Imagine for a moment that you live on another planet operating under different principles. Suppose your planet has no gravity and no need for a medium of exchange such as money. You get your energy and fuel from osmosis, instead of eating and drinking. Suddenly, without warning, you find yourself transported to Earth.
When you awake from your trip, you step out of your hovering spacecraft and fall abruptly to the ground. €œOuch! you say, not knowing exactly
why you fell. After regaining your composure, you decide to travel around a bit, but are unable to fly, because of this new phenomenon called gravity. So you start walking.
After a while, you notice that, strangely, you feel hungry and thirsty. You wonder why. Where you come from, the galactic system rejuvenates your body automatically. Luckily, you run across an earthling who diagnoses your problem and tells you that you need food. Better yet, he recommends a place where you can eat, called Jack`s Diner.
You follow his directions, go into the restaurant, and manage to order some of this Earth food that contains all the nutrients you need. You immediately feel better. But then, the man who gave you the food wants €œseven dollars for what he gave you. You have no idea what he`s talking about. After quite an argument, some men in uniforms come and take you away and put you in a small room with bars. What in the world is going on, you wonder.
You didn`t mean anyone harm, yet you are in €œjail, whatever that is. You can no longer move about as you want, and you resent it. You only tried to be about your own business, and now you have a sore leg, fatigue from your long walk, and a stomachache from eating too much. Nice place, this Earth.
Does this sound farfetched? People raised in dysfunctional families, or families where God`s ways of boundaries are not practiced, have experiences similar to that of the alien. They find themselves transported into adult life where spiritual principles that have never been explained to them govern their relationships and well-being. They hurt, are hungry, and may end up in jail, but they never know the principles that could have helped them operate in accord with reality instead of against it. So, they are prisoners of their own ignorance.
God`s world is set tip with laws and principles. Spiritual realities are as real as gravity, and if you do not know them, you will discover their effects. Just because we have not been taught these principles of life and relationships does not mean they will not rule. We need to know the principles God has woven into life and operate according to them. Below are ten laws of boundaries that you can learn to begin to experience life differently.
Law- #1: The Law of sowing and Reaping
The law of cause and effect is a basic law of life. The Bible calls it the law of Sowing and Reaping. €œYou reap whatever you sow. If you sow to your own flesh, you will reap corruption from the flesh; but if you Sow to the Spirit, you will reap eternal life from the Spirit“ (Gal. 6:7-8 NRSV).
When God call us that we will reap what we sow, he is not punishing us; he`s telling us how things really are. If you smoke cigarettes, you most likely will develop a smoker`s hack, and you may even get lung cancer. If you overspend, you most likely will get calls from creditors, and you may even go hungry because you have no money for food. On the other hand if you eat right and exercise regularly, you may suffer from fewer colds and bouts with the flu. If you budget wisely, you will have money for the bill collectors and for the grocery store.
Sometimes, however, people don`t reap what they sow, because someone else steps in and reaps the consequences for them. If every time you overspent, your mother sent you money to cover check overdrafts or high credit-card balances, you wouldn`t reap the consequences of your spend-thrift ways. Your mother would be protecting you from the natural consequences: the hounding of creditors or going hungry.
As the mother in the above example demonstrates, the Law of` Sowing and Reaping can he interrupted. And it is often people who have no boundaries who do the interrupting. Just as we can interfere with the law of gravity by catching a glass tumbling off the table, people can interfere with the Law of Cause and Effect by stepping in and rescuing irresponsible people. Rescuing a person from the natural consequences of his behavior enables him to continue in irresponsible behavior. The Law of Sowing and Reaping has not been repealed. It is still operating. But the doer is not suffering the consequences; someone else is.
Today we call a person who continually rescues another person a codependent. In effect, codependent, boundary-less people €œco-sign the note of life for the irresponsible person. Then they end up paying the bills€”physically, emotionally, and spiritually€”and the spendthrift continues out of control with no consequences. He continues to be loved, pampered, and treated nicely.
Establishing boundaries helps codependent people stop interrupting the Law of Sowing and Reaping in their loved one`s life. Boundaries force the person who is doing the sowing to also do the reaping.
It doesn`t help just to confront the irresponsible person. A client will often say to me, €œBut I do confront Jack. I have tried many times to let him know what I think about his behavior and that he needs to change. In reality, my client is only nagging Jack. Jack will not feel the need to change because his behavior is not causing him any pain. Confronting an irresponsible person is not painful to him; only consequences are.
If Jack is wise, confrontation might change his behavior. But people caught in destructive patterns are usually not wise. They need to suffer consequences before they change their behavior. The Bible tells us it is worthless to confront foolish people: €œDo not rebuke a mocker or he will hate you; rebuke a wise man and he will love you (Prov. 9:8).
Codependent people bring insults and pain onto themselves when they confront irresponsible people. In reality, they just need to stop interrupting the law of sowing and reaping in someone`s life.
