One of the definitions of a myth is a fiction that looks like a truth. Sometimes it sounds so true that Christians will believe it automatically. Some of these myths come from our family backgrounds. Some come from our church or theological foundations. And some come from our own misunderstandings. Whatever the source, prayerfully investigate the following €œsounds-like-truths.
Myth #1: If I Set Boundaries. I`m Being Selfish
€œNow, wait a minute, Teresa said, shaking her head. €œHow can I set limits on those who need me? Isn`t that living for me and not for God?
Teresa was voicing one of the main objections to boundary setting for Christians: a deep-seated fear of being self-centered, interested only in one`s on concerns and not those of others.
It is absolutely true that we are to be a loving people. Concerned for the welfare of others. In fact, the number-one hallmark of Christians is that we love others (John 13:35).
So don`t boundaries turn us from other-centeredness to self-centeredness? The answer is no. Appropriate boundaries actually increase our ability to care about others. People with highly developed limits are the most caring people on earth. How can this be true?
First, let`s make a distinction between selfishness and stewardship. Selfishness has to do with a fixation on our on wishes and desires, to the exclusion of our responsibility to love others. Though having wishes and desires is a God-given trait (Prov. 13:14), we are to keep them in line with healthy goals and responsibility.
For one thing, we may not want what we need. Mr. Insensitive may desperately need help with the fact that he`s a terrible listener. But he may not want it. God is much more interested in meeting our needs than he is granting all our wishes. For example, he denied Paul`s wish to heal his thorn in the flesh (2 Cor. 12:7-10). At the same time, he met Paul`s needs to the point that Paul felt content and full.
I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do everything through him who gives me strength. (Phil. 4:12-13)
It helps the Christian afraid of setting boundaries to know that God meets our needs. €œGod will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus (Phil. 4:19). At the same time, God does not make our wishes and desires €œall bad either. He will meet many of them.
Our Needs Are Our Responsibility
Even with God`s help, however, it is crucial to understand that meeting our own needs is basically our job. We can`t wait passively for others to take care of us. Jesus told us to €œAsk . . . seek … knock (Matt. 7:7). We are to €œwork out [our] salvation with fear and trembling (Phil. 2:12). Even knowing that €œit is God who works in [us] (Phil. 2:13), we are our own responsibility.
This is a very different picture than many of us are used to. Some individuals see their needs as bad, selfish, and at best, a luxury. Others see them as something that God or others should do for them. But the biblical picture is clear: our lives are our responsibility.
At the end of our lives this truth becomes crystal clear. We will all €œappear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive what is due him for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad (2 Cor. 5:10). A sobering thought.
A helpful win to in understanding setting limits is that am lives are a gift from God. Just as a store manager takes good care of a shop for the owner, we are to do the same with our souls. If a lack of boundaries causes us to mismanage the store, the owner has a right to be upset with us.
We are to develop our lives, abilities, feelings, thoughts, and behaviors. Our spiritual and emotional growth is God`s €œinterest on his investment in us. When we say no to people and activities that are hurtful to us, we are protecting God`s investment. As you can see, there`s quite a difference between selfishness and stewardship.
Myth #2: Boundaries Are a Sign of Disobedience
Many Christians Fear that setting and keeping limits signals rebellion, or disobedience. In religious circles you`ll often hear statements such as, €œYour unwillingness to go along with our program shows an unresponsive heart. Because of this myth, countless individuals remain trapped in endless activities of no genuine spiritual and emotional value.
The truth is life-changing: a lack of boundaries is often a sign of disobedience. People who have shaky limits are often compliant on the outside, but rebellious and resentful on the Inside. They would like to be able to say no, but are afraid. So they cover their fear with a half-hearted yes, as Barry did.
Barry had almost made it to his car after church when Ken caught up with him. Here goes, Barry thought. Maybe I can still get out of this one.
€œBarry! Ken boomed. €œGlad I caught you!
The singles class officer in charge of Bible studies, Ken was a dedicated recruiter to the studies he presided over; however, he was often insensitive to the fact that not everyone wanted to attend his meetings.
€œSo which study can I put you down for, Barry? The one on prophecy, evangelism, or Mark?
