My dog is a sweet, white fluff ball that keeps us laughing until she thinks another dog is approaching her possessions—namely us—then she turns into a vicious, small attack dog. She is a lap dog who, for her own wellbeing, can no longer jump up on our level. To break this bondage of fear within her, we are having to retrain our own behaviors and set boundaries.
Maggie equates our love and affection with position over us. The truth is she is our pet. She cannot roam free in our personal space; the sleeping quarters, where we eat, and furniture are all off limits. The boundaries we are setting are very unnerving for her. She snorts at us when we get up and turn our back to her in response to her misbehaviors. But when she calms down enough, we play with and praise her.
Boundaries help her recognize she is secure in her position of pet. All this retraining is difficult, and from the outside may look silly. But, we have begun to think of her guarding behavior as a life and death situation. If Maggie bares her teeth at the wrong dog, she’s done. She loses, not only her possessions, but her life.
Boundaries are just as necessary in human relationships. My friends and family thrive by knowing who I am and what I stand for. Parents begin setting boundaries from the moment children enter the world. Sure, babies get to dictate some of their life by crying and letting those who love them know their needs. Still, babies are dependent upon the parent's response to those needs. Where parents end and baby begins is a boundary.
As children discover the world, they often put themselves in danger. Therefore, it is the love of parents that results in discipline (hopefully done in love) and teaching what is safe and unsafe. Whatever the stage in life, children can choose to accept those boundaries or put themselves in harm’s way by stepping out of the parents' loving limits.
For me, boundaries become a bit of a jumbled mess because of the brokenness and sinfulness of myself and others. My boundaries were violated repeatedly from an early age, so I had a very warped perspective on setting limits. I waffled between keeping my distance and letting others walk all over me. I had no idea how to be a friend, or what a healthy relationship looked like because I hadn’t ever really experienced one.
Healthy boundaries expanded my world, taught me discernment, and introduced me to godly men and women who valued me and brought out the best in my character. Boundaries encourage healthy risk-taking. As a result of submitting to God’s boundaries, I raised my son as a single mom, went back to school and got my writing degree, met and made incredible friends, and risked my heart to meet my now husband of almost 20 years. Boundaries did not crush my identity nor limit the adventure I live; they heightened them.
Setting boundaries takes an openness to truth, and a whole lot of practice. Never mind the numerous mistakes and trying again and again to live within the boundaries that are healthy. It is especially helpful when faithful men and women seek to teach me how to adhere to the boundaries while also revealing my sinful nature so I can evaluate my life better.
What a delight to learn ways to move freely within God’s love. God sets limits to protect me, guide me, and help me to be in right relationship with Him. He knows how easily I am tempted to trade His love for idols. Idols seem convenient, comfortable, and satisfying, that is, until I start to sacrifice my life for them. Quickly I realize I am trapped, and also crushed by the lack of boundaries. My inner dialogue drones on with the many ways I put myself down: I will never measure up. No one loves me. I am a failure. I am not enough. There is no relief from the taskmaster of self-destruction. I become like Maggie, a slave to my fear, putting ourselves in danger because I don’t know whose I am. God’s boundaries are for me and do not work against me. He is trying to give me a full, vibrant life.
FOR FURTHER THOUGHT
Jesus knew His boundaries. “Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Ephesians 2:5-8). He was secure in His identity. He didn’t need anyone to tell Him that He was God. He knew His purpose, which was to serve and redeem creation, and He followed through on the cross for our benefit.
Your boundaries may or may not have been violated. You may not know how to develop healthy boundaries. Yet God gives all of us a safe place and reliable men and women to practice. Don’t give up. Boundaries begin to take shape when you know whose you are and your purpose, and then follow through.
Evaluate your relationships. Are you building others up through your actions (Philippians 2:5-8) or just going with the crowd? Do your relationships spur you on towards love and good deeds, or do these relationships seek to tempt you to move away from what is blessed from God? Jesus set the example of what it is to know, and live life to the fullest within God-given boundaries. The reward is glorifying God and redemption not only for you, but for all mankind (Philippians 2:9-11; James 4:1-12; Hebrews 10:24-25).
Father, teach me your ways. Secure me in my identity so that I can recognize the Enemy’s attack and stand firm. Help me develop boundaries in my friendships so we can support one another and help each other grow in faith. Help me to open up the tender, vulnerable places in my spirit to Your gentle, healing hand. Amen