When you look at a healthy relationship be it marriage, friendship or family members, you will see a common denominator: boundaries.
Every healthy relationship has boundaries in place to keep the relationship safe. For example, my husband and I have the boundary in place of full disclosure. I know all of his passwords for all of his accounts and he knows all of mine. We are determined as a couple to be one in everything and so we keep no secrets. We’ve set practical boundaries in place to make sure that happens, including giving each other access to all the info for all of our individual stuff. I don’t question for a moment my husband’s integrity and he doesn’t question mine, but it would be foolish of us not to put boundaries in place to keep our hearts united.
In parenting, we’ve set some boundaries for our girls in their relationship with us. They are always allowed to express their heart to us, even if it means disagreeing with what we have said, but there is an expectation of respect that will not be negotiated just because they are frustrated. That boundary keeps them healthy in their communication with mom and dad. If they push against that boundary, there is a consequence. That boundary is meant to teach them healthy ways of communicating with people. If they can’t speak with kindness and gentleness to mom and dad, even when they disagree, they won’t get far in other relationships.
Boundaries aren’t optional in healthy relationships, they are required.
I’ve had numerous conversations with some folks lately about this very thing. It seems that a lot of us struggle with knowing what boundaries are healthy and how to put them in place, especially with those we love. I do understand how hard this one is. It can feel unloving to tell someone who has had access to you for years that they no longer have permission to interact with you a certain way.
Doesn’t Jesus want us to just surrender our heart and love no matter what?
Well, yes. But loving someone doesn’t mean handing them a ticket to an amusement park with no expiration date. Jesus himself set some pretty clear guidelines for following him. He often would stop and turn to the massive crowd closing in and say,
“Whoever wants to follow me has to take up his cross.”
The crowd would gasp in shock because they knew exactly what that meant. A cross represented all that was hard and painful. It represented death. Jesus knew that, of course, but he wasn’t willing to negotiate truth. Being in relationship with him was going to require some sacrifice and he wasn’t about to pretend otherwise. The crowd usually fled and he was left, once again, with his twelve friends.
Remember the rich young ruler? He was caught up in the exhilaration of who Jesus was…
“Teacher! Tell me what I have to do to inherit eternal life?”
Jesus looks at him and with warmth and invitation in his eyes and lists the commandments.
“I’ve done those things all of my life, teacher!”
Then, Jesus gets right to the heart of the matter: “Go sell all of your possessions, give to the poor and then come follow me.”
The young man turns and leaves, shoulders slumped in defeat because he owned much property. The boundary set in place to follow Jesus was made very clear and the young man found he did not want the kind of relationship being offered. Jesus would have taken that man into his arms and poured grace upon grace on him had he chosen to follow. But he didn’t. And Jesus didn’t look at him and say, “Well, you’re young and I like your passion, so I’ll just take what you’re offering and work with that.”
When I came into a full relationship with Jesus about eight years ago, I had to learn a lot about boundaries. I had known Jesus my whole life, but I had never understood what a relationship with him looked like. In order to enter into this life giving relationship with him I had to surrender my story into his hands. That was a clear boundary set in place early on in my journey. He told me that if I wanted to experience the richness of walking close to him, I had to surrender. Otherwise, it wouldn’t work. I didn’t feel guilt or pressure to surrender, either. His boundaries were always invitations.
What if we saw boundaries as invitations to something better?
Boundaries in relationship are an invitation to rise to something better. In marriage, boundaries are an invitation to become one. In parenting, boundaries are an invitation to our kids to grow into healthy, independent adults. In a friendship boundaries are an invitation to deeper community.
Often, when we are stuck in cycles of unhealthy relationships it is for a couple reasons.
- We don’t understand our own value
- We are confused about who it is that determines our identity
When I became fully aware that I was priceless in the eyes of Jesus I also became aware of the most freeing truth I had ever uncovered.
My value was determined by the cross and therefore my identity rested completely in Jesus.
Suddenly, I felt empowered and I no longer felt pressure to conform to someone else’s standards. Mind you, my empowerment came from the Holy Spirit and it is important to make that distinction when we set out to bring order to our relationships.
The voice screaming “YOU DESERVE BETTER” is actually not the Holy Spirit. If we follow that voice, we usually end up leaving a trail of destruction in our relationships because we set out to “get what is owed us”.
The voice of the Holy Spirit will guide us to better, yes, but it will never have anything to do with what we deserve. It will be because we gave up what we deserve for who Jesus is, and our whole life becomes about honoring his presence in our lives.
If Jesus is present everywhere I go, then I want my relationships to honor his presence. He is, after all, a King. I want to speak truth filled with grace. I want to see what he sees in people and gently call that out – even if it means they don’t like it, or they turn their back on me. I want to interact with others in such a way that the presence of Jesus is tangible.
I have found great power in allowing the Holy Spirit to speak through me in my relationships. He has given me strength to speak truth in moments when I would have otherwise remained silent out of fear of rejection. The beauty of the Holy Spirit in my life is that He empowers me to see people with compassion, no matter how they respond to truth.
I believe this conversation is a bit lost in our society where every boundary is called legalism and judgment. I cannot, though, find a place in scripture where man was allowed to do whatever he wanted and still be in relationship with God. On day one God gave Adam a boundary.
“Don’t eat from that tree.”
Why? Why put the tree there? Why create a garden that had boundaries instead of one with none?
Because without boundaries, choice dies and we don’t discover. God’s love was so deep for his creation that he refused to take away choice, and choice can only come when there is a clearly defined boundary.
What if the very way we communicate this deep love to others is by setting boundaries in how we interact with one another?
Grace is not the absence of truth but in fact the power to live out truth that would otherwise be impossible. When we invite others to something better by setting boundaries, we are communicating to them that we believe this real and tangible Jesus we follow can empower them for greater things.
I encourage you to think about your closest relationships this week and ask God to show you if there are any that need boundaries. Are there relationships in your life rooted in fear, anger or anxiety? Remember, you are choosing to honor the presence of Jesus in your life by giving others that invitation to something greater…
And really, this whole following Jesus thing is a constant invitation to something better.
Something real, something lasting…