A popular story in the bible told by Jesus Himself is the story of the Good Samaritan. This is the model for good neighborliness born out of the question “who is my neighbor?” To understand personal boundaries we could use this story….so a man was travelling from Jerusalem to Jericho when he was attacked by robbers who collected all that he had and left him for dead, supposedly. As the day wore on a priest passed by and knowing what trouble he could get into being accused of robbing the man he quickly passes by another, a Levite also quickly hurries on until the Samaritan comes and wonders what a wicked world how can a man do this to another man. Wondering further that people saw him like this and bleeding almost dead and they pass by? What callousness. The Samaritan stops and picks up the attacked man and carries him to the hospital….permit me to change the narrative for a bit here. After the staff at intensive care have done their work and the man is now out of “the woods” the Samaritan says to him “I need to leave now as I have some urgent business deal to close and the people have come from abroad for this”. The Man robbed looks at him and says “you want to leave me? I thought you were a Christian and we are encouraged to deny ourselves, so you can’t deny an earthly business deal to love sacrificially a brother” “let brotherly love continue” does this sound familiar?
“I guess you are right” the Samaritan say and so stays back despite several calls, now let’s finish up our story, three days later as the Samaritan refuses to leave the bedside of the attacked man the assistant comes in from the office saying “sir the people came from Europe but left disappointed that you didn’t show up even though I showed them the email and photos of the attacked man you sent”. The people have gone and don’t want to do business with you anymore. The Samaritan is livid “you see what you have caused” now I am out of business how could you have done this to me.
Am sure this is a familiar story line for many of us. We were moved with compassion to give to someone in need but then the person manipulates us into giving more than what we wanted to give. We end up resentful and angry having missed something we needed in our own life. Or we may want more from someone else and we pressure them until they give in. they give not out of their heart or free will but out of compliance and they resent us for what they give. Neither one of us comes our ahead. To avoid this we need to look at what falls within our boundaries and what we are responsible for.
Feelings have been given a bad name in Christianity, they have been called unimportant, fleshly etc. however again and again we see how great a role feelings play in our motivation and behavior. Many times people have done ungodly things to one another because of hurt feelings. Other people have been hospitalized for depression following years of trying to ignore the way they felt until they became suicidal.
Feelings should neither be ignored nor placed in-charge
Feelings come from your heart and can tell you the state of your relationships. They can tell you if things are going well or if there is a problem. If you feel close and loving then things are probably going well. If you feel angry you have a problem that needs to be addressed. The point is however that 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.
Attitudes have to do with your orientation toward something, the stand you take toward others, God, life, work, nation etc. on the other hand your beliefs are anything you accept as true. Many times we do not see our attitudes and beliefs as the source of discomfort in our lives. We blame other people (a common thing with humans). If we must live well, we need to own our attitudes and convictions because they fall within our property line. We are the ones who feel their effects and the only ones who can change them. The challenge with attitudes is that we learn them very early in life and they map out who we are and how we operate. People who do not question their attitudes will quickly fall into the trap Jesus called “the traditions of men” while ignoring the commandments of God.
People with boundary problems often have distorted attitudes about responsibility. They feel that holding people responsible for their feelings, choices and behaviors is mean. However Proverbs 13:18, 24 says that setting limits and accepting responsibility will save lives.
The next area of boundaries is behavior and we all must understand that behavior has consequences. Galatians 6:7-8 tells us that “a man reaps what they sow”. If we exercise we will have better grades, if we act lovingly towards others we will have closer relationships. On the other side however, if we sow irresponsibility or out of control behavior we can expect to reap failure and the effects of loose living.
A problem arises when someone interrupts the law of sowing and reaping. This is usually seen in parents where parents yell and nag instead of allowing the children to reap the natural consequences of their behavior. If a child does not study and fails an exam instead of allowing the child to repeat the class, some parents lobby for the child to be promoted and so the child does not suffer the shameful effects of their behavior. This can lead to other forms of malpractice seen in our society today, buying results, paying for people to write exams etc. parenting with love and limits, with warmth and consequences produces confident children who have a sense of control over their lives.
We need to take responsibility for our choices and a common boundary problem is disowning our choices and trying to lay the responsibility for them on others. We are familiar with the phrase “she/he made me do….” We like to think someone else is in control and not us. Moses said to a whole nation “choose you this day” we are daily faced with the power of choice, we exercise it every day for good or for bad and it is our choice. I heard John Hagee say so many years ago that if you felt your spouse was foolish that’s the quality of your foolish thinking that went into making that foolish choice so don’t blame the spouse blame yourself. Throughout the bible people are reminded of their choices and asked to take responsibility for them. Romans 8:13 if you choose to live by the Spirit you will live but if you choose to follow your sinful nature you will die.
Making decisions based on others approval or guilt will breed resentment. So take responsibility for your choices, as you are the one who makes them, you are the one who must live with the consequences, and you are the one who may be keeping yourself from making the choices you could be happy with.
Then we come to values. 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 and because of this misplaced value we miss out on life. We think that power riches and pleasure will satisfy our deepest longing which is really for love.
One thing we are responsible for critically is the setting of limits. We can’t do much in setting limits on others but we can set limits on our exposure to people who are behaving poorly; we can’t change them or make them behave right. In this area we have a perfect model who is God. He doesn’t really “set limits” on people to “make them” behave. God sets standards but He lets people be who they are and then separates Himself from them when they misbehave. In other words you can be that way if you choose but you can’t come into my house. Heaven is a place for the repentant and all are welcome.
We now come to our thoughts. No other creature on earth has our thinking ability. Establishing boundaries in our thinking involved three things.
We must own our own thoughts many people are not owning their own thoughts, they are mechanically thinking the thoughts of others without examining them. They swallow others opinions and reasoning’s without questioning and thinking about their thinking. We are to weigh things for ourselves.
We must grow in knowledge and expand our minds we need to grow in the knowledge of God and His word. We also need to learn about this world and in doing so we also learn more about God and then obey the commandment to rule and subdue the earth and all that is within it. We are to use our brains to have better lives and glorify God.
We must clarify distorted thinking we have a tendency to not see things clearly to think and perceive in distorted ways. We rarely see people as they really are our perceptions are distorted by past relationships and our own preconceptions of who we think they are. We do not see clearly because of the log in our own eyes (Matthew 7:3-5).
Acknowledgement goes to Drs Henry Cloud & John Townsend