In my recent post, Maintaining Boundaries is Hard Work and Doesn’t Feel Nice, there were some good follow up questions in the comments. I’d like to address a couple of them here.
“It’s no secret that quite often, when people begin telling the truth, setting limits, and taking responsibility, an “angry cloud” follows them around for a while. They become touchy and easily offended, and they discover a hair-trigger temper that frightens them. Friends will make comments like, “You’re not the nice, loving person I used to know.” The guilt and shame caused by these remarks can further confuse new boundary setters.’
Boundaries by Henry Cloud and John Townsend
I feel like jumping out of my seat after reading this! The only difference is, that it’s not others telling me how nice I used to be-it’s me telling myself! I tell myself, “I can’t keep going on like this, but I don’t like that I am not the nice person I used to be.” And so I’m stuck. And I don’t know where to go or how to move on from there. I want to be loving and gentle. But how do you do that and yet also not let yourself be manipulated or taken advantage of? Like you said, we think: aren’t we supposed to lay down our lives, turn the other cheek, etc. etc…? What exactly does that look like? Wasn’t Christ reviled and treated worse? But does that mean always having to be everything to everyone and doing everything for everyone else? And so, round and round I go…sigh…
I agree it one of the most difficult things to do – to stand by those boundaries (okay and to articulate them!) It feels odd and strange (and guilt inducing) to NOT to feel awful. NOT to take on other people’s burdens.
I feel like I go down this path multiple times a day as I am learning that I even have the boundaries muscle. You quoted: “You’ll either come out with increased intimacy— or learn that there was very little to begin with.” That is the part that makes me second guess – aren’t we (in general) supposed to be creating intimacy? And because I’m setting boundaries (and just revealing that there really was no intimacy that was already there) I’m the one who is “marked” as crazy and mean and disrespectful.
A Story with Three Endings
Once upon a time there was a Family who moved into a new neighborhood. They put a fence around their yard to keep their small children and dog safe. They put locks on the doors so Bad Guys couldn’t plunder them in the middle of the night. Then they set about getting to know their neighbors. Sometimes they invited the neighbors over for a BBQ in the back yard. Life was good.
Until one day they came home from grocery shopping and found the neighbors having a BBQ in their backyard without them. What should they do?
They were uncomfortable, but the neighbors were good with it, so maybe they were missing something? Maybe it was really OK? Maybe this is the way it was supposed to be, since everyone was happy? They tried to put on their most polite smiles – and joined the neighbors. They said nothing about it and patiently waited for the neighbors to get tired and leave.
Pretty soon the neighbors were coming over every day. Now they were making themselves at home inside their house. Raiding the fridge. Grabbing a jacket from their closet if they got cold. Helping themselves to their wallets if they needed some cash.
But the Family felt it was their duty to love on their neighbors for the sake of the gospel. Eventually they had no more money or food or even clothes. Their home was stripped bare. Their children were hungry, and the dog was taken by a neighbor who wanted him. Nobody had any respect for them. Nobody wanted to be like them. And nobody wanted to have a God like theirs – who would make them give up everything until they croaked.
The Family exploded in indignation, spewing forth obscenities at the shocked neighbors. The neighbors angrily hollered back while stomping around packing up their things.
They never had another BBQ again. Nobody had any respect for them. Nobody wanted to be like them. And nobody wanted to have anything to do with their stingy old scroogy God.
The Family raised their eyebrows. What bizarreness was this? They watched for a few minutes, and then said to the crowd, “We’re sorry, but we aren’t having a BBQ tonight. Can you please take the party somewhere else now? We have other things we need to do.”
Some of the neighbors grumbled, “What’s your problem? Why do you have to be such a party pooper?” Others swore under their breath while gathering their things. Still others threw dirty looks their way. BUT – a few neighbors came up to the Family and said, “We’re sorry. We should have asked first. Would you like to come over to our house next week? We’d love to get together when you’ve got some time!”
And so it was, that the Family found a few good friends in their neighborhood. Most of the folks respected the Family. Some of them wanted to be like them. And some wanted to get to know their God – Who demonstrated real love and honor for others, their time, and their property.
Which Family Was Most Loving?
Family #1 thought the only way to love and acceptance from God and man was through letting others control them. Making others happy at any cost. And eventually it cost them everything because, when given the chance, some people will suck other people dry. Was this good for the Family? No. They starved. Was this good for the neighbors? No. They eventually used up all the Family’s resources and were just as empty as they had been before the Family moved in. No healthy relationships were formed, and nobody came out happy. Lesson: Don’t be like Family #1.
Family #2 thought the only way to love and acceptance from God and man was through making it happen themselves. Demanding things go their way, and getting pig-biting mad when they didn’t. Was this good for the family? No. They lost their dignity and all their relationships. Was this good for the neighbors? No. They didn’t have a chance to learn and practice selflessness and respect. No healthy relationships were formed, and nobody came out happy. Lesson: Don’t be like Family #2.
Family #3 knew that God loved them no matter what, and that some people are healthy and some aren’t. Knowing this, they were able to say “yes” to some things and “no” to other things, and then tolerate the disapproval of those who didn’t agree. They rested in knowing they had God’s approval for sure – and enjoyed the perks of finding a few choice friends in the crowd with whom to develop closer, honoring relationships. The rest they let go. A few healthy relationships were formed, and those folks experienced real love, intimacy, and happiness. Lesson: You can be Family #3.
Simplistic? Yes. But it always helps me to boil things down to their bones first and add the flesh that fits from there. The angst some of us have about this is because of the wrong ways we view ourselves, other people, and God. I hope these little stories will help reveal a better way of looking at boundaries. Family #3 wasn’t mean. They were honest. Kind. Empathetic. And strong. Just the kind of people we want to be. Just the kind of people Jesus was. Just the kind of people you and I can be with a little tweaking of our belief systems. On Friday I’ll share some specific ways we can demonstrate love to the difficult or destructive people in our lives.