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Boundaries Without Question Marks

Boundaries Without Question Marks

Editor's note: "If we want more peaceful relationships, we have to turn our life from accepting chaos to pursuing peace." The Good Boundaries and Goodbyes Online Bible Study by Lysa TerKeurst starts July 24th! Sign up today!


It’s no wonder we are anxious and feel boundaries are only acceptable and legitimate if the other person agrees with and respects them. In other words, instead of stating our boundaries and ending the sentence with a period, we tag on a question. “You good with that?” “Okay?” “Does that work?” “This is understandable, right?” “You see where I’m coming from, yes?”

  • Posing a boundary as a question opens us up to be questioned, debated, and disrespected. If a boundary is presented with doubt, it won’t be effectively carried out.

Now, add on top of that the weird notion that if we are Christians, then we are absolutely obligated to sacrifice what’s best for us in the name of laying down our lives for others.

  • Where did we get the idea that we aren’t allowed to say no, have limitations, or be unwilling to tolerate other people’s bad behavior?

If we are filtering our thoughts of boundaries through wrong perceptions, it’s no wonder many of us find boundaries not just challenging but pretty close to impossible.

Here’s why:

We aren’t sure who we really are.
We aren’t sure what we really need.
We aren’t sure that if others walked away from us, we’d be okay.

Let’s take an honest look at an important question.

Who are you?

When I took time to answer this question for myself, I wondered why I’d never addressed this before. In a moment of honest reflection, it felt incredibly freeing to state for myself who I really am rather than when I’m trying to defend myself against the judgments of others.

  • Here’s who I am. I am a woman who loves God and loves other people. Therefore, because of Christ in me (Galatians 2:20), I am empowered to be the version of me God intended when He created me. I’m kind, creative, caring, generous, fun, and loyal.

I have those qualities, but they aren’t what is most apparent when people use me, take advantage of me, make unrealistic demands of me, and make wrong assumptions about me when I say no. In other words, when I’ve let someone violate my boundaries, I can get so frustrated that I act in completely opposite ways from the woman I really am. This type of reaction is on me — and I need to totally own it — not what someone else does, but my reaction to what they do.

So, boundaries help me stay true to who I really am. Without boundaries, I can hyperextend myself to the point where I become anxious, bitter, resentful, angry, annoyed, and distant. That’s not who I really am, so it’s my responsibility not to let another person’s actions and expectations wear me down to the worst version of myself. In a biblical sense, it’s me not allowing another person to make me betray who I am in Christ.

Okay, your turn to answer this crucial question: Who am I?

Pause here. Think about this.

And if you’re having a hard time answering, maybe it’s because you’ve lost her. Sometimes we’ve let other people’s opinions and needs define us for so long that we lose ourselves in the process. Or maybe circumstances have been so confusing, maybe even brutal, that we feel like life has reduced us to someone who others feel badly for. I’ve felt this exact way during the past several years of my life. I wanted to be a victorious woman of God, not a victim of a bunch of circumstances that caught me off guard and ripped the rug out from beneath me.

There is so much more to us than just being a sum total of what’s happened to us. Right?! So, how do we get back to that person we were before all the hard stuff?

I was on a group Zoom call recently with my friend Amanda after she had read an early version of what I’ve written here. She got choked up as she told me about a picture her mom found in her grandmother’s jewelry box after she passed away. The old black-and-white photograph was of a beautiful little chubby-cheeked baby with dark hair.

“That little face in my grandmother’s jewelry box was one I hadn't seen in more than twenty-five years since I last laid eyes on the picture. Twenty-five years. It’s me as a baby. The most pure version of me. This is me before life happened and wrote its own story on me. Before I got hurt and heartbroken and jaded and run over by what life had become.”

Her tears spilled down her cheeks as the rest of us tried to manage the lumps in our own throats. The baby in the picture was Amanda, but the truth of this moment applied to all of us.

Picture yourself as a tiny baby fresh from God’s hands. Innocent. Blissfully unaware of tragedy and trauma. Imagine yourself looking into her eyes. What would you say to her? Who do you want to tell her she is before life gets written on her? Speak that over her now.

  • Remember, you are closest to who you really are when you are the closest to who He created you to be.

Another memory you could recall is to remember yourself before you were really hurt. Before she said what she said. Or he did what he did. Or, before that event when everything changed, and you felt a bit damaged. Who were you?

Think of a memory, a memory from early on in your life, and try to remember who you were before you started looking to others for validation. Before you started becoming so hyperaware of your faults and frailties that you stopped seeing yourself as worthy, valuable, and designed by God on purpose. If nothing comes to mind from your early childhood, just speak to one of your baby pictures and tenderly tell her why she doesn’t need to live her life with an unhealthy pursuit of constantly seeking validation from people.

Now, write down the qualities that are true about the most authentic, wonderful version of you.

That’s your beauty. The goal is to humbly, and purposefully, walk in that beauty and own it. Serve from that fullness. Give from that wholeness. Walk confidently in the fact that our all-sufficient God did not make you insufficient or broken. Yes, we need to grow and develop and seek to become more and more like Jesus. But just like a seed contains everything in it necessary to bloom, so do we. All that a seed goes through to grow into a plant is part of the process of becoming what it was designed to be — not a process of determining its worth or value (1 Corinthians 15:38–44).

This exercise is more important than you know. If we don’t know who we are, we will constantly be manipulated into who others want us to be or become enmeshed in the needs of other people.

When we know who we are, we are whole and available to love, serve, and give to others from that fullness. If we don’t know who we are, then we will love, serve, and give, hoping people will fill our empty places and make us feel whole. And in doing so, we will always be defined by how well or how poorly someone else makes us feel.

My passion for all of this may have put a tad too much wind in my sail — or words in my chapter. Welcome to my overextended TED talk. Just kidding.

There’s an even more secure foundation to knowing who we are than just naming it for ourselves. We want to let God’s Word become the words of truth for our identity.

  • When God is the source of our identity, we are much less prone to others feeding our insecurity.

I’ll leave you with these words I first wrote in my journal and then put in my book Uninvited years ago: “God’s love isn’t based on me. It’s simply placed on me. And it’s the place from which I should live... loved.”1

  1. Lysa TerKeurst, Uninvited: Living Loved When You Feel Less Than, Left Out, and Lonely (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2016), 259.

Excerpted with permission from Good Boundaries and Goodbyes by Lysa TerKeurst, copyright Lysa TerKeurst.

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Your Turn

Boundaries help us stay true to who we really are. When we own our boundaries and hold to them without a question mark at the end, it helps us avoid having those boundaries violated and having inappropriate responses as a result. Have you seen this play out in your own life? God created us to have boundaries and to respect others’. ~ Devotionals Daily