“Good fences make good neighbors…”
Cliché as it may be, there in the midst of the familiar phrase lies a truth: the idea that good boundaries make good relationships. If you do not believe this to be true, then just jump into the life of an addict or someone who lives co-dependently in dysfunction. Seriously! It will not only eat your lunch, it will consume your time!
Yet, often when I consider boundaries versus excess in relationships, I wonder how much of that is love for others or love for self. I know… I know… I am about to throw my two cents in against some of the biggest boundaries people on the planet.
I understand that a lack of boundaries can be and is often hurtful. But can TOO many boundaries be just as damaging?
When are the boundaries about healthy relationships, and when are we simply expressing our own self-interest over the needs of others in our life.
My case in point: More than a year ago a stranger connected with me out of the blue on Twitter. She had experienced a lot of emotional, physical and other sorts of trauma in her 36 years of life. She struggled with the fact that at her age she found herself single, recovering from a hysterectomy and experiencing rejection because of her past at every turn. Her request in 140 characters or less through direct message grabbed my attention. “Will you pray for me?”
A total stranger that I know by an avatar picture and a screen name asked me for help.
At the time I felt like I had been in the throes of a ground swell in my life. I had launched out into the world of self-employed and somewhat starving artist, my life had filled quickly with unusual blessings and opportunities. I had accomplished several of the dream goals I had written on my list just a few months before. Life felt good, and to quote Dolly Parton in Steel Magnolias, I was “…busier than a one-armed paper hanger.” As a matter of fact, I said yes to so many good things that I grew sick in October and stayed sick for nearly six weeks. If anyone needed to exercise boundaries in her life – I would say I hit the top of the list last fall.
I received this direct message from a total stranger asking for prayer. At that time, my schedule should have said no, but something inside of me. The pricking of my conscience, the consciousness of my heart heard something my busy, self-absorbed, self-motivated mind might not have heard. The quiet desperation in an anonymous request. I knew in my ‘knower” there would be more than simplicity to this request.
At that moment, I had a choice to make. Do I respond short and sweet? After all that is the point of Twitter, short and to the point. Even on the private side of direct messaging everything is better said with less. The new clipped and symboled pigeon-English is a texter’s dream. I could have and been done. “I will.”
A life changing decision.
Instead, I inquired. “How may I pray for you?”
That desperate cry in anonymity became amplified with her response. She poured out the grief, shame and brokenness she felt 140 characters at a time. I consoled, comforted and more than that I prayed all the way through days of string after string of Twitter thread weaving a picture of a life filled with horrific trauma and tragedy. One broken promise.. One broken dream… One rejection…. One failure at a time. In that my moment when my life felt overwhelming and I really needed to be focused on getting my business self out there off the ground. I could do little more than read and respond, read and pray… Read and encourage.
Within a week I began to set time boundaries and asked if we could move our conversation to Facebook. I began to teach her how to uncover lies and ask God to show her the truth. And by the beginning of the second week she wrote to me of how dramatically God had intervened in her life. After receiving her email I asked her for permission to share her story on social media. She readily agreed!
Please read the post carefully. That desperate cry my spirit heard over my busy mind… A broken heart contemplating ending its life. We are still connecting through social media though we reached a point where I had to initiate stronger boundaries, not for me but instead because I knew she needed to deal with some things that these boundaries would press her to do herself.
Boundaries or Ambition?
I really understand the need for good healthy boundaries and how God establishes them in our lives – even moves us toward them by our circumstances. Still, I have had people who were pursuing ambitious goals tell me they were basically stepping out of friendships and other healthy relationships because they did not have “time” for it. The reasoning… “I have to say no to some things to make room for the things I am supposed to do.”
If I listen carefully to my business friend I realize in her mind she is sacrificing in small ways how she benefits others in order to be a great benefit to many more. Each time I come to the place of cutting away relationships in favor of industrious pursuit, I wonder if my decision is really “selfish ambition” disguised as “sacrifice.” If the people I care about ultimately suffer so I can reach people I do not even know… Am I really doing what I am SUPPOSED to do? The answers are still a bit gray area for me. I am sorting them out.
The Right Reasons?
I felt as if I had to sacrifice to meet the need of my Twitter friend., and checked in with my husband and daughter regularly as I walked out the journey to keep my balance. As we corresponded I wondered if I really had moved closer to my purpose or had I just allowed it to become a distraction. I am not sure that it has not been a little of both.
The thing is – I did not give up on this person in need. As a matter fact, I gave up precious time that really appeared to be of no benefit to me at all. Yet, over time we have become good friends. She now checks in on me and often I will tell her about my life. She prays for me as I do her. I never wanted her to become dependent on me, or to need me in her life. Still, I am quite grateful that we have found some common ground to rest our friendship on – the Love of God and little more. Our relationship had to change in this season. I pray more and encourage more and minister less. Still, if she needs me I will be there for her.
What it has come down to for me is the Holy Spirit. When I don’t know what to do I simply take some time, get into God’s presence and trust what brings peace to my spirit – even if my soul is still struggling and my flesh is absolutely done. I could cut some of the people who take up my time out, but would I be missing the opportunity to watch God work a miracle in my life or the life of that person. I try not to base my every decision on the idea of “what I am supposed to be doing” or “what is in it for me” – I believe this is largley the message of the world culture we live. Self-promoting, self-interested and self-absorbed.
Jesus gave of Himself to the people He encountered. He took time to relate to them, to speak to large groups and meet the needs of individuals. He did it and still found time to nourish His own Spirit in quiet times. When His disciples became overwhelmed by the thousands of people at one of His “speaking events”, the disciples sought His counsel and asked to send them away to get something to eat. Jesus replied, “You feed them.” They gathered up five loaves of bread and two fish, brought them to Jesus – very nearly complaining as evidence of their inability to do as He had instructed. And, right there before their very eyes, and in their own hands – I might add, Jesus performed a miracle and allowed them to feed the entire crowd with much to spare. (Matthew 14:13-21)
This is evidence to me that sometimes we do need to say NO, but not necessarily to needy people we are encountering in our lives. We definitely need to engage in wisdom where boundaries are concerned. In Exodus 19:12 (NLT), God has instructed Moses to impose a boundary for the people of Israel.
Preston Morrison, Pastor of Gateway Church in Scottsdale, AZ once taught a message on boundaries at a staff chapel I attended while working at Gateway Church in Southlake, TX. He used this passage of Scripture from Exodus 19 to exemplify his point. God should be setting the boundaries, and then we should be trusting the Holy Spirit and allowing Him to give us guidance in how to enforce them.
I am still not sure how to distinguish fully between the need for boundaries in healthy relationships and establishing boundaries that serve a self-oriented purpose. I am going to tell you that the ways of the Kingdom do not look like the ways of the world. The call is to sacrifice myself to gain more of the Kingdom in the lives of other people, not more prosperity in my own life. I want to be careful of that fine line that sounds profitable and good, but may not be wisdom from God.
What is God stirring in your heart as you read this post?