Barry thought desperately to himself. I could say, €œNone of the above interest me. Don`t call me€”I`ll call you. But he`s a ranking officer in the singles class. He could jeopardize my relationships with others in the group. I wonder which class will be the shortest?
€œHow about the one on prophecy? Barry guessed. He was wrong.
€œGreat! We`ll be studying end times for the next eighteen months! See you Monday. Ken walked off triumphantly.
Let`s take a look at what just happened. Barry avoided saving no to Ken. At first glance, it looks like he made a choice for obedience. He committed himself to a Bible study. That`s a good thing, right? Absolutely.
But take a second look. What were Barry`s motives for not saving no to Ken? What were the €œthoughts and attitudes of the heart (Heb. 4:2)? Fear. Barry was afraid of Ken`s political clout in the singles group. He feared that he would lose other relationships if he disappointed Ken.
Why is this important? Because it illustrates a biblical principle: an internal no nullifies an external yes. God is more concerned with our hearts than he is with our outward compliance. €œFor I desire mercy, not sacrifice, and acknowledgment of God rather than burnt offerings (Hos. 6:6).
In other words, if we say yes to God or anyone else when we really mean no, we move into a position of compliance. And that is the same as lying. Our lips say yes, but our hearts (and often our half-hearted actions) say no. Do you really think Barry will finish out his year and a half with Ken`s Bible study? The odds are that some priority will arise to sabotage Barry`s commitment, and he`ll leave€”but without telling Ken the real reason why.
Here`s a good way to look at this myth that boundaries are a sign of disobedience: if we can`t say no, we can`t say yes. Why is this? It has to do with our motivation to obey, to love, or to be responsible. We must always say yes out of a heart of love. When our motive is fear, we love not.
The Bible tells us how to be obedient: €œEach of you must give as you have made up your mind. not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver (2 Cor. 9:7 NRSV, italics mine)
Look at the first two ways of giving: €œreluctantly and €œunder compulsion. They both involve fear€”either of a real person or a guilty conscience. These motives can`t exist side by side with love, because €œthere is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear (1 John 4:18 NASB). Each of us must give as we have made up our minds. When we are afraid to say no, our yes is compromised.
God has not interest in our obeying out of fear €œbecause fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love (1 john 4:18). God wants a response of love.
Are boundaries a sign of disobedience? They can be. We can say no to good things for wrong reasons. But having a €œno helps us to clarify, to be honest, to tell the truth about our motives; then we can allow God to work in us. This process cannot be accomplished in a fearful heart.
Myth #3: If I Begin Setting Boundaries, I Will Be Hurt by Others
Usually the quiet one in her women`s Bible study group, Debbie spoke up. The topic of the evening was biblical conflict resolution, and she couldn`t be silent another second. €œI know how to present facts and arguments about my opinion in a caring way. But my husband will walk out on me if I start disagreeing! Now what do I do?
Debbie`s problem is shared by many. She genuinely believes in boundaries, but she is terrified of their consequences.
Is it possible that others will become angry at our boundaries and attack or withdraw from us? Absolutely. God never gave us the power or the right to control how others respond to our no. Some will welcome it; some will hate it.
Jesus told the rich young man a hard truth about eternal life. He understood that the man worshiped money. So he told him to give it away€”to make room in his heart for God. The results were not encouraging: €œWhen the young man heard this, he went away sad, because he had great wealth (Matt. 19:22).
Jesus could have manipulated the situation so that it was less hard to swallow. He could have said, €œWell, how about ninety percent? After all, he`s God, and he makes up the rules! But he didn`t. He knew that the young man had to know whom to worship. So he let him walk away.
We can do no less. We can`t manipulate people into swallowing our boundaries by sugarcoating them. Boundaries are a €œlitmus test for the quality of our relationships. Those people in our lives who can respect our boundaries will love our wills, our opinions, our separateness. Those who can`t respect our boundaries are telling us that they don`t love our no. They only love our yes, our compliance.
When Jesus said. €œWoe to you when all men speak well of you, for that is how their fathers treated the false prophets (Luke 6:26), he was saying, Don`t be an ear tickler. Don`t be a chronic peacemaker. If everything you say is loved by everyone, the odds are good that you`re bending the truth.
Setting limits has to do with telling the truth. The Bible clearly distinguishes between those who love truth and those who don`t. First, there is the person who welcomes your boundaries. Who accepts them. Who listens to them. Who says €œI`m glad you have a separate opinion. It makes me a better person. This person is called wise, or righteous`.
The second type hates limits. Resents your difference. Tries to manipulate you into giving up your treasures. Try our €œlitmus test experiment with your significant relationships. Tell them no in some area. You`ll either come out with increased intimacy€”or learn that there was very little to begin with.
So what does Debbie, whose husband is an avowed €œboundary buster, do? Will her husband carry out his threat to walk out on her? He might. We can`t control the other person. But if the only thing keeping Debbie`s husband home is her total compliance, is this a marriage at all? And how will problems ever he addressed when she and he avoid them?
Do Debbie`s boundaries condemn her to a life of isolation? Absolutely not. If telling the truth causes someone to leave you, this gives the church an opportunity to provide support and a spiritual and emotional €œhome to the abandoned person.
In no way are we advocating divorce. The point is that you can`t make anyone stay with or love you. Ultimately that is up to your partner. Sometimes setting boundaries clarifies that you were left a long time ago, in every way, perhaps, except physically. Often, when a crisis like this occurs, it helps the struggling couple reconcile and remake their marriage into a more biblical one. The problem was raised, and now can be addressed.
Warning: the boundaryless spouse who develops limits begins changing in the marriage. There are more disagreements. There are more conflicts over values, schedules, money, kids, and sex. Quite often, however, the limits help the out-of-control spouse begin to experience the necessary pain that can motivate him or her to take more responsibility in the marriage. Many marriages are strengthened after boundaries are set because the Spouse begins to miss the relationship.
Will some people abandon or attack us for having boundaries? Yes. Better to learn about their character and take steps to fix the problem than never to know.
Bonding First, Boundaries Second
Gina listened attentively to her counselor as he presented her boundary problems. €œIt all seems to make sense now, she said as she left the session. €œI can see changes I`m going to have to make
The next session was quite different. She entered the office defeated and hurt. €œThese boundaries aren`t what they`re cracked up to be, she said sadly, €œThis week I confronted my husband, my kids, my parents, and my friends on how they don`t respect my boundaries. And now nobody will talk to me!
What was the problem? Gina certainly jumped into her boundary work with both feet€”but she neglected to find a safe place to work on boundaries. It isn`t wise to immediately alienate yourself from everyone important to you. Remember that you are made for relationship. You need people. You must have places where you are connected, where you are loved unconditionally. It`s only from that place of being €œrooted and grounded in love (Eph. 3:17 NASB) that you can safely begin learning to tell the truth. This is how you can prepare yourself for the resistance of others to your setting of biblical boundaries.
Myth #4: If I Set Boundaries, I Will Hurt Others
€œThe biggest problem with telling my mother no is the €˜hurt silence,` Barbara said. €œIt lasts about forty-five seconds, and it always happens after I tell her I can`t visit her. It`s only broken by my apologizing for my selfishness and setting up a time to visit, Then she`s fine, I`ll do anything to avoid that silence.
If you set boundaries you fear that your limits will injure someone else€”someone you would genuinely like to see happy and fulfilled:
€¢ The friend who wants to borrow your car when you need it
€¢ The relative in chronic financial straits who desperately asks for a loan
€¢ The person who calls for support when you are in bad shape yourself
The problem is that sometimes you see boundaries as an offensive weapon. Nothing could be further from the truth. Boundaries are a defensive tool. Appropriate boundaries don`t control, attack, or hurt anyone. They simply prevent your treasures from being taken at the wrong time. Saying no to adults, who are responsible for getting their own needs met, may cause some discomfort. They may have to look elsewhere. But it doesn`t cause injury.
This principle doesn`t speak only to those who would like to control or manipulate us. It also applies to the legitimate needs of others. Even when someone has a valid problem, there are times when we can`t sacrifice for some reason or another. Jesus left the multitudes, for example, to be alone with his Father (Matt. 14:22-23). In these instances, we have to allow others to take responsibility for their €œknapsacks (Gal. 6:5) and to look elsewhere to get their needs met.
