discernment to know say yes and no to.

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    1. Don’t take for granted the gift of “naturally” having a healthy view and practice of boundaries, Sarah! Regardless of the name we give it – whether “boundaries” or something else – I think they make a huge impact on our lives. Have you noticed ways in which they’ve helped you to be responsible for your time and resources? Have you noticed whether or not it’s impacted the quality of your work or your enjoyment of others’ company? In any case, I agree with you that discernment is *key*.

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      1. When it comes to relationships (with family and friends) boundaries can be a bit more tricky, now that I think more about it. I don’t think that it’s something I’ve struggled with too much, to be honest I haven’t thought about it too much, but sometimes decisions to say yes or no to something is hard. Or when you have several friends that are completely different and you want to know how to best be there for them without overstepping their boundaries. When it comes to ministry it’s hard because you feel bad to say no about helping out with something – wondering if you’re just being selfish or saying no because you need to.
        I feel like there also needs to be boundaries with things like reading and movies/TV shows. Honestly there are boundaries with tons of different things.
        I think when you have boundaries for yourself – even if created unintentionally – it can help your relationships and balance in your life. Because if you juggle too much it’s just going to go crashing down.
        I think I’ve rambled a bit up there and didn’t really answer your questions….. but well, those are some of my scattered thoughts.

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      2. Oh yes, Sarah! I completely relate with what you said about saying no to ministry. I wonder if I’m being selfish or if I legitimately need to say no. It’s the same thing with saying no to real needs (as opposed to saying to engaging in sinful things, which is relatively easy). For me, a big eye-opener was realizing that I’m not everyone’s savior. God may want to use me… or He may want to use someone else or some other means in any given situation. I think I need to stay in close relationship with Him to discern what to do each and every time. Again, great thoughts, and no need to excuse the rambles. 😉 😀

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