(Welcome to Part Two of a little series dealing with setting healthy relationship boundaries as a believer in Christ. The questions are: Should we set boundaries? And if we should… What does that look like? If you missed Part One, it would probably be a good idea to go back and check that one out, first.)
Once I learned to root my identity securely in what Christ says about me, I began to model the scripture that told me to “Let your yes be yes, and your no be no” (Matthew 5:37). I learned to speak the truth in love, even if it ruffled a few feathers with those who heard it. Once my sense of self was no longer dependent upon what people thought of me, I learned how to construct healthy boundaries in my life. Finding my identity in Christ (believing everything He says about me over what others may say or think) fueled a new ability to walk in the newness of life that Jesus offered me. If I am living my life according to who He says I am, then I find I make much wiser choices, and my boundaries are easier to secure.
I’ve also learned another very important lesson. Guilt and conviction are not the same thing. Guilt is a tool that the enemy uses to shame us. It is controlling and manipulative… two fiery darts he loves to send flying toward those who are vulnerable. Guilt can be visited upon us through our own thoughts of insecurity and through the words of others. More than once in my relationships I have been asked how I could possibly be a Christian and hold a certain boundary with someone. I am sad to admit that the dart found its mark a few times.
Conviction, on the other hand, is an instrument that God uses to shape and mold us more into His likeness. The Holy Spirit visits conviction upon us to grab our attention when have done something that harms our relationship with God or someone else. Conviction holds no shame and does not intend to control or manipulate. It gently convinces us that there is a better way (“Here is the way, walk in it.” Isaiah 30:21). Guilt kicks us when we are down, encouraging us to wallow in our failure. Conviction recognizes our failure, but helps us up and renews our strength to try again. Please take note of the difference.
So, what about those people who have deposited harmful things inside our boundaries? Well, first we give ourselves a good talking to for allowing it to happen. And then we forgive them. Why? Because we must. Not because they need it, but because we do. We are to set up a boundary around our hearts because it is out of our hearts that our lives flow (Prov 4:23). To allow unforgiveness to remain poisons our hearts and sets up the breeding ground for bitterness and resentment. I’ve seen what that looks like over time, and it isn’t pretty.
Keep in mind that a willingness to forgive is not necessarily a mandate for reconciliation. It simply allows love to replace hurt, even if it is better that we love some people from a distance. Forgiveness is about the things of the past while healthy boundaries are setting up a better future. Protecting ourselves from future hurts will make room for us to have the capacity to love people who are difficult to love, even if we must allow time and space for our hearts and minds to heal.
Matthew 7:6 tells us:
“Do not give what is holy to dogs, and do not throw your pearls before pigs, or they will trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you to pieces.”
So often, as Christians, we continue to engage with people who repeatedly trample under their feet what is sacrificially given and precious. Time and again, they tear us to pieces with their thoughtlessness. I think about taking valuable, beautiful pearls and throwing them into a pig pen, only to watch them be carelessly trampled into the muck. I am so thankful that God’s grace extends so far that He allows us to be protected from such abuses. Yes, we invest in others, but not to our own, useless destruction. God is a God of reconciliation, for sure… but there must be evidence of repentance, remorse, and renewal before we think about loosening up those boundaries.
(Hang in there for part three. We are headed somewhere good. The answers are where they always are: within God’s character and in His word. Stay tuned!)