by Susan Thomas
The word “boundaries” is a popular word in our culture today. From books and pop-psychology, to talk shows and everyday conversations at the local coffee shop, this topic of “boundaries” is a hot topic among people as we try to navigate our relationships.
“I have to establish my boundaries.”
“I need to figure out how to set up better boundaries with my in-laws.”
“You need to define boundaries with your husband so he knows when he’s crossed them!”
“If people don’t respect my boundaries, then I will have to cut off those relationships."
In an era of so many dysfunctional relationships, we all search for answers on how to interact with one another. How can I experience meaningful relationships? How do I respond to difficult people in my life? What do I do when others hurt or disappoint me?
Thankfully, God has a design for our relationships. God is a God of order. There is no question that God has created boundaries for us to abide by in order to live in a healthy, fulfilling way. There is a boundary between the ocean and the sandy shore. There is a boundary between the earth and the sky. God declared a boundary in marriage and sex to include one man, one woman for a lifetime. God has given us order. Furthermore, He has called us to be people who walk with discernment in our relationships. But, we want to make sure we follow His heart as we look at our own interpersonal boundaries. We want to make sure we understand God’s design for our relationships rather than allow a popularized word or concept to define our interactions with others.
I remember a couple that adopted a boundaries mindset. The woman shared with me one day that she had read a book on the subject and that it was really guiding her in her relationships. She went on to describe that her life was like a piece of property with a fence around it. This was her domain given to her by God. She said she needed to make sure that everyone who came into that fenced in yard was right for her life. If people hurt her or she deemed them as toxic, then they were not allowed inside the fence. And, if someone inside the fence began to cause pain or behave in an ungodly way, they were escorted out of the fence.
As I observed her life, I watched as she struggled with her in-laws and eventually saw her lead her husband to cut them off for months with no communication until she was ready. Not long after, I watched some of her friendships deteriorate. She experienced conflict like we all do at some point. But, rather than work for peace and fight for resolution, she politely escorted them one by one outside the fence of her life. She was very sad. And the people around her were very sad. This unfortunate turn of affairs went on to cause disunity in their church and chaos in her life. She left a trail of tears and pain behind her, and I believe this experience is not unique to her.
I recall another woman who spoke to me about her boundaries. She said, “I can’t be friends with everyone,” and then further explained that people needed to fit into her life if the friendship was going to work. “Otherwise, it’s not happening. ” Again, I was confronted with a cautionary tone that prompted me to examine God’s design for our relationships and the place for boundaries.
So where is the balance? How do we navigate our relationships?
I believe we must begin by answering this question . . .
What drives me?
While God-given boundaries are an important aspect of life, we must be aware of the danger of slipping into a boundary-driven mindset. In our attempt to protect ourselves, we may miss God’s design for our relationships and His call on our lives.
My time here is short. What I do with it is HUGE. What drives me is paramount. We must look carefully at what drives us as we relate to other people. Thankfully, God is clear when it comes to what should drive us in our relationships.
God clearly tells us that we are first and foremost to love Him with all of our being! This is the first commandment. Then He goes on to say . . .
“The second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ No other commandment is greater than these.” Mark 12:31, NLT
We are not to be boundary-driven in our relationships with others. We are to be love-driven! We are not to live in such a way that we demand people meet our expectations and then cut them off when they hurt or disappoint us. We are to love the people around us. We are to seek reconciliation rather than only self-protection.
Furthermore, if I live my life behind the fences, it seems my focus might become very me-centered! I am tempted to fixate on my small little yard-of-a-life versus understanding and embracing my call in God’s Kingdom!
When Jesus gave some of his final words to his people (right before He went to be with God the Father) He did not say:
“Go ye therefore and build fences. Make sure that you evaluate each person to see if they are suitable for your yard. Build an airport security system to scan them and see if they can come in. Once they are inside, make sure to pat them down on a regular basis and escort them back out if needed.”
God said, “GO!”
“19) Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. 20)Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you . . . ” (Matthew 28:19-20, NLT)
Make disciples. Baptize them. Teach them.
These are very involved and even intimate commands. We are to reach people. Our focus is not to evaluate people. We are to share with them the greatest gift we’ve ever been given . . . Jesus! And as for those who already know Him, we are to encourage them by loving them the way Christ commanded us to love them. And while God-given, healthy boundaries may sometimes be a way to love someone, boundaries must never drive us.
Yes, we must seek God’s design in every relationship we encounter. Not all relationships are supposed to look the same. We must prayerfully seek God’s wisdom and discernment on how to navigate our relationships with one another. We must ask Him, “God, what is my purpose in this relationship?” While God may have different plans for each and every sacred soul in our lives, one purpose is clear for them all: