Listen: Chris Witts presents Morning Devotions.
When I was younger and working hard, it never occurred to me I should be setting some personal boundaries. It was something I never heard much about, or heard others in my profession discuss. I’m not really sure I would have understood anyway.
For me, work ethic was an important personal value. Maybe I reflect my generation—I’m not sure. But today I hear about it a lot. And I’m trying to understand it better and see the value in my own life. It’s probably a shame I never took it more seriously years ago. There is no denying the fact that it is a subject that is talked about far more than it was two or three generations ago and it has gotten to be quite a complex subject.
From what I’ve read ‘to set personal boundaries’ means to preserve your integrity, take responsibility for who you are, and to take control of your life. Seems simple enough. But what does that mean?
The meaning of personal boundaries
Is it to stop others walking all over us or being available for others 24-hours-a-day? In my working life, I used to think I had to be available for others 24-hours-a-day, no matter what. Probably not a good philosophy. Is it more about taking personal responsibility for who we are and not allowing others to dictate to us? Probably—but there’s more to it than that. You have personal beliefs and opinions. They are yours. A good boundary means you stick to what you believe, despite what others say or try to do. You don’t allow them to push you around.
What do you value most in life? Having a healthy boundary means you give yourself time and permission to follow those values whether others agree with you or not. It’s not about being rude or disrespectful of others; or trying to control others. No—it’s a tool that promotes self-responsibility and respect for yourself. Boundaries create a safe space for you to be yourself. I am not opposed to boundaries. I believe that it is important to have healthy boundaries in our lives.
From a Christian perspective, Doctors John Townsend and Henry Cloud did a great job in their book Boundaries, subtitled When to Say Yes, How to Say No—To Take Control of Your Life. It’s a good book to read—especially if you are a sincere person who wants to serve God and other people. But is it OK to put yourself first for a while? What happens when you feel worn out by the demands of others? Why do I feel guilty if I set up a boundary and call myself a committed Christian? Can I set some boundaries and still be a loving and unselfish person?
Yes, you can—it’s OK to say No sometimes without feeling guilty. There are times you need to make time for yourself—Take care of yourself, so you can better take care of others. Townsend and Cloud were basically saying that if you are a Christian, it is not selfish or un-Christian to get your own life in order using boundaries. Keep pushing forward with defining your boundaries, although others may react negatively. That is their problem with boundaries of others, not yours. It may take a bit of practice, especially if you like to please people all the time. If you’re someone who finds it hard to say No, this book is for you.
Setting our boundaries based on Scripture
Boundaries are like a road map. You can’t get to where you want to go without planning. Otherwise, you won’t know when you arrive. Boundaries get you where God wants you to be. If you plan to let God control your life, this is a wonderful boundary to have. You want nothing to interfere with that, even if someone wants to talk you out of it. You won’t find the words ‘personal boundaries’ in the Bible—but as you read the Bible you’ll find clear instructions on things you should do, and shouldn’t do.
What about our inner life? The Bible says in Romans 8:5-6 (CEV):
People who are ruled by their desires think only of themselves. Everyone who is ruled by the Holy Spirit thinks about spiritual things. If our minds are ruled by our desires, we will die. But if our minds are ruled by the Spirit, we will have life and peace.
The Holy Spirit comes into our lives the moment we ask Jesus to be our Saviour, and it’s his job to keep us on the straight and narrow. We are not left alone to flounder in life—and he will give us wisdom in dealing with people and situations.
Yes, even Jesus had boundaries. He knew when it was time to withdraw from the crowds and take a break. He worked extremely hard and was busy—but always had time for what was the most important. He set his own boundaries, in order to do his Father’s will. He will show us what is our concern and what is not. You can’t do everything for everyone. There are some issues beyond our own control, and it’s OK to say No to people’s demands.
We can squander our whole lives away by worrying about things out of our control. And where is the benefit of that? You can’t force people to change their minds—sometimes you have to leave them be and pray to God to bless them. And trust him. If God is first in your life, learn to listen to him rather than others who may be well-meaning. It can be a hard lesson.
We have to take responsibility and ownership of the things God has entrusted to us individually, and we must allow others to take responsibility for what has been entrusted to them. This is the heart of what the Bible says about personal boundaries.