This is a crucial point. We all need more than God and a best friend. We need a group of supportive relationships. The reason is simple: having more than one person in our lives allows our friends to be human. To be busy. To be unavailable at times. To hurt and have problems of their own. To have time alone.
Then, when one person can`t be there for us, there`s another phone number to call. Another person who may have something to offer. And we aren`t enslaved to the schedule conflict to one person.
This is the beauty behind the Bible`s teachings on the church, the body of Christ. We`re all a group of lumpy, bumpy, unfinished sinners, who ask for help and give help, who ask again and give again. And when our supportive network is strong enough, we all help each other mature into what God intended us to be: €œshowing forbearance to one another in love, being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace (Eph. 4:2€”3),
When we`ve taken the responsibility to develop several supportive relationships in this biblical fashion, we can take a no from someone. Why? Because we have somewhere else to go.
Remember that God had no problem telling Paul that he would not take away his thorn. He tells all of us no quite often! God doesn`t worry that his boundaries will injure us. He knows we are to take responsibility for our lives€”and sometimes no helps us do just that.
Myth #5: Boundaries Mean That I Am Angry
Brenda had finally mustered up the courage to tell her boss she was no longer going to work weekends for no pay. She had asked for a meeting, which had gone well. Her boss had been understanding, and the situation was being ironed out. Everything had gone well, except inside Brenda,
It had begun innocently enough. Brenda had itemized her issues with the work situation and had presented her view and suggestions. But midway through her presentation, she`d been surprised by a sense of rage welling up inside. Her feeling of anger and injustice had been difficult to keep hidden. It had even slipped out in a couple of sarcastic comments about the boss`s golfing Fridays, comments that Brenda had had no intention of making.
Sitting at her desk, Brenda felt confused. Where had the anger come from? Was she €œthat kind of person? Maybe the culprit was these boundaries she`d been setting.
It`s no secret that quite often, when people begin telling the truth, setting limits, and taking responsibility, an €œangry cloud follows them around for a while, They become touchy and easily offended, and they discover a hair-trigger temper that frightens them. Friends will make comments like, €œYou`re not the nice, loving person I used to know. The guilt and shame caused by these remarks can further confuse new boundary setters.
So do boundaries cause anger in us? Absolutely not. This myth is a misunderstanding of emotions in general, and anger specifically. Emotions, or feelings, have a function. They tell us something. They are a signal.
Here are some of the things our €œnegative emotions tell us. Fear tells us to move away from danger, to be careful. Sadness tells us that we`ve lost something€”a relationship, an opportunity, or an idea. Anger is also a signal. Like fear, anger signals danger. However, rather than urging us to withdraw, anger is a sign that we need to move forward to confront the threat. Jesus` rage at the defilement of the temple is an example of how this feeling functions (John 2:13-17).
Anger tells us that our boundaries have been violated. Much like a nation`s radar defense system, angry feelings serve as an €œearly warning system, telling us we`re in danger of being injured or controlled.
€œSo that`s why I find myself hostile to pushy salesmen! Carl exclaimed, He couldn`t understand why he had a hard time loving sales personnel who couldn`t hear his no. They were attempting to get inside his financial boundaries, and Carl`s anger was simply doing its job.
Anger also provides us with a sense of power to solve a problem. It energizes us to protect ourselves, those we love, and our principles. In fact, a common Old Testament illustration of an angry person is someone with a €œhard€” breathing nose. Imagine a bull in a ring, Snorting and pawing, getting the steam up to attack, and you`ll get the picture.
However, as with all emotions, anger doesn`t understand time. Anger doesn`t dissipate automatically if the danger occurred two minutes ago€”or twenty years ago)! It has to be worked through appropriately. Otherwise, anger simply lives inside the heart.
This is why individuals with injured boundaries often are shocked by the rage they feel inside when they begin setting limits. This is generally not €œnew anger€”it`s €œold anger. It`s often years of nos that were never voiced, never respected, and never listened to. The protests against all the evil and violation of our souls sit inside us, waiting to tell their truths.
