Yesterday, Shannon shared an impactful message called “Healthy Boundaries, Healthy Relationships: the Core of the Gospel. In it she shared some of the key points from the Bible that support the need to maintain healthy relationships. In order to accurately reflect Jesus in our lives and to honor His work, we have to have healthy relational boundaries. You can hear the full sermon here. Today, I’d like to reflect on three things connected to maintaining healthy boundaries.
Helping Others Out of Good Freewill
In the Bible we come across the idea of being “other” focused. We are taught to elevate others above ourselves, and to consider their needs. This is most overtly found in Philippians 2:4 “Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.”
With that in mind, it is easy to come away with the idea that we are to run ourselves ragged helping the needs of others. The issue with that is there isn’t much left for our own well-being by doing this. Up until a couple years ago, I had this idea in my mind that a “good” pastor was able to go around taking care of each emotional and spiritual need of the people in his church, and some of the needs of those outside his church. I was hard on myself because I didn’t think I measured up to that standard. How did I come away with this idea? Because that is what I saw modeled by pastors in my early years as a Christian. I did see other pastors operating differently, but they always seemed distant or non-relational. It wasn’t until many years later that I began to realize that this is the perception of someone (me) who doesn’t have a positive view of healthy boundaries. Once I realized the importance of healthy boundaries, the words of Jesus “Love your neighbor as you love yourself,” made more sense. If I am exhausting myself to help the needs of so many others, I’m not loving myself. That means I’ve directly violated the second part of that phrase. Is there a place for sacrifice for another’s well-being? Yes. However, that sacrifice cannot be rooted in them setting the parameters for your boundaries. Only you can set those parameters. To honor God in that, those boundaries have to involve a level of self-care.
For years one of my highest ranking gifts on spiritual gift assessment tests was service. I genuinely took delight in helping and serving others. This was a wonderful and easy way to bring value to the groups I was in. I can still remember volunteering to stay after school in 6th grade to help Mrs. Mallow straighten up and organize the classroom before going home, and genuinely enjoying it. I did many acts of service throughout my life freely and willingly and genuinely enjoyed it. Over the years, I’ve found that I still like to serve, but not as indiscriminately as I used to. Now I am much more selective of my service, because I have more personal responsibilities and limited time & emotional energy.
But what happens when we don’t want to do something freely and willingly? Whether it be through an innate ability to say “no,” or through someone using manipulative tactics to coerce us into doing things, there will be times when we would rather not do something, but agree to do them begrudgingly. When we cross into the area of begrudgingly doing things, we aren’t really doing them out of good freewill. There is something that makes us feel obligated to do it. That somethings is most often not a healthy something.
In the very first Star Wars film “A New Hope,” the old Jedi, Obi Wan Kenobi, receives a holographic image of Princess Leah. Her closing phrase is “Help me! Obi Wan Kenobi, You’re my only hope.” To hear some derivation of this in reality, alarms should be going off in our heads. This kind of phrasing is a manipulation tactic to get typically unwilling people to participate in something. They may even start out the conversation with it so you feel obligated to even hear the request. This does not lead to us operating out of good freewill. Some people may not mind from time to time. However, when it becomes regular, it can wear us down. If we aren’t able to help people out of our own good free will, then something is amiss, either internally or externally. That leads us to our next point.
“Help me! Obi Wan Kenobi, You’re my only hope.” To hear some derivation of this in reality, alarms should be going off in our heads. This kind of phrasing is a manipulation tactic to get typically unwilling people to participate in something.
Saying and Sticking to our “No’s”
It is OK to say “no.” The inability to say “no” is an indicator of poor boundaries in our lives. Maybe we don’t want someone to “feel bad.” Or perhaps we feel we have to say yes to compensate for something, “making it up to someone.” Maybe we feel someone will be really let down or put out if we say “no”. Whatever the reasoning, one of the most important first things for us to do is make peace with saying “no.” Will some people be offended and hurt? Yes. A very small amount. Mostly those who have poor boundaries themselves. You’ll find the vast majority of people will respect your “no” and move on.
The inability to say “no” is an indicator of poor boundaries in our lives
The ability to say “no” is an important guard for our own self-care and well-being. That doesn’t mean we’ll be saying “no” to every request. It does mean that if we determine our own well-being is infringed upon, it is ok to deny a request. Typically, we know what is best for us. Saying “no” helps us keep good boundaries to maintain that best. It also puts a stop to people trying to manipulate us.
Saying “no” is a good way to gauge how healthy a person’s boundaries are
An few examples of saying “no” are:
- simply, “No.”
- I’m not going to be available to help with that. (you may add, if you mean it), If something changes and I am able, I’ll let you know.
- That is something I’m not comfortable doing, thank you for understanding
- I have other obligations.
Those aren’t perfect, but they are a step in the right direction. The aim of saying “no” is to clearly communicate it to the requester. The loving thing to do is acknowledge they put themselves out there and respect it with a dignified response. What is not respectful is avoiding answering the question (a.k.a. ghosting).
It is important for us all to understand a “no” is a perfectly acceptable response to any request. When either we or some else says no, it is important for us to respect that. As Jesus said, “Let your yes be yes and your no be no, anything else comes from evil.” (Matt. 5:37).
Note: There is a difference between the virtue of “Persistence” and the vice of badgering.
This leads us into our third point for today.
Keeping Our Own Emotional and Spiritual House in Order
Keeping our house in order is tantamount to helping others. 1 Tim. 3:5 says if someone wants to be an elder they need to have their house ordered, “For if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God’s church?” The immediate context for this passage deals with having an administrative ability to order a 1st Century Roman Villa (equipped with spouse, children, extended family, slaves, servants, etc.).
I will go so far as to say “house” also refers to one’s emotional and spiritual life. Elsewhere, Paul indicates that elders shouldn’t be too young so they don’t get arrogant with their position. This entails a level of emotional and spiritual maturity.
Emotional maturity means healthy boundaries. People who have unhealthy boundaries are people who haven’t developed a level of emotional maturity in one or more areas. To some degree, most of us deal with emotional development our entire lives. But those who are emotionally mature know how to love unconditionally, not be manipulated, are ok saying “no” and being said “no” to, and don’t feel other people must help them irrespective of what their situation may be. Developing emotional and spiritual maturity (a.k.a. character) is absolutely necessary if we are to grow in God and experience him in deeper ways.
Developing emotional and spiritual maturity (a.k.a. character) is absolutely necessary if we are to grow in God and experience him in deeper ways.
All throughout the Bible, we see God operating in the principles of healthy boundaries. Jesus’ followers were in concentric circles of access. Paul refused to take Mark on a mission trip because Mark’s immaturity burned them on the previous trip (Paul and Barnabas had a fallout because of it). Paul sent Timothy and Titus into Ephesus and Crete to set things in order.
Every do and don’t of the Bible is predicated upon the 2 great commandments: 1. Love God 2. Love People. The great commandments are based upon right relationship (a.k.a. Healthy Boundaries)
Every do and don’t of the Bible is predicated upon the 2 great commandments: 1. Love God 2. Love People. The great commandments are based upon right relationship (a.k.a. Healthy Boundaries). So you see, at the core of the Gospel you find Healthy Boundaries.
At the core of the Gospel you find Healthy Boundaries
Thank you for reading this week’s Pastor Blog post. Did you find it encouraging? Challenging? In the end, I hope it helps you further experience God’s:
Presence. Love. Power.