Law #2: The Law of Responsibility
Many times when people hear a talk on boundaries and taking responsibility for their own lives, they say, €œThat`s so self-centered. We should love one another and deny ourselves. Or, they actually become selfish and self-centered. Or, they feel €œguilty when they do someone a favor. These are unbiblical views of responsibility.
The Law of Responsibility includes loving others. The commandment to love is the entire law for Christians (Gal. 5:13-14). Jesus calls it my commandment, €œLove each other as I have loved you (John 5: 12-13). Anytime you are not loving others, you are not taking full responsibility for yourself; you have disowned your heart.
Problems arise when boundaries of responsibility are confused. We are to love one another, not be one another. I can`t feel your feelings for you. I can`t think for you. I can`t behave for you. I can`t work through the disappointment that limits bring for you. In short, I can`t grow for you; only you can. Likewise, you can`t grow for me. The biblical mandate for our own personal growth is €˜€˜Continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose (Phil. 2: 12-13). You are responsible for yourself. I am responsible for myself.
An additional theme in the Bible says that we are to treat others the way we would want to be treated. If we were down and out, helpless and without hope, we would certainly want help and provision. This is a very important side of being responsible €œto.
Another aspect of being responsible €œto is not only in the giving but in the setting of limits on another`s destructive and irresponsible behavior. It is not good to rescue someone from the consequences of their sin, for you will only have to do it again. You have reinforced the pattern (Prov. 19:19). It is the same principle spoken of in child rearing; it is hurtful to not have limits with others. It leads them to destruction (Prov. 23:13).
A strong strand throughout the Bible stresses that you are to give to needs and put limits on sin. Boundaries help you do just that.
Law #3: The Law of Power
As the Twelve Step movement grows within the church. Christians in therapy and recovery voice a common confusion. Am I powerless over my behavior? If I am, how can I become responsible? What do I have the power to do?
The Twelve Steps and the Bible teach that people must admit that they are moral failures. Alcoholics admit that they are powerless over alcohol: they don`t have the fruit of self-control. They are powerless over their addiction, much like Paul was: €œI do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. . . . For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do€”this I keep on doing . . . waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within my members (Rom. 7:15, 19, 23). This is powerlessness. John says that we are all in that state, and that anyone that denies it is lying (1 John 1:8).
Though you do not have the power in and of yourself to overcome these patterns, you do have the power to do some things that will bring fruits of victory later:
1. You have the power to agree with the truth about your problems. In the Bible this is called €œconfession. To confess means to €œagree with. You have the ability to at least say €œthat is me. You may not be able to change it yet, but you can confess.
2. You have the power to submit your inability to God. You always have the power to ask for help and yield. You have the power to humble yourself and turn your life over to him. You may not be able to make yourself well, but you can call the Doctor! The humbling of yourself commanded in the Bible is always coupled with great promises. If you do what you are able€”confess, believe, and ask for help€”God will do what you are unable to do€”bring about change (1 John 1:9; James 4:7-10: Matt. 5:3, 6).
3. You have the power to search and ask God and others to reveal more and more about what is within boundaries.
4. You have the power to turn from the evil that you find within you. This is called repentance. This does not mean that you`ll be perfect; it means that you can see your sinful parts as aspects that you want to change
5. You have the power to humble yourself and ask God and others to help you with your developmental injuries and leftover childhood needs. Many of your problematic parts come from being empty inside, and you need to seek God and others to have those needs met.
6. You have the power to seek out those that you have injured arid make amends. You need to do this in order to be responsible for yourself and your sin, and be responsible to those you have injured. Matthew 5:23-24 says, €œTherefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother: then come and offer your gift.
On the other Side of the coin, your boundaries help define what you do not have power over: everything outside of them! Listen to the way the serenity prayer (probably the best boundary prayer ever written) says it:
God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.
In other words, God, clarify my boundaries! You can work on submitting yourself to the process and working with God to change you. You cannot change anything else; not the weather, the past, the economy€”and especially not other people. You cannot change others. More people suffer from trying to change other than from any other sickness. And it is impossible.
What you can do is influence others. But there is a trick. Since you cannot get them to change, you must change yourself so that their destructive patterns no longer work on you. Change your way of dealing with them; they may be motivated to change if their old ways no longer work.
Another dynamic that happens when you let go of others is that you begin to get healthy, and they may notice and envy your health. They may want some of what you have.
One more thing, You need the wisdom to know what is you and what is not you. Pray for the wisdom to know the difference between what you have the power to change and what you do not.
Law #4: The Law of Respect
One word comes up again and again when people describe their problems with boundaries: they. €œBut they won`t accept me if I say no. €œBut they will get angry if I set limits. €œBut they won`t speak to fl)0 for a week if` I tell them how I really feel.
We fear that others will not respect our boundaries. We focus on others and lose clarity about ourselves. Sometimes the problem is that we judge others` boundaries. We say or think things such as this:
€˜€˜How could he refuse to come by and pick me up? It`s right on his way! He could find some €˜time alone` some other time.
