by Caitlin Meadows
Have you set appropriate boundaries in your life?
One way to evaluate this is to consider your relationship with the word “no”. Do you mind hearing it as an answer? Do you cringe with discomfort when it’s the answer you want to give?
I lean more toward the latter.
Throughout my teens and early adulthood I was prone to over-commit myself at church, school, and with my friends. I felt pressure to have an adequate reason for my denial and often said yes just to avoid potential conflict.
I’d inevitably vent to my parents, complaining about how I felt taken advantage of by the expectations of others. And they’d offer me this wisdom:
“’No.’ is a complete sentence.”
They’d go on to inform me that I don’t owe anyone an explanation for my answer.
When I finally began taking this advice, I felt liberated from so much unnecessary stress. And I liked people more. I was able to clearly prioritize my relationships and responsibilities without feeling like I owed it to everyone to do everything they asked. By saying no to some things, I was free to joyfully say yes to the requests that I was called and equipped to fulfill.
Boundaries are Not Selfish
Many people think that boundaries are about selfishness and are at their root, self-serving. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Boundaries are about freedom, and freedom is always meant to have as it’s ultimate fruit, love. As Paul says, and we would echo to anyone who uses boundaries in a self-serving way,
You, my brothers, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature ; rather, serve one another in love. The entire law is summed up in a single command: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ (Gal. 5:13,14)”¹
When we fail to set and communicate boundaries with our various circles of influence, we end up resenting the very people who we’re called to love and lead. Our inability to say “no” teaches those around us to continue to ask more of us and to expect us to come through. The more we come through out of obligation, the more we feel burdened by them. This does not lead to the fruit of love.
We must evaluate our motivation for serving others. Is it out of guilt? If so, we need to set and communicate our boundaries in this situation. Is it out of love and freedom? If so, it is appropriate to say yes.
A Lack of Boundaries can Enable Others
By approaching our relationships thinking we always have to say “yes” we run the risk of doing for others what they can and should do for themselves. As a result, we deprive from them the opportunity to develop autonomy. In this sense, we’re stifling their personal development while training them to manipulate us for their own gain.
In short, we enable them to be selfish. Often in these situations, the one enabled adopts a victim mentality in which they believe they’re being mistreated anytime their request is denied.
Though we’re meaning to help, our unwillingness to set and communicate boundaries leads these individuals further from Christ and further toward their own selfishness. They lose out on serving others because our lack of boundaries communicates to them that they should only look out for their own needs.
Boundaries Protect our God-given Priorities
We all have several circles of influence in our daily lives. Those we live with (most likely our families), those we work with, those we attend church with, those we live near. The list can go on.
If we attempt to give our boss as much time and energy as we attempt to give our family, we will burn out. Our families will desire to have a higher priority in our lives and our boss will expect from us what we’ve been delivering. Something has to give. As Amber Riggs puts it,
In a world full of needs and possibilities, everything is vying for our time and energy. Christian influencers recognize that not only can they not do everything but that God has not called them to do everything.”²
To avoid burning out from doing everything mediocre but nothing well, Christian leaders prayerfully and biblically determine their God-given call and priorities. Next, they set appropriate boundaries which enable them to thrive in their call. Finally, they clearly communicate those boundaries to others.
Boundaries Remind Us & Others that We are Not God
Only God can fully satisfy each person.
God uses my husband to provide for me in many ways, but my husband is not called to fulfill my every need. He is not meant to be my ultimate source of joy, peace, and provision. He is, however, called to point me toward Christ who is my ultimate Source. If I look to my husband for complete fulfillment and if he strives to provide it, our relationship with each other and our relationships with God will suffer.
But when we both recognize our calling and our limitations, we can have appropriate expectations for our marriage as we cheer one another toward complete dependence on our limitless King.
The Christian leader approaches all of his or her relationships with this perspective. The result – Christ increases while we decrease (John 3:30). He is magnified. Setting and communicating boundaries allows us to lift Christ up as Lord and Sustainer as we lead our circles of influence to Him.
Boundaries are good.
For boundaries to be effective, Christian leaders must clearly set and communicate them to their circles of influence.
Doing so is not selfish. Rather, it prevents enabling, protects our God-given priorities, and points others away from us and toward the Lord.
So, how are you with setting boundaries? Is this a leadership strength or weakness in your life? To discover your personal leadership strengths as a follower of Christ, download Artios Christian College’s free guide on Discovering Your Leadership Strengths.
¹ Henry Cloud, Ph.D., http://www.cloudtownsend.com/scoop-on-boundaries/.