The Scriptures say that the earth quakes €œunder a slave when he becomes king (Prov. 30:22). The only difference between a slave and a king is that one has no choices and the other has all choices available to him. When you suddenly give those who have been imprisoned all their lives a great deal of power, the result is often an angry tyrant. Years of constant boundary violations generate great anger.
It`s very common for boundary-injured people to do some €œcatching up with anger. They may have a season of looking at boundary violations of the past that they never realized existed.
Nathan`s family was known in his small town as the ideal family. Other kids envied him growing up, saying, €œYou`re lucky your parents are so close to you€”mine couldn`t care less about me. Feeling a great deal of gratitude for his close family, Nathan never noticed that his family carefully controlled differences and separateness. No one ever really disagreed or fought over values or feelings. €œI always thought conflict meant a loss of love, he would say.
It wasn`t until Nathan`s marriage began suffering that he began questioning his past. He naively married a woman who manipulated and controlled him. Several years into the marriage, he knew it was in serious trouble. But to Nathan`s Surprise, he was not only angry at himself for getting into this mess, but also at his parents for not equipping him with tools for handling life better.
Because he genuinely loved the warm family in which he was raised, Nathan felt guilty and disloyal when he remembered occasions in which his attempts to separate from his parents and set his own limits were constantly and lovingly frustrated. Mom would cry about his argumentativeness. Dad would tell Nathan not to upset his mom. And Nathan`s boundaries remained immature and nonfunctional. The more clearly he saw what this had cost him, the angrier he felt. €œI made my own choices in life, he said. €œBut life would have been a lot better had they helped me learn to say no to people.
Did Nathan remain angry at his parents forever? No, and neither do you have to. As hostile feelings surface, bring them to relationship. Confess them. The Bible tells us to tell the truth to each other about our lacks, so that we may be healed (James 5:16). Experience the grace of God through others who love you in your anger. This is a first step toward resolving past anger.
A second step is to rebuild the injured parts of your soul. Take responsibility for healing the €œtreasures that may have been violated. In Nathan`s case, his sense of personal autonomy and safety had been deeply wounded. He had to practice for a long time to regain this in his primary relationships. But the more he healed, the less anger he felt.
Finally, as you develop a sense of biblical boundaries, you develop more safety in the present. You develop more confidence. You are less enslaved to the fear of other people. In Nathan`s case set better limits with his wife and improved his marriage. As you develop better boundaries, you have less need for anger. This is because in many cases, anger was the only boundary you had. Once you have your no intact, you no longer need the €œrage signal. You can see evil coming your way and prevent it from harming you by your boundaries.
Don`t fear the rage you discover when you first begin your boundary development. It is the protest of earlier parts of your soul. Those parts need to be unveiled, understood, and loved by God and people. And then you need to take responsibility for healing them and developing better boundaries.
Boundaries Decrease Anger
This brings us to an important point about anger: The more biblical our boundaries are, the less anger we experience! Individuals with mature boundaries are the least angry people in the world. While those who are just beginning boundary work see their anger increase, this passes as boundaries grow and develop.
Why is this? Remember the €œearly warning system function of anger. We feel it when we are violated. If you can prevent boundary violation in the first place, you don`t need the anger. You are more in control of your life and values.
Tina resented her husband`s coming home forty-five minutes late to dinner every night. She had a hard time keeping the food hot; the kids were hungry and crabby, and their evening study schedule was thrown off. Things changed, however, when she began serving dinner on time, with or without her husband. He came home to refrigerated leftovers that he had to reheat and eat alone. Three or four sessions like this prompted Tina`s husband to tear himself away from work earlier!
Tina`s boundary (eating with the kids on time) kept her from feeling violated and victimized. She got her needs met, the kids` needs met, and she didn`t feel angry anymore. The old saying, €œDon`t get mad. Just get even isn`t accurate. It`s far better to say, €œDon`t get mad. Set a limit!
Myth #6: When Others Set Boundaries, It Injures Me
€œRandy, I`m sorry, but I can`t lend you the money, Pete said. €œThis is just a bad time for me.
My best friend, Randy thought to himself. I come to him in need, and he refuses me. What a blow! I guess that shows me what kind of friendship we really have.
