[image by The Wandering Angel]
Boundaries. It’s a topic that comes up quite a bit, and it comes up in a variety of contexts. The context I most often hear it in regards to relationships. Boundaries is a subject that I talk with many people about, and it’s a subject that we are all continually striving to understand better.
More recently I have heard the topic in the context of marital relationships, and what are healthy and unhealthy boundaries? And what is a boundary? It’s become an increasingly more popular topic as the idea of boundaries doesn’t just concern the relationships we are involved in, in the physical space, but the ones that we are involved in online as well.
Over the next few weeks I’m going to be posting some entries on the topic of boundaries from a variety of different authors, talking about a variety of different contexts.
But today, I want to begin with an excerpt from perhaps one of the most well known, cited and popular books out there on this topic. Boundaries: When to Say YES, When to Say NO, To Take Control of Your Life was first published in 1992 by Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend.
Boundaries define us. They define what is me and what is not me. A boundary show me where I end and someone else begins, leading me to a sense of ownership.
Knowing what I am to own and take responsibility for gives me freedom. If I know where my yard begins and ends, I am free to do with it what I like. Taking responsibility for my life opens up many different options. However, if I do not ‘own’ my life, my choices and options become very limited.
Think how confusing it would be if someone told you to ‘guard this property diligently, because I will hold you responsible for what happens here,’ and then did not tell you the boundaries of the property. Or they did not give you the means with which to protect the property? This would be not only confusing but also potentially dangerous.
This is exactly what happens to us emotionally and spiritually, however. God designed a world where we all live ‘within’ ourselves; that is, we inhabit our own souls, and we are responsible for the things that make up ‘us. ‘The heart knows its own bitterness, and no one shares its joy’ (Prov. 14:10). We have to deal with what is in our soul, and boundaries help us to define what that is. If we are not shown the parameters, or are taught wrong parameters, we are in for much pain.
The Bible tells us clearly what our parameters are and how to protect them, but often our family, or other past relationships, confuses us about our parameters.
In addition to showing us what we are responsible for, boundaries help us to define what is not on our property and what we are not responsible for. We are not, for example, responsible for other people. Nowhere are we commanded to have ‘other-control,’ although we spend a lot of time and energy trying to get it! (Boundaries: When to Say YES, When to Say NO, To Take Control of Your Life by Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend, pp.29-30)