Author: Stacey G Benson

Mother of four, wife of one. Eager follower of Jesus.

Relationship Boundaries for Christians… Part Three

(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. 

Photo credit: Andre Fertado

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. 

Resource:

Cloud, Henry, and John S. Townsend. Boundaries: When to Say Yes, When to Say No to Take Control of Your Life. , 1992.

Relationship Boundaries for Christians… Part Two

(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.


Photo Credit: Vyacheslav Chistyakov

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!)

Relationship Boundaries for Christians… Part One

(This post just kept oozing out of me… like raspberry jelly from one of those delicious Krispy Kreme donuts… sigh. So it will come in three installments because blog rules say blogs posts longer than 750 are TOO LONG. And I agree. I hope you will enjoy all three posts, and by the time you get to the end, that you will feel it was time well spent.)

Photo Credit: Unknown

“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?” They were fair questions… asked by a young woman I have the pleasure of mentoring. They were the questions I have asked myself… more than once. 

One of my favorite authors is clinical psychologist, Dr. Henry Cloud. His wisdom and knowledge about interpersonal relationships has helped to keep me well-centered and sane during some very challenging relationships. Of all the books he has authored, two are my favorites: How People Grow and Boundaries. And of those two, my favorite is Boundaries. Before considering Dr. Cloud’s point of view, I never really believed that setting boundaries was the nice thing to do. As a girl growing up, I was taught to do the nice thing… 

So that people would like me. 

At least that is the leap I made in my own young mind. In my insecurities, I wanted to be liked, accepted… so that I could feel good about myself. Apparently, it was all about me. I had no idea what a short-sighted life I was building for myself, and one that would bring me pain again and again. 


Infants cannot really separate themselves from the world around them. They do not understand where they stop and the rest of the world starts. But during early toddlerhood, humans learn to separate what is the self and what is everything else. We spend the rest of our lives deciding what we allow in and what we do not. Ideally, we let the good in and keep the bad out. (Unfortunately, those who suffer from abuses early on tend to do quite the opposite.)

As the aforementioned people-pleaser, I didn’t guard my boundaries well. I allowed people to enter and exit my life, bringing whatever blessing or pain they chose. To hold fast to my boundaries (did I even have boundaries?) would risk my good standing and nice reputation, two things I valued way too much. 

If the person who entered my realm chose to leave a blessing, then all the better for me. If they chose to leave harm and pain, then I was angry and disappointed… at and in them. That was unfair. The anger and disappointment were aimed at the wrong person. I should have turned those things on myself. In my ignorance, I did not understand this. 

As a Sociologist, I understand that we live in society, engaging other people in the business of life. As a Christian, I can read the scriptures and see that everything was swell with humanity when there was only the one human. When the second human entered the picture, that is when all the trouble started… and we have been trying to figure it all out ever since. Relationships are hard. If you have even just one relationship, you know this is true. Just ask Adam.

I would like to tell you that I stopped being a people-pleaser early on and that I have spent much of my adult life having left that unhealthy habit behind. What can I say? Some of us are slow learners. Yet, as I delved deeper into what it meant to find my identity in Christ, I began to shirk the people-pleasing behaviors that had dominated my life for so long. I started to see my people-pleasing behavior as the self-serving tool that it was. Its grip had grown deep roots within my personality, and it took a great deal of work to pry it out. But the more I realized my completeness in Christ, the more I began to place trust in the words that He spoke about me. I found a self-confidence that was not self-generated. I no longer took on the words others spoke about me (good or bad) and relied on the ones spoken by my Designer. Soon, I found that if I lived my life to please the One who made me, then others found a deeper value within me. 

(We are just getting started… Stay tuned for Relationship Boundaries… Part Two)


Mother-in-law Bootcamp

In late winter/early spring I lead a small group for women whose children are getting married called Mother-in-Law Bootcamp! A friend recently asked me for a crash course as her son gets married later this year. This post is that. 

