Have you ever been in a situation that you didn’t want to be in or went to a function and realize all too soon, “this is not the place for me?” It must be human nature. I’ve walked into a room and immediately started looking for the exit. (To be honest, I’ve even planned my exit strategy even before entering a room.) The counselor in me wants to call it “establishing healthy boundaries.”
As believers, we are to emulate Jesus, who was known for setting boundaries. He would regularly take time away from people, even when they were looking for him, to go and be alone with the Father. If he felt the need to live into everyone’s expectation of him, he would never have had time to be alone with God.
In geography, a boundary is that which marks the end of one property or jurisdiction and the beginning of another. In relationships, a boundary is what divides one person from another, so that each can have separate identities, responsibilities, and privileges. It’s our spaxe between individuals. Healthy boundaries define what’s expected and shows respect for others.
Boundaries can be used in healthy ways and unhealthy ways. The way to know which boundaries are healthy is to examine the motive. Are you protecting yourself or another from potential harm, either emotional or physical? If so, then you are setting healthy and needful boundaries. If not, that isn’t healthy.
Boundaries are about taking responsibility for our own lives. God gives us freedom to choose to live within His boundaries or outside of them, and to live outside of God’s boundaries means to accept the consequences.
Boundaries are also helpful in parenting. Setting healthy limits for children protects them. Unhealthy boundaries tend to be controlling and selfishly motivated. Boundaries should guide a child to become the person God created him or her to be. Boundaries allow children to develop an identity separate from their parents within the safety of their family. Without an identity, people “vanish” into other people or expect them not to have any differences. Learning boundaries as a child is important. It is more difficult to learn boundaries later in life.
Boundaries are all about self-control which is a fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23). A believer who realizes the importance for self-control to take responsibility for his own actions and not depend on others will seek the Lord’s help for growth in this character trait.
It’s okay to say “no” in unselfish, helpful ways. Many times love requires us to say “no” to those we love. For example, if a family member is abusing alcohol at a family gathering, then it is Christ-like to tell him not to do so. A proper boundary has then been set. If the response is to get angry, leave, and never come back, then that person simply was not able to respect the boundary. It is not sinful to say “no” to someone if he is crossing personal boundaries in harmful and destructive ways. Every boy or girl on a date should have clear boundaries that must not be crossed.
Bottom line is this … if Jesus, who was God incarnate, had boundaries, then we should practice healthy boundaries ourselves. How did He do it?
1. Jesus established prayer as a priority.
“But Jesus often withdrew to the wilderness for prayer.”—Luke 5:16
2. Jesus taught to be confident in your “yeses” and “nos.”
“’Just say a simple, “Yes, I will,” or “No, I won’t.” Anything beyond this is from the evil one.’”—Matthew 5:37
3. Jesus expected others to state their needs. In Matthew 20, Jesus’s question to the blind men was relational. He wanted to be invited into their journey. Because of his perfect love, he doesn’t force us to choose him.
“Two blind men were sitting beside the road. When they heard that Jesus was coming that way, they began shouting, ‘Lord, Son of David, have mercy on us!’… When Jesus heard them, he stopped and called, ‘What do you want me to do for you?’”—Matthew 20:30, 32
Gee, I wonder what the world would be like if everyone practiced healthy boundaries?
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