Randy is preparing to embark on a life of boundarylessness with others. Why? Because being on the €œreceiving end was hurtful to him. He even made an emotional vow never to put anyone else through his experience.
Many of us are like Randy. Having someone say no to our request for support leaves a bad taste in our mouths. It feels hurtful, rejecting, or cold. It becomes difficult to conceive of setting limits as being helpful or good.
Having to accept the boundaries of others is certainly not pleasant. None of us enjoys hearing the word no. Let`s look at why accepting others` boundaries is such a problem.
First, having inappropriate boundaries set on us can injure us, especially in childhood. A parent can hurt a child by not providing the correct amount of emotional connection at the appropriate time. Children`s emotional and psychological needs are primarily the responsibility of the parents. The younger the child, the fewer places he or she can go to get those needs met. A self-centered, immature, or dependent parent can hurt a child by saying no at the wrong times.
Robert`s earliest memories were of being in his crib, alone in the room, for hours at a time. His parents would simply leave him there, thinking he was fine if he wasn`t crying. Actually, he had moved past trying to infant depression. Their no created a deep sense of being unwanted, which followed him into adulthood.
Second, we project our own injuries onto others. When we feel pain, one response is to €œdisown the bad feeling and to throw it onto others. This is called projection. Quite often, people who have been hurt by inappropriate childhood boundaries will throw their fragility onto others. Sensing their own pain in others, they will avoid setting limits on others, as they imagine how devastating it would be to them.
Robert had extreme difficulty setting nighttime limits with his three-year-old daughter, Abby. Whenever she would cry about having to go to bed, he would panic inside, thinking, I`m abandoning my daughter€”she needs me and I`m not there for her. Actually, he was a wonderful father, who read stories at night, prayed, and sang songs with his little girl. But he read his own pain in her tears. Robert`s injuries kept him from setting the correct limits on Abby`s wish to keep him singing songs and playing€”until sunrise.
Third, an inability to receive someone`s boundary may mean there is an idolatrous relationship. Kathy felt wounded and isolated when her husband wouldn`t want to talk at night. His silence resulted in severe feelings of alienation. She began wondering if she were being injured by her husband`s boundaries.
The real problem, however, lay in Kathy`s dependence on her husband. Her emotional well€”being rested on his being there for her at all times. He was to have provided everything that her own alcoholic parents hadn`t. When he had a bad day and withdrew, her own day was a disaster.
Though we certainly need each other, no one but God is indispensable. When a conflict with one significant person can bring us to despair, it is possible that we are putting that person on a throne that should only be occupied by God. We should never see one other person as the only source of good in the world. It hurts our spiritual and emotional freedom, and our development.
Ask yourself: €œIf the person I can`t hear no from were to die tonight, to whom would I go? It`s crucial to develop several deep, significant relationships. This allows those in our lives to feel free to say no to us without guilt because we have somewhere else to go.
When we have a person we can`t take no from, we have, in effect, handed over the control of our lives to them. All they have to do is threaten withdrawal, and we will comply. This occurs quite often in marriages, where one spouse is kept in emotional blackmail by the other`s threat to leave, Not only is this no way to live€” it doesn`t work, either. The controller continues withdrawing whenever he or she is displeased. And the boundaryless person continues frantically scrambling to keep him or her happy. Dr. James Dobson`s Love Must Be Tough is a classic work on this kind of boundary problem.
Fourth, an inability to accept others` boundaries can indicate a problem in taking responsibility. Randy, who needed a loan from his best friend, is an example of this problem. He was making Pete responsible for his own financial woes. Some people become so accustomed to others rescuing them that they begin to believe that their well-being is someone else`s problem. They feel let down and unloved when they aren`t bailed out. They fail to accept responsibility for their own lives.
Paul strongly confronted the Corinthians in a letter that has since been lost. He set limits on their rebelliousness. Thankfully, they responded well:
Even if I caused you sorrow by my letter, I do not regret it. Though I did regret it€”I see that my letter hurt you, but only for a little while€”yet now I am happy, not because you were made sorry, but because your sorrow led you to repentance. (2 Cor. 7:8-9)
The Corinthians took, accepted, and responded well to Paul`s boundaries, whatever they were. That`s a sign of taking responsibility.
