By Chris Chandler, MA, LMHC, CSAT-C, Seattle Christian Counseling, PLLC
References: “The New Codependency” by Melody Beattie
(This article is the second in a series about boundaries. The first article explores why boundaries are healthy and biblical. This article offers suggestions to creating healthy boundaries.)
Believers often feel guilty when they say, “No.” Christ established a pattern of a life of service, and they feel duty-bound to emulate it. However, Christ also modeled a life of taking time for rest, and resisting those who would take advantage of him. The preceding article in the series expands on Christ’s example of healthy boundaries. This article focuses on how to build those structures.
Others Will Test Your Boundaries
Remember, people are used to interacting with you in a certain way. They might not like it when you change the rules. “Expect people to test our boundaries. The more they stand to lose, the harder they’ll push. They often won’t stop pushing until they know we mean what we say.” (34) You will have more difficulty setting boundaries with certain people. The idea that this person may be upset with you will hurt enough to make you second-guess yourself. Don’t. Remember what Robert Frost said, “Good fences make good neighbors.”
Boundaries Reinforce Responsibility
Boundaries can also help keep you from enabling unhealthy behavior. Parents of substance abusers often cannot help but rush in to rescue their wayward offspring. They post their bail and cover their mortgage payments. “The day arrives when a child isn’t our baby. When they become adults, our children need to take responsibility for their behaviors. No doubt, some boundaries hurt us as much or more than they hurt the other person. Maybe that’s why it’s called ‘tough love.’” (36)
God’s Tough Love as An ExampleGod showed tough love toward Adam and Eve when they violated boundaries
regarding the Tree of Knowledge. The rules for remaining in Eden were clear and reasonable. Moreover, they existed to keep Adam and Eve out of trouble. Adam and Eve chose to overstep the boundaries, and suffered the consequences.
After God established punishments for the wrongdoing, he explained his rationale for removing them from the garden, “‘The man has now become like one of us, knowing good and evil. He must not be allowed to reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life and eat, and live forever.’ So the Lord God banished him from the Garden of Eden to work the ground from which he had been taken.” (Gen. 3:22-24 NIV) Adam and Eve had demonstrated their willingness to overstep God’s boundaries. God could not trust them not to overstep his boundaries again, so he established a stronger boundary that made it impossible.
Difficult But Rewarding Work
You may want to make excuses for establishing certain boundaries. “Excuses weaken our power.” (37) You have a right to tell others you won’t put up with their inappropriate or hurtful behavior. Beattie uses the example of a woman who had to deal with a man who often called her when he was drunk. She finally told him she would not put up with it anymore. She said, “It’s not my place to tell him to stop drinking. But being with him or talking to him when he’s drunk is my business.” (32)
Boundaries do not have to be forever. Beattie recommends setting a boundary for several weeks or a few months, and then evaluating how it’s working. During the boundary period, you make feel like giving up. Maintaining a boundary is hard. Especially when someone you care about is working so hard to tear it down. Write a letter to yourself about why the boundary is important, and how much it hurts when the person oversteps it. When you feel like giving up, read the letter. (37)
A Christian Counselor Can Help You Set Boundaries
It is difficult to teach yourself how to maintain a healthy limit of responsibilities when you feel compelled to agree to every request for help. Consider getting in touch with a professional Christian counselor who can help you determine the difference between human selfishness and a respect for your own limitations.
Bible-healthy-boundaries Flickr user mckaysavage
Christian-counseling-boundaries Freedigitalphotos.net artur84
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