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.

Vine Slayer

I know, I know. It’s been a minute since my last post. Every once in a while, I think, “Maybe I’m done with this.” And maybe I am, but I was outside this week, praise the Lord, working in the yard, and this post kept eating at me. I keep telling myself that it is corny and predictable. Do not write this. 

And then, 

Maybe I am corny and predictable.

But hey, it is my birthday, so maybe you all will just indulge me. 

When Matthew and I moved into the house we built on the hill in the woods, I quickly grew to love being outside in nature. I loved everything that grew… even things most people would consider weeds! Who gets to decide what is a weed anyway? I loved watching all the various things that came up during different times of the year. I protected it all. It became one of the main disagreements Matthew and I had. It pained me every time he decided that something needed to be chopped down or pulled up. Men do love to chop down things. 

One of those things we disagreed upon was a green, leafy, viney thing that covered the forest floor and made it look oh so enchanted. Matthew worried about it taking over, but I was loath to cut it because it just gave the woods this… magical feel. He relented, and it stayed. You win some, you lose some.

By the end of last summer, as I ventured out into the woods, I noticed a problem. The vine was EVERYWHERE. From a distance it seemed fine, but on close up inspection, I thought, “Houston, we have a problem”. A very intricate network of vines lay across the forest floor. As I reached down to pull on vine, I soon discovered that what was visible to the naked eye was just the beginning. As I pulled, I saw that most of the vine snaked underground with branches that split off, taking the vine elsewhere. Some of those underground branches were the size of small tree trunks! 

I quickly regretted leaving the vines to grow at will. Matthew had warned me, several times. I had told him it was fine. That I could handle it. Clearly, I could not. I spent hours upon hours that day pulling and cutting vines… and many days since. On the upside, it is a good arm workout.

This spring I have jumped on it. I have cut and pulled vines two days already. I have a mantra that I speak over them. “Not this year. Not this year”. But I know I am now fighting an uphill battle. I feel like one of those movie heroes sent to fight the million horrid monsters with no hope of getting them all, but fighting to try and live another day, anyway. I am formidable.  

I told you this was a corny story. 

I know that if I am not diligent, this stuff will eventually creep out of the forest and overtake my yard and my home. It is at the edge of the yard already. I’m not going to let that happen. If only I had listened a few years ago, it wouldn’t be this bad. If I had valued the words of the person who loves me and warned me there was trouble brewing. If I had only been willing to see that this stuff was bad medicine and needed to be dealt with. Perhaps this is what Bon Jovi was talking about. 

Oh, come on… 1988? Top of the billboard charts? On their New Jersey album?

I see a life correlation here. This is the predictable part I was talking about earlier. I see that vine as sin, corruption, addiction, whatever. When it first shows up, it doesn’t seem harmful at all. We can handle it. We’ve got it under control. Look, it’s not even that bad. We kind of like it. But then someone who loves us steps in out of concern and warns us. We assure them all is well and we have everything under control… thank you very much. All the while, it is mounting an attack underground. It is gaining strength. It is out of our site and out of our control. Its network grows thicker and it gains ground continuously. One day, we finally take a look around and wonder what the heck has happened!? How did this get so bad? What am I going to do? This is about to overtake my life, my home, my family! 

We make the decision to start fighting, but we better be ready to stand our ground. We better have our mantra ready. “Not this year! Not this day! Not this moment!” We are fighting an uphill battle now. It didn’t have to be this hard, but because we didn’t listen, because we were happier in denial, now the battle is a war. 

I didn’t win my battle over the vine that first day I decided to start fighting it. I haven’t won the battle, still. But I am hacking away at it. I am mindful of it, and I know the enemy I am fighting now. I know what it looks like and how it works. I know what appears to be lovely on the surface is truly something sinister underneath. Armed with a hoe and a chopper tool thing, I am dangerous. And I will continue fighting. 

Is there something growing deep down underneath that you need to give attention? Has someone who loves you warned you about it? Please don’t let it go. Please don’t be fooled into thinking it is harmless while right underneath the surface it is gaining ground. The possibility that it will overtake you is real. Learn your enemy. Fight the good fight