Relationships: Boundaries

This morning, we’ll be continuing our message series on relationships.  Last week, we took a look at the parenting relationship and different ways in which our families should reflect the kingdom of God.  This week, we’re going to take a look at a basic, but critical aspect of relationships: boundaries.
The truth is that we see boundaries and respect them every day of our lives; they are everywhere!  In fact, God even created the world by setting boundaries!  Let’s take a look at this together.
Genesis 1:

Day 1: Light from Darkness
Day 2: Sky and the Waters below
Day 3: Land and Sea
Day 4: Seasons, Years, and Days (stars, sun, moon, etc.)
Day 5: Birds in the Sky, Creatures in the Sea
Day 6: Creatures and Man on the Land

We see these boundaries all throughout the natural world.

– Take a trout and throw it on the land and watch how it responds to you crossing this boundary.

– Drive down the road staying on the left side of the double yellow line and watch how the oncoming traffic responds to the crossing of this boundary.

– Go to an airport and run beyond the nylon ribbon at the TSA security check and see how they respond to you crossing this boundary.
– Rent a backhoe and begin to dig a nice sized pond in your neighbor’s yard and see how they respond to you crossing this boundary.

– Go to Wal-Mart and park diagonally so that you take up four parking spaces and make sure that at least two of them are handicap spaces and see how people respond to you crossing these boundaries.
– Go up to someone and give them a decent shove and see how they respond to you crossing this boundary.
– Go up to a mother and tell her that you hate how she is raising her children and see how she responds to you crossing this boundary.

The list could go on and on!

Many of the boundaries in our lives have been clearly defined and are clearly understood.  Usually, the consequences are also very obvious when you cross them.  In our own relationships with each other, we have boundaries as well.
Most of these boundaries, unfortunately, have not been well defined.  In fact, if we were to go around the room and try to describe our boundaries in the various relationships that we have, we probably would not even be able to verbalize them!  That is unless, of course, there is a PFA or some other sort of third party enforcement of relational boundaries.  🙂  We do, however, suffer in many ways when these loosely defined boundaries have been crossed!

Proverbs 4:23
Above all else, guard your heart,
for everything you do flows from it.
When our hearts have been hurt, when we carry around burdens within our hearts, when we are not at peace within our own selves, it affects every one of our relationships as well.  Even though we may have been hurt years ago by someone, those same hurts can impact even completely unrelated relationships today.  The hurts inflicted to our hearts affects what flows out of it.  At times, we can even unfairly inflict the same hurts to others that we, ourselves experienced.
Imagine that our hearts are like a house.  Just like a house, our hearts have different compartments all with different purposes and different levels of intimacy.  For example, we might invite a friend over and sit down in our dining room together to eat.  However, we would not invite that same friend into our bedroom.  That room has been set apart for those with a different relationship with us that comes with a different level of intimacy.  In order to define these boundaries and keep those boundaries, a wall with a door is in place that is used to guard and protect entrance from one room to the next.
If a complete stranger were to just walk into our home, go to our kitchen, make themselves a sandwich and sit down at your table and start eating; we would be offended and feel that they have intruded and trespassed against us and would demand and enforce that they leave immediately; probably even calling the authorities to report this trespass.
Now, if this person were to come and ring our doorbell and warmly introduce themselves and build a relationship with us, this same person that we would have previously thrown out might now actually be invited over to have a sandwich with us.  This is because this person has now earned our trust through relationship.
We have gained a level of understanding of who they are, what they are like, and they have been respectful of our boundaries by ringing our doorbell and not just barging in.  As time goes on and we become more familiar with this person, they may even come to a place where this same person could do the exact same act earlier mentioned and it would be no problem for us at all.  The boundary set for this person has now changed because of relationship, trust, and respect.  The same person that would have previously been considered a thief is now considered a friend.
Unfortunately, many of us often allow strangers to walk straight into the intimate parts of our lives and take from us without ever having to gain respect from us and without us even so much as informing them that they have crossed a boundary in our lives that they should not have.  It seems ridiculous to us that we would ever allow a complete stranger to come into our home and steal from us and permit it, however, we allow them to do so with far more valuable things in our lives than our material belongings.  Often, this stranger will actually begin to have control of our lives as well.
They are allowed to come into our lives just as the stranger had in the previous illustration and are permitted to come into our lives and take what they would like and when they would like instead of us drawing strong boundaries and letting the trespasser know that they have done so.  Usually we choose not to do so out of guilt, loneliness, or fear; we instead offer them desert to go along with their stolen sandwich and grant them an unhealthy and undeserved place in our lives.  Although they might be nice people, meeting needs of ours, and had no intent of hurting us; over time, bitterness, resentment, and depression usually set in as a result of not defining and informing these people of our boundaries and how they have been crossed.
Now, a quick disclaimer.  This does not mean that we should shut people out of our lives completely.  This is actually a common thing that we will do when we do not have healthy boundaries in place in order to prevent people from hurting us.  What we’re attempting to learn this morning is how to be more open with our lives and more generous, but in a healthy way to prevent taking on hurts and burdens that God never intended for us to.  Setting boundaries just means that our hearts and our lives will have different zones of access depending on our relationship with the person.
Proverbs 4:23
Above all else, guard your heart,
for everything you do flows from it.

