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 so easy to be charmed into dropping a boundary. We can have a few good days or even a few good months when it seems things are better. But remember, be honest about what’s really happening. Don’t continue to excuse negative or destructive patterns of behavior or addictions, as if they are just occasional slip-ups and isolated mistakes. There is something deeper going on in the foundational thinking and processing of someone who has been hurting you with their poor choices over and over.
“Things are better” is not the same as “things are healed.”
If we drop our boundaries too soon, trying to resurrect those boundaries when the chaos returns will become more and more challenging. And the constant charge of devastating emotions will become more and more damaging. Trying to save a relationship by excusing away boundaries is like trying to save a house with a flooded basement by shooting more and more holes into the foundation.
Ask me how I know. Ask me how many nights I’ve cried myself to sleep, feeling the impossible weight of wanting someone else to cooperate with necessary boundaries only to have them be violated over and over.
- Sometimes it takes me a long time to acknowledge reality.
And that’s certainly been true for me in relationships. Being loyal and hoping things will get better is not a bad trait until hope deferred starts to make my heart sick (Proverbs 13:12).
I posted this question on Instagram the other night: “Why is it that a flag literally has to be on fire before I tilt my head and say it might be red?” If it’s red, it’s red. If someone’s actions toward me are hurting me, they’re hurting me. If it’s concerning, it’s concerning. If it’s wrong, it’s wrong. And we should be willing to give grace for mistakes. But if the issues are ongoing and continuously harmful, we must acknowledge that and act accordingly. It’s not that we don’t want to be prayerful and hopeful and eager for positive changes in the other person’s life. But we don’t want to become so eager and overcommitted to their health that we stay undercommitted to our own.
I know I’ve said it before, and I’ll probably say it many more times (mostly because I have to preach this to my Pollyanna self a lot!) — drawing wise boundaries is me fighting for the relationship.
It’s for their good and mine! Loosening my boundaries and enabling them to hurt the relationship and harm me isn’t helping them. I am not honoring Jesus when I give permission for the other person to act in ways that Jesus never would.
- Jesus laid down His life for sinners. But it wasn’t so they could keep sinning.
It was for a holy purpose leading to wholeness, healing, and salvation of their souls. Jesus didn’t enable people. Jesus didn’t beg people. Jesus didn’t accept excuses for sin or let people off the hook because they were mostly good. No, He instructed them to leave their lives of sin. (The woman He forgave and rescued from getting stoned — John 8.) He called out the Pharisees for their harsh, demeaning, and judgmental attitudes. (Those hiding their own sin while wanting to stone the woman for her sin — also John 8.) He informed the rich young ruler to give up what was controlling him and holding him back (Matthew 19). Jesus tended to His need to be alone with the Father even when the crowds had needs and demands of Him (Luke 5).
And most telling of all, though Jesus had compassion for all people and offered salvation to all people, those who reject His gift and refuse to acknowledge Him as their Savior will not enter into Heaven. There it is again: access requires responsibility. A refusal of that responsibility requires a consequence. This is set up this way for holy and honorable reasons.
So, if we draw a boundary and someone says we aren’t “acting like Jesus” we can certainly check ourselves — our tone, our words, and our actions. But remember to consider the source of that statement.
- The problem isn’t the boundary, it’s that the other person won’t respect the boundary.
I want to speak tenderly to your heart. Just you and me. You’re going to make it. And so am I. But it’s going to get hard. Really hard. I so wish I was standing right with you, whispering a boundaries pep talk into your ear the next time someone hurts you and tries to make you feel like the crazy one. And I wish you were doing the same for me when I need to be reminded of these truths, because I surely will need to be preached to with these very words I’ve written.
Just a few nights ago, I wish I could have had a little conference call with you. I was crying. A big, ugly, my-eyes-were-swollen-the-next-day cry. I had such hopes that a conversation with someone with whom I’d set boundaries would go well. The boundaries seemed to have worked. I wanted to have more interaction with the person. I’d held strong for so long and they seemed to have been so sincere in their promise that they’d changed. They also committed to being kind and to listen without attacking me if I would be willing to have a face-to-face conversation. So, I agreed.
And it took only about thirty minutes for me to realize what a mistake I’d made.
I was shocked by how things started off okay but then very quickly turned harsh.
I felt so foolish.
I felt scared.
I felt lost in all the confusion swirling in their accusations against me and their grand statements about how much God was with them and that they were praying for my cold heart.
Not one other human who I do daily life with would have agreed with what this person was saying about me, but this person’s words still carried such weight that every syllable landed like a dagger straight through my heart.
Then came that moment that I thought to myself, I’m such an idiot. Boundaries don’t work. But then something amazing happened. Though I was shaking on the inside, I didn’t sink down to the level of returning hate for hate. Or accusation for accusation. Instead, I told them that what they were doing was not acceptable and that I would no longer allow them to come to my home until they stopped the harmful behavior.
And it worked.
No, they didn’t change on the spot.
No, they didn’t acknowledge that what they were doing was unhealthy.
No, they didn’t apologize or even recognize how their actions were hurting me.
But the person did leave. And though I cried buckets afterward, I realized I had never lost control of myself in the midst of the confrontation. And that was a huge win.
I’m not a boundaries failure. Neither are you. We are in process. And that, my friend, is one of the healthiest places to be. Remember, boundaries aren’t going to fix the other person. But they are going to help you stay fixed on what is good, what is acceptable, and what you need to stay healthy and safe.
Excerpted with permission from Good Boundaries and Goodbyes by Lysa TerKeurst, copyright Lysa TerKeurst.
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It’s painful to recognize when someone we love won’t hear or respect our boundaries. It might feel like we’re being unchristian or unlike Jesus, but that isn’t true. God is the God of love and love requires boundaries. Come share your thoughts with us. We want to hear from you! And, be sure to sign up for the Good Boundaries and Goodbyes OBS starting July 24! ~ Laurie McClure, Faith.Full