(Welcome to Part Three, the final installment of a three part series on setting healthy relationship boundaries. If you haven’t read the first two posts, you might want to go back and read through those. This one might make more sense if you do.)
Many view relationship boundaries as setting limits on people, and this is the part that bothers so many believers. As my young friend said, we are called to engage people and love them. Let us look at a different way to view setting boundaries that might help. Jesus never sets limits, He sets standards. Remember the rich young ruler from the gospel of Mark, chapter 10? The wealthy young man asked Jesus how he might secure eternal life for himself. Jesus began by quoting the standard set by the ten commandments. The young man was sure in his obedience and was feeling pretty good about his chances at that point. But then Jesus whipped out the standard that matters more than the law. It is the one where we are called to love God more than anything else in this world. Sadly, the rich young man could not meet that standard and walked away dejected… separated from the life he wanted for eternity.
Just as Jesus allowed the young man to be who he was, God allows us to be who we are. But when we live in opposition to His standards, there is a breach in relationship until we decide to uphold the standard again. God’s standards are not just rules for rule’s sake. They actually make life livable.
I used to work in the healthcare industry. Hospitals do not receive Medicare and Medicaid reimbursements unless they achieve an accredited status by meeting certain standards. I feel your eyes glazing over, and I get it. Hang with me a second. Part of my job was to make sure that the hospital where I was employed met those standards of operation and patient care. But here was the thing, the rules were not just hoops to jump through to maintain our accredited status… in their purest form, they were intended to make the institution a safer place for both the healthcare workers and the patients in their care. Failure to meet those standards was our choice, but it would potentially result in a separation from government funds that would in effect, shut the hospital doors for business. Standards call us to higher behavior.
Our boundaries are kind of like that. They are standards of behavior that call forth healthy fellowship and relationship. When those are breached, we must uphold the standard and enforce the boundary until the standard can be met once again.
Dr. Henry Cloud (1992), (author of Boundaries) wrote, “The concept of boundaries comes from the very nature of God. God defines himself as a distinct, separate being, and he is responsible for himself. He defines and takes responsibility for his personality by telling us what he thinks, feels, plans, allows, will not allow, likes, and dislikes.” It is then definitely completely within the bounds of Christianity for believers to model this in their own lives. However, we have to take care that our standards are those set for us all within the scriptures and not crazy things we conjure up in our own minds, silly hoops that we make people jump through, in order for people to be in relationship with us. We do not call people to live by our standards, we call them to live by God’s standards. We call them to honor, integrity, character, joy, patience, love, peace… all the things that we are called to as well.
In the Garden of Eden, Adam had unfettered access to God. The scripture speaks about how God walked with Adam in the garden. God had set up the garden to meet every need that Adam had… well almost. God soon realized that it was not good for Adam to be without human relationship. So he remedied that by making Eve. Then… then everything was good, and God could sit back and enjoy His creation. Adam and Eve were to live and work inside the garden, as long as they met the standards set forth by God. I mean, it was His garden after all. It worked pretty darn well until the day that Adam and Eve failed to meet the relationship standard. It was then that their access to the garden was revoked and their access to God severely limited. Even in His great love for His creation, even God sets relationship boundaries.
As each of our children have gotten married, we gift our new children-in-love with a key to our home. It gives them unfettered access to our most private space. It is intended to demonstrate that they have a deeper level of relationship with us, and that we welcome them into our lives for us to love them and be loved by them. We do not pass out those keys to everyone we know or meet. We are very selective with who has that kind of access.
So, in answer to the initial questions posed… “How is it that I can set relationship boundaries if I am called to love and engage with people? How is that even possible for a Christian to do that?” … As in all things, we look to the God who set this whole relationship ball rolling and follow His lead. First, we hold ourselves to a scriptural standard, and then we set healthy boundaries within our own lives that uphold those standards in our relationships. When we live and move within our Jesus ordained identities, under the conviction of the Holy Spirit, we may still experience relationship difficulties, but we can walk in confidence that we are loving people well, even if it needs to be from a distance sometimes.
Cloud, Henry, and John S. Townsend. Boundaries: When to Say Yes, When to Say No to Take Control of Your Life. , 1992.