Read an Excerpt
What Does a Boundary Look Like?
Give Me Something to Hope For
It's sometimes easier to see in other people the very thing we would do well to change in ourselves. Look again at Sherrie's day. Read through the entries from 6:00 a.m. to 11:50 p.m. and see how closely your life resembles her boundaryless day.
• Where do you see yourself in Sherrie's actions and thoughts? Be as specific as possible.
• Who in your life could be cast in the role of Sherrie's mother ; her husband, Walt, her "friend," Lois; her demanding boss, Jeff ; the encouraging teacher, Mrs. Russell; her unreachable daughter; and the church leader with yet another request? Who treats you the way these people treated Sherrie? Whose words and actions elicit the same kind of response (emotional and otherwise) from you that these people elicited from Sherrie?
• How did you respond to the way Sherrie used Scripture as she made decisions that violated her--at best--shaky boundaries?
• If Sherrie came to you for advice, what would you say to her? How would you diagnose her problem? Which of your own words of advice would you do well to heed?
You can probably identify with Sherrie's dilemma--her isolation, her helplessness, her confusion, her guilt, and, above all, her sense that her life is out of control. Trying harder isn't working for her. Being nice out of fear isn't working for her. Taking responsibility for others isn't working for her. Sherrie still suffers severely from her inability to take ownership of her life. She has great difficulty knowing what things are her responsibility and what things are not. In her desire to do the right thing or to avoid conflict, she ends up taking on problems that God never intended her to take on.
• Look at your life through this lens. What problems have you taken on that God may never have intended you to take on?
• What motivated you to take on those problems you just listed--your desire to do the right thing, your efforts to avoid conflict, your fear of disappointing someone or not being liked, a sense of guilt, an inner "should," or something else?
Any confusion about responsibility and ownership in our lives is a problem of boundaries.
• Why are you confused about boundaries--about when and how to draw them for yourself or even whether drawing boundaries is okay? What has happened to foster that confusion?
• Why are Christians especially susceptible to confusion about boundaries?
The questions listed in the introduction and below reflect some of the confusion we Christians may have about boundaries.
Can I set limits and still be a loving person?
What are legitimate boundaries?
What if someone is upset or hurt by my boundaries?
How do I answer someone who wants my time, love, energy, or money?
Why do I feel guilty or afraid when I consider setting boundaries?
How do boundaries relate to submission?
Aren't boundaries selfish?
Is it difficult for me to hear no from other people?
Do I tend to want to control other people when I don't get what I want?
• Which of these questions have you wondered about? Which questions do you especially want answers for?
• What do you want to gain from this study besides answers to those questions? What hopes and goals do you have for yourself?
As you proceed through this study and work toward the goals you have set for yourself, remember that this book aims to help you see the deeply biblical nature of boundaries as they operate in the character of God, his universe, and his people. Remember, too, that our goal is to help you use biblical boundaries appropriately so that you can experience the relationships and achieve the purposes that God intends for you as his child.
A Little Boundary Clarification
Remember the story of Bill? His parents paid his bills, fretted over his circumstances, worried about his future, and exerted much energy to keep him going. Bill didn't study, plan, or work, yet he had a nice place to live, plenty of money, and all the rights of a family member who was doing his part. He was irresponsible and happy--and they were responsible and miserable.
And remember how we helped his parents see that? We compared Bill to a man who never watered his lawn. Whenever his neighbors turned on their sprinkler system, the water fell on Bill's lawn. Their grass was turning brown and dying, but Bill saw his green grass and thought his yard was doing fine. We suggested that they define the property lines a little better and fix the sprinkler system so that water would fall on their own lawn. Perhaps then, when Bill didn't water his lawn and found himself living in dirt, he would recognize that he had a problem and would do something about it.
• Where are you watering someone else's yard while your own grass withers and dies?
• Where are you letting someone else water your yard?
• Is it cruel to stop watering someone else's yard? Would it be cruel for the person who is watering your yard to stop? Why or why not?
Invisible Property Lines and Responsibility
In the physical world, boundaries are easy to see. In the spiritual world, boundaries are just as real, but often harder to see.
• What boundaries in the physical world do you deal with every day?
• What kind of boundaries do you think need to exist in the spiritual world?
• Why are spiritual boundaries as important as physical boundaries?
The goal of this lesson is to help you define your intangible boundaries and to recognize them as an ever-present reality that can increase your love and save your life. These boundaries define your soul and help you guard and maintain it (Prov. 4: 23).