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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. 


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 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.)



We don’t get voted off the island…

Matthew and I usually end up watching each new season of Survivor on television. This last week was the start of the season. I often ask myself why I watch when they just seem to wander around in only their underwear so much of the time. Is that really necessary? Do I need to see all that? No. I don’t need to see all of that.

But in the midst of all that unnecessary skin exposure, a few nuggets of value rise to the surface. The game of Survivor is really a social experiment, and that truly cranks my tractor. Alliances are made and broken, promises are made and broken, all in an effort to survive to the last day and have the opportunity to win a truckload of money. 

It’s forty days of uncertainty. Every player strives to position themselves to make a strong alliance with other players that will carry them through to the end. But here’s the kicker, no one can ever be sure of validity of such alliances. So called “friends” will play each other and some of the best TV moments on the show are when someone who just knew their alliances were going to hold strong, end up getting voted off the island by the very ones who swore their loyalty. Sheesh. Very few players of Survivor can make the entire forty days with their integrity intact. Most of those kinds of people end up voted off early.

That got me to thinking about alliances. An alliance is a union formed for mutual benefit. The Bible calls it a covenant. God made a covenant with Israel. He would be their God and they would be His people. He would make sure they defeated their enemies, and lived in a posh land flowing with milk and honey, and they would serve Him, and only him, for all their days. It was a holy alliance. God always kept his side of the deal, but Israel was a rebellious lot, and like the Survivor players, often caved on their end of the bargain.

When we travel over to the New Testament, we find that God was still interested in covenants. Through Jesus, a new covenant was made. This time, being in relationship with God was not based on performance. Humans had already demonstrated their inability to keep that up. Instead, the alliance required a once and for all sacrifice for all time. This covenant was made on the back of Jesus, himself.

When we enter into this particular covenant, it is a once and for all, never say die (except daily), binding relationship. Because we could do nothing to strike this deal, neither can we do anything to nullify it. When I hear fellow believers who have the idea that there is something they can do to cause God to let them go, I am reminded of the scripture that speaks otherwise.

“For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Romans 8:38-39

And there’s also this one…

My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand. I and the Father are one.” John 10:27-30

Jesus has already paid the price for our sins. The ones we committed yesterday, today and the ones we will commit tomorrow, next week, and twenty years from now. There is nothing we can do that will make God love us more, and nothing we can ever do to make him love us less. He is not disappointed in us. We do not have to worry about the relationship we have with the Father. Our picture stays up on his fridge, no matter what.

We can know that we are secure in his love. Our alliance with him is strong. Our covenant is binding. There is no tribal counsel, no getting voted off the island. Jesus doesn’t go back on his part, he doesn’t withdraw his sacrifice.

Jesus left this earth to go prepare a place for those of us who love him. (John 14:1-3) Not because he hopes we will be there, but because he knows we will be.