It`s helpful to remember Jesus Golden Ride here: €œin everything, do to others what you would have them do to you (Matt. 7:12). Apply it to setting limits. Do you want others to respect your boundaries? Then you must be willing to respect the boundaries of others.
Myth #7: Boundaries Cause Feelings of Guilt
Edward shook his head. €œThere`s something not right about all this for me, he said. My folks were always so caring and concerned about me. It`s been such a great relationship. And then . . . He paused, groping for words.
€˜€˜And then I met Judy and we got married. And that was wonderful. We saw my folks every week, sometimes more. Then the kids came along. Everything was fine. Until I got the job offer from across the country. It was the position of my dreams€”Judy was excited about it, too.
€œBut as soon as I told my parents about the offer, things changed. I starter hearing them talk about Dad`s health€”I hadn`t realized it was that bad. About Mom`s loneliness€”about how we were the only bright spots in their lives. And about all the sacrifices they`d made for me.
€œWhat do I do? They`re right€¦ they`ve given their lives to me. How can I leave them after all that?
Edward isn`t alone in his dilemma. One of the major obstacles to setting boundaries with others in our lives is our feelings of obligation. What do we owe not only our parents, but anyone who`s been loving toward us? What`s appropriate and biblical, and what isn`t?
Many individuals solve this dilemma by avoiding boundary setting with those to whom they feel an obligation. In this sense, they can avoid the guilty feelings that occur when they say no to someone who has been kind to them. They never leave home, never change schools or churches, and never switch jobs our friends. Even when it would be an otherwise mature move.
The idea is that because we have received something, we owe something. The problem is the nonexistent debt. The love we receive, or money, or time€”or anything which causes us to feel obligated€”should be accepted as a gift.
€œGift implies no strings attached. All that`s really needed is gratitude. The giver has no second thought that the present will provide a return. It was simply provided because someone loved someone and wanted to do something for him or her. Period.
That is how God views his gift of salvation to us. It cost him his Son. It was motivated out of love for us. And our response is to receive it, and to be grateful. Why is gratitude so important? Because God knows that our gratitude for what he has done for us will move us to love others: €œas you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness (Col. 2:7).
What do we owe those who are kind to us, who have genuinely cared for us? We owe them thanks. And from our grateful heart, we should go out and help others.
We need to distinguish here between those who €œgive to get and those who truly give selflessly. It`s generally easy to tell the difference. If the giver is hurt or angered by a sincere thanks, the gift was probably a loan. If the gratitude is enough, you probably received a legitimate gift with no feelings of guilt attached.
God does an instructive job of keeping the issue of gratitude and boundaries separate. In Revelation`s letters to the seven churches, he singles out three churches (Ephesus, Pergamum, and Thyatira):
1. He praises their accomplishments (gratitude).
2. He then tells them that even so, he has €œsomething against them (2:4, 14, 20).
3. He finally confronts their irresponsibilities (boundaries).
He doesn`t allow the two issues to be confused. Neither should we.
Myth #8: Boundaries Are Permanent, and I`m Afraid of Burning My Bridges
€œBut what if I change my mind? Carla asked. €œI`m scared that I`ll set a boundary with my best friend, and then she`ll leave and forget about me.
It`s important to understand that your no is always subject to you. You own your boundaries. They don`t own you. If you set limits with someone, and she responds maturely and lovingly, you can renegotiate the boundary. In addition, you can change the boundary if you are in a safer place.
Changing and renegotiating boundaries has many biblical precedents: God chose not to destroy Nineveh, for example, when the city repented (Jonah 3:10). In addition, Paul rejected John Mark for a mission trip because the younger man had deserted Paul (Acts 15:37-39). Yet, years later, Paul requested John Mark`s companionship (2 Tim. 4:11). The timing was ripe to change his boundary.
As you`ve probably noticed, some of these myths are genuine misconceptions you may have learned from distorted teachings. Yet others simply result from the fear of standing up and saving no to unbiblical responsibility. Prayerfully review which myths have entangled and ensnared you. Search the Scripture mentioned in this chapter. And ask God to give you a sense of confidence that he believes in good boundaries more than you do.