Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Boundaries Part 2

Chapter 2 of Boundaries is basically a definition of what boundaries are in every aspect of life. The chapter talks about physical boundaries, boundaries that you set via your words, physical distance, emotional distance, time, etc.

While there is a great variety of interesting points that stood out to me in this section, there were a few in particular that really made me stop and think.

First, they discuss the boundaries set by words, especially one word in particular, the dreaded “no.” If you’re like me, you’ve read/heard a lot about the necessity for using the word, “no,” not being a door-mat, etc. However, the authors made a point about this particular word that really brought the use of the word “no” into a new perspective for me.

“The Bible also warns us against giving to others ‘reluctantly or under compulsion’ (2 Cor. 9:7). People with poor boundaries struggle with saying no to the control, pressure, demands, and sometimes the real needs of others. They feel that if they say no to someone, they will endanger the relationship with that person, so they passively comply but inwardly resent. Sometimes a person is pressuring you to do something; other times the pressure comes from your own sense of what you ‘should’ do. If you cannot say no to this external or internal pressure, you have lost control of your property and are not enjoying the fruit of ‘self control.’”

Does anyone else feel a sting from that? I know that I definitely pressure myself into feeling guilty for saying “no.” In fact, I can look back on my life and see a lot of really hard times that I’ve been through that would have been a lot better had I just said “no.” I had never taken that thought to the next level that I am actually hurting myself spiritually by not establishing my true boundaries.

Continuing in that vein of thought, this chapter also gets into personal responsibility:

“Feelings should neither be ignored nor placed in charge. The Bible says to ‘own’ your feelings and be aware of them…Feelings come from your heart and can tell you the state of your relationships….But the point is, your feelings are your responsibility and you must own them and see them as your problem so you can begin to find an answer to whatever issue they are pointing to.” It doesn’t nullify having the feelings, but it does put them into perspective and takes away the excuse to respond poorly to other people because of how I’m feeling.

In short, it comes back to another topic I’ve dealt with a lot over the last two years – choices. If I choose to set a boundary, I have to take responsibility for that. If I choose to react just with my emotions and allow them to own me, then I have to take responsibility for that. As the author’s put it: “You are the one who must live with their [the choices’] consequences. And you are the one who may be keeping yourself from making the choices you could be happy with.”
After all, as is later addressed, you can’t set boundaries for other people. You can only set limits for yourself. I can’t change someone else, I can’t choose for someone else. God doesn’t even do that. He has standards and He limits His exposure to those who do not follow His boundaries, but He doesn’t force people into certain behaviors. They choose for themselves. He is taking a stand against things that destroy love – because He is love – but He does not force people to accept His boundaries.

And then came the real kicker for me. “What we value is what we love and assign importance to. Often we do not take responsibility for what we value. We are caught up in valuing the approval of men rather than the approval of God; because of this misplaced value, we miss out on life.”

How many times in my life have I been so concerned about other people “liking me” or “approving of me” that I’ve done things I really didn’t value or believe in? And I’m not necessarily just talking about sinning here but rather doing/saying/living things that I don’t really find important or even a correct reflection of myself. Rather than seeking God and only God’s approval, I’ve sought the approval of mankind, and I’ve been hurt because of it. I’ve failed to set a boundary on what I value, and so I’ve compromised and then had to deal with the aftermath of not liking myself because of my own choices. And then sometimes, when I have set a boundary, it’s caused a lot havoc because people don’t know how to respond to the suddenly established boundary.

As Townsend and Cloud put it, “Our minds and thoughts are important reflections of the image of God. No other creature on earth has our thinking ability. We are the only creatures who are called to love God with all our mind…[therefore] we must own our own thoughts. Many people have not taken ownership of their own thinking processes. They are mechanically thinking the thoughts of others without ever examining them. They swallow others’ opinions and reasoning, never questioning and ‘thinking about their thinking.’” At the same time we have a responsibility to “grow our knowledge and expand our minds” and to “clarify distorted thinking.”

In truth, I have had to laugh as I yet again have been dumped into the concept of ontologizing. Conscience living, consciously setting boundaries, choosing values, interpreting feelings—all a part of ontology.

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