As many of my friends know, I’m a huge advocate of boundaries. Boundaries are our property lines that define who we are—our skin defines the borders of our body, our walls define the borders of our home, our words and actions communicate what we allow and don’t allow in a relationship, etc. Over the past several years, I’ve been studying the concept of boundaries. Before that, they were an unknown and unexplored topic for me. Growing up in the church, I had been taught that we are to “turn the other cheek” and sacrifice ourselves for others, so when I first heard the word “boundaries,” I couldn’t imagine that they were biblical. After doing a lot of research and implementing boundaries in my life, I realize how necessary they are in my Christian walk. It seems, though, that there are still many within the church who have a misunderstanding of what the purpose of boundaries is, so I want to address a couple of misconceptions in this article.
The most common misconception I hear is that implementing boundaries is unloving. Another misconception that I will be addressing is that one of the goals of boundaries—to take control of your life—is unbiblical, as we are called to give control to God.
People believe boundaries to be unloving because they view them as a means of self-protection, like a wall erected to keep others out. As far as love goes, it seems as though we’re talking about two different forms of love here. For the person who opposes boundaries, the idea of love is to allow everyone access to you in whatever capacity they need or want. Love (in this example) is never saying no.
For boundaried people, love is a decision. Because these people have taken ownership of what’s theirs—their bodies, their time, their money, their resources, etc.—they have the ability to freely give out of what they have. Unboundaried people do not have this option to choose what they will give and to whom they will give because their resources are spent on whomever takes first.
The best way to picture this is to imagine we all have a garden that we tend and eat from (example borrowed from Danny Silk’s Keep Your Love On). How well we manage our gardens effects how much we produce. Boundaries are like having a fence around our garden to protect our produce from deer and rabbits who would ravage what we’ve worked so hard to manage. With a fence, our gardens remain ours to manage. We can eat what we need, give some to our families, and even choose to give to others from our abundance. But if we do not protect what God has given us authority over, it will be easily snatched away with nothing leftover to nourish us or our family.
Granted, some people use “boundaries” to keep everyone out all the time, but this is a misuse of boundaries. The purpose of boundaries is to be able to love better. When I take care of what is mine, I actually have more to give. When I don’t steward my resources properly, they get eaten away by people (or other things such as activities, jobs, or even pets) who typically do not respect me. That is not to say I do not love these people and give from my resources; I just don’t allow them to have free reign over my resources because I would be sucked dry.
Trust me, I have tried this way of “loving”. In the end, I was resentful and the person I was trying to love was never satisfied, always expecting more, and never grateful. It does not work.
As far as boundaries being a way to take control of your life, are we not called to be self-controlled? After all, self-control is a fruit of the Spirit. Some may think that this is the same as an unsubmitted heart to God, but it’s not. The idea of boundaries is not to take back control from God, but rather to take back authority over your life that you have freely handed over to others. Back to the garden analogy, it would be like allowing people into your garden to manage and use it as they please. Because others are controlling your garden (or life), you have no control and, therefore, are not even capable of submitting your life and resources to God. The goal of boundaries is to regain authority over what is yours so you can get to a place of giving freely to others, which is what love really is.
In my life, I have done this both ways. I tried “loving” others by allowing people to walk all over me (read the full story in I Thought I Knew What Love Was). Respectful people will not abuse this freedom, but unhealthy people will take advantage of your lack of boundaries and eventually suck you dry. In the end, how is this good for anyone? You are not loving and valuing yourself (in my case, I know I was not) and you’re actually not loving others in the way God would. I was actually giving to others out of fear of others’ responses or a fear of appearing rude, mean, or unloving. What resulted was a lot of resentment, wounding, and broken relationships.
When I began implementing boundaries, I slowly regained my life. My heart began to heal and I slowly learned what it means to love. Boundaries gave me the courage to take back what I had given away, to steward what I had allowed others to control, and to love others by freely giving from my abundance.
Boundaries also freed up my life to be able to fully submit to God. I personally don’t believe God intended for us to give up control of ourselves so that we can be like puppets. He gave us our lives, our bodies, our gifts, our possessions, etc. for us to steward well for His glory. Just as submitting to my husband doesn’t mean he gets to control me, so it is with God. Submission is meant to be lived out in the context of an intimate relationship, not a slave/master agreement. In my relationship with my husband, there is a constant awareness of how my actions affect him. In my relationship with God, it is the same; although, this relationship takes precedence over my marriage relationship. With God, I attempt to know His heart by learning His law, spending time with Him, living out what I believe by obeying His word, and being in a constant awareness of His Presence.
God has actually given all of us quite a bit of freedom and control in our lives because this is the pathway to love. It is only love when we give freely from our hearts without resentment, feelings of obligation, or fear of punishment. Boundaries are the tool that enables you to love better and more freely.
For more on boundaries, I recommend the Boundaries series by John Townsend and Henry Cloud.