Weddings are certainly cause for celebration, but there are relationships to navigate, and roles that change. If we aren’t properly prepared, we can find ourselves dealing with a lot of disappointment. 

I am twice a MIL myself now. Very soon, I will become a MIL again. I have been blessed with two very stellar DILs, and I expect DIL number three to be just as amazing. 

My DILs are kind, thoughtful, strong, intelligent, and beautiful. They are committed to their faith and to my boys. I am not too sure what else I could ask for, but often MILs do ask for more. 

Moms of married children are in a unique position, especially with their boys. The adage goes:

“A daughter’s your daughter for the rest of your life.

A son’s a son ’til he takes a wife”. 

Adages are called such because, well, they bear truth. Because of this adage, I am going to mostly be talking to Mothers of Sons (MOS). 

There’s little else mothers invest in more than their children. Day in, day out, long nights, and early mornings. Snotty noses and dirty diapers. Fevers, tummy aches, rashes, and skinned knees. Homework, last minute school projects, driving, and dating. Before we know it, our little nuggets of joy have grown into adult-ish people.

We often wonder about the day when they will bring home the one to meet us. MOS dream of that daughter we never had, or maybe one to add to the other(s) we cherish so much. We don’t often think this through, though, and can find ourselves disappointed and feeling abandoned by our sons when things do not meet our expectations. 

This new dance reminds us that it takes two to tango… not three. Until our boys get married, MOS are the chosen dance partner, but when our sons exchange vows and enter covenant marriage, it is time for us to yield the dance floor to the new woman in his life: the new, most important, woman in his life. 

Ouch. Take a minute if you need to- it’s okay. 

Whismical Wedding at Gardener Ranch in Carmel, California

Much of the time, very little thought is given to the Mother-of-the-Groom (MOG) on the wedding day. Most do not consider all that she is giving up on that day. Of course, it is a day of celebration and hope for the future, but when everyone else is thinking along those lines, the MOG often remembers the little boy that is now a man, a man that now belongs to someone else. It can be a real sucker punch if she has not properly prepared.

Smart MOGs quietly step back and make room for the bride to step forward. We do it on their wedding day, and every day after that. If we don’t… it won’t be pretty, and we will miss the blessing our new DILs can be to our sons and to us

It is that whole “leave and cleave” thing. Genesis 2:24 says: 

“Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh.” 

It is a difficult task to put a 12-week study into one blog post, but here are some practical things, in bullet point form, that can help get you started on the right foot! 

  • Pray for your DIL. 
  • PRAY. FOR. HER. 
  • Let go of your expectations. For real. Things will not be as you expect. 
  • If the new couple sets boundaries, honor them. 
  • Only give advice when you are asked for it, and even then, keep it short.
  • Only go to their home when invited, and don’t show up early! Find something to compliment about her home. Allow them to come by your home anytime. (We give each DIL their own key to our house.)
  • Evenings should belong to them. Don’t call your son during supper time or couple time *wink*. 
  • Their marriage will look different from yours. That’s okay.
  • Be open to setting new family traditions as they try to navigate holiday times with both families. Old childhood traditions must give way to new adult ones. Those are wonderful, too!
  • Be dependable, kind, loving, and supportive. She is learning, just as you did when you were young. 
  • Invest in her and forgive quickly when she makes a mistake. Ask for forgiveness when you make one.

What happens if the woman your son marries is not the one you would have chosen? My advice is the same. We begin with prayer, always, and believe the best. In any situation, good or bad, we need that holy insight that only comes from the One who made your DIL. He will show you how to love her (and them) best! Things will settle down once everyone feels comfy in their new roles. Be patient and be wise. Before you know it, your daughter-in-law will become your daughter-in-LOVE!

(I will be leading another MIL Bootcamp beginning in February of 2022. If you have a child, especially a son, getting married in 2022 consider joining us! It is a Zoom group, so you can jump in from anywhere! If this interests you, let me know in the comments.)