€œThat`s so selfish of her to not come to the luncheon. After all, the rest of us are sacrificing.
€œWhat do you mean, €˜no`? I just need the money for a little while.
€œIt seems that, after all I do for you, you could at least do me this one little favor.
We judge the boundary decisions of others, thinking that we know best how they €œought to give, and usually that means €œthey ought to give to me the way I want them to!
But the Bible says whenever we judge, we will be judged (Matt. 7:1-2). When we judge others` boundaries, ours will fall under the same judgment. If we condemn others` boundaries, we expect them to condemn ours. This sets up a fear cycle inside that makes us afraid to set the boundaries that we need to set. As a result, we comply, then we resent, and the €œlove that we have €œgiven goes sour.
This is where the Law of Respect comes in. As Jesus said, €œso in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you (Matt. 7:12). We need to respect the boundaries of others. We need to love the boundaries of others in order to command respect for our own. We need to treat their boundaries the way we want them to treat ours.
If we love and respect people who tell us no, they will love and respect our no. Freedom begets freedom. If we are walking in the Spirit, we give people the freedom to make their own choices. €œWhere the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom 2 Cor 3: 17). If we are going to judge at all, it needs to be by the €œperfect law that gives freedom“ (James 1:25).
Our real concern with others should not be €œAre they doing what I would do or what I want them to do? but €œAre they really making a free choice? When we accept others freedom, we don`t get angry, feel guilty, or withdraw our love when they set boundaries with us. When we accept others` freedom, we feel better about our own.
Law #5: The Law of Motivation
Stan was confused. He read in the Bible and was taught in church that it was more blessed to give than to receive, but he found that this often was not true. He frequently felt unappreciated for €œall he was doing. He wished people would have more consideration for his time and energy. Yet, whenever someone wanted something from him, he would do it. He thought this was loving, and he wanted to be a loving person.
Finally, when the fatigue grew into depression, he came to see me.
When I asked what was wrong, Stan replied that he was €œloving too much.
€œHow can you €˜love too much?` I asked. €œI`ve never heard of such a thing.
€œOh, it`s very simple, replied Stan. €œI do far more for people than I should. And that makes me very depressed.
I`m not quite sure what you are doing, I said, €œbut it certainly isn`t love. The Bible says that true love leads to a blessed state and a state of cheer. Love brings happiness, not depression. If your loving is depressing you, it`s probably not love.
I don`t see how you can say that. I do so much for everyone. I give and give and give. How can you say that I`m not loving?
€œI can say that because of the fruit of your actions. You should be feeling happy, not depressed. Why don`t you tell me some of the things you do for people?
As we spent more time together, Stan learned that a lot of his €œdoing and sacrificing was not motivated by love but by fear. Stan had learned early in life that if he did not do what his brother wanted, she would withdraw love from him. As a result, Stan learned to give reluctantly. His motive for giving was not love, but fear of losing love.
Stan was also afraid of other people`s anger. Because his father frequently yelled at him when he was a. boy, he learned to fear angry confrontations. This fear kept him from saying no to others. Self-centered people often get angry when someone tells them no.
Stan said yes out of fear that he would lose love and that other people would get angry at him. These false motives and others keep us from setting boundaries:
1. Fear of loss of love, or abandonment. People who say yes and then resent saying yes fear losing someone`s love. This is the dominant motive of martyrs. They give to get love, and when they don`t get it, they feel abandoned.
2. Fear of others` anger. Because of old hurts and poor boundaries, some people can`t stand for anyone to be mad at them.
3. Fear of loneliness. Some people give in to others because they feel that that will €œwin love and end their loneliness.
4. Fear of losing the €œgood me inside. We are made to love. As a result, when we are not loving, we are in pain. Many people cannot say, €œI love you and I do not want to do that. Such a statement does not make sense to them. They think that to love means to always say yes.
5. Guilt. Many people`s giving is motivated by guilt. They are trying to do enough good things to overcome the guilt inside and feel good about themselves. When they say no, they feel bad. So they keep trying to earn a sense of goodness.
6. Payback. Many people have received things with guilt messages attached. For example, their parents say things like, €œI never had it as good as you. €œYou should be ashamed at all you get. They feel a burden to pay for all they have been given.
7. Approval. Many feel as if they are still children seeking parental approval. Therefore, when someone wants something from them, they need to give so that this symbolic parent will be €œwell pleased.
8. Over-identification with the others` loss. Many times people have not dealt with all their own disappointments and losses, so whenever they deprive someone else with a no, they €œfeel the other persons sadness to the nth degree. They can`t stand to hurt someone that badly, so they comply.
The point is this: we were called into freedom, and this freedom results in gratitude, an overflowing heart, and love for others. To give bountifully has great reward. It is truly more blessed to give than to receive. If your giving is not leading to cheer, then you need to examine the Law of Motivation.
The Law of Motivation says this: Freedom first, service second. If you serve to get free of your fear, you are doomed to failure. Let God work on the fears, resolve them, and create some healthy boundaries to guard the freedom you were called to.