The way in which we guard something is by defining boundaries and putting safeguards in place to be sure that only permitted objects cross those boundaries.  We also put in place appropriate consequences for when something breaches the boundaries that should not have.  This does not mean that we will put up 15′ steel walls with barbed wire along them around our hearts.  It also does not mean that we tear down our fencing and front door to our hearts.  However, it does mean that we put up a gated picket fence around our.  We remain open and honest and still show that there is a clear boundary with a clear way of gaining appropriate access.

Let’s take a look at a few examples that some might relate to in regard to not having these healthy boundaries.
* Read pages 29-30; 92-93 from the book ‘Boundaries’ *

We need to learn where our boundaries are as well as where the boundaries of others are.

Boundaries:
– Protect us
– Keep us from taking on more than we should
– Free us from unnecessary stress
– Allow for natural consequences instead of blocking them
– Force us to find solutions instead of continuing to enable conflict
– Define what is and what is not our responsibility
     (We are not responsible for another’s response to our boundaries; their emotions and actions
     so long as we communicate them clearly and kindly)
– Keep destructive things out
– Keep good and valued things in
     (Don’t mis-use boundaries to keep hurt and harmful words or feelings inside,
     but use them to get them out and keep them out!)
– Define who we are and who we aren’t
– Keep us healthy so that we can help others
– When defined and are clearly communicated, greatly decrease the amount of offenses that we incur from others
Setting boundaries:
There are many resources and concepts available on biblical boundaries in relationships and many different methods that we can use to do so.  A few things to keep in mind while you are setting up boundaries in your relationships are that:
1. These boundaries should be set differently for the different relationships in our lives.  For example, the boundary that is set in one’s life for their wife should be vastly different than the boundary set for a friend.
2. By setting these boundaries, we should be looking to be a God-pleaser and not a people-pleaser.  When we set boundaries, it will offend those who do not respect us and/or our boundaries.  You will find out very quickly when you say ‘no’ to people what the quality is of your relationship with them.  DO NOT let their reaction guilt you into changing your boundaries!  Also, do not react to their reaction; respond in a mature and loving way, but still stand firm on your boundary and their need to honor it.
3. People will be quicker to respect and honor your boundaries when you respect and honor theirs.
4. Boundaries should not result in complete isolation; they are intended to have healthy relationships with others because we were created to need and to have relationships.
     Boundaries too strong: no one can get in (like door opened just an inch)
     Boundaries too weak: everyone can come in and do what they want
5. Boundaries can change.  As we build relationships with others, our boundaries with them should change as we allow the relationship to deepen and they receive further access into our lives.  Also, when someone misuses their access into our lives, it is OK to change their boundary as well with the intent to reconcile with them and rebuild trust with them.
6. Boundaries that are not enforced are worse than having no boundaries at all!  We should have appropriate consequences in place for overstepping boundaries and should stick to them; not just allowing them to be empty threats.
7. When you cross someone’s boundary, do not defend yourself for doing so, but quickly ask forgiveness and have the boundary line clearly drawn out to you as to avoid crossing it again in the future.
I believe that many of the boundaries that we should have in our relationships can be covered by taking a look at the two greatest commands.
Matthew 22:35-40
35 One of them (Pharisees), an expert in the law, tested him with this question: 36 “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”

37 Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

1. Love God with our everything
     – A relationship with Him should always be our first priority
     – We should look to Him first for our relational needs
     – Any relationship with others that hinders our relationship with God has unhealthy boundaries set
     – Seek the Lord’s will and direction for our relationships with others and boundaries with them
2. Love others as you love yourself
     – Treat others as you would want treated
     – Define who we are; where we start and where we end (boundaries)
     – If we don’t first take care of our needs, we can’t take care of other’s
When Jesus had said that we are to love our neighbor as ourselves, He was quoting Leviticus 19.  Within this chapter, we find laws that command us what not to do in our various relationships.  These ‘DO NOTS’ can also be used as a guide to help us form biblical boundaries in our relationships.  And of course, by God telling us not do something, that implies that are are to ‘DO’ the opposite.
Leviticus 19:11-18
11 “‘Do not steal.
“‘Do not lie.
“‘Do not deceive one another.
12 “‘Do not swear falsely by my name and so profane the name of your God. I am the Lord.
13 “‘Do not defraud or rob your neighbor.
“‘Do not hold back the wages of a hired worker overnight.
14 “‘Do not curse the deaf or put a stumbling block in front of the blind, but fear your God. I am the Lord.

15 “‘Do not pervert justice; do not show partiality to the poor or favoritism to the great, but judge your neighbor fairly.
16 “‘Do not go about spreading slander among your people.
“‘Do not do anything that endangers your neighbor’s life. I am the Lord.
17 “‘Do not hate a fellow Israelite in your heart. Rebuke your neighbor frankly so you will not share in their guilt.
18 “‘Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against anyone among your people, but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the Lord.
So these are the starting point of drawing healthy boundaries in our relationships.  When someone does these things to us, it’s OK to say ‘no’ and to let them know that they’ve crossed one of our boundaries.  It’s a learning experience, but as we begin to place these healthy boundaries in our lives, we’ll find that we will be more free to help those around us and more confident in who we are.  Healing will be able to begin and our relationships will be healthier and far more fulfilling so that we can live life to it’s full, just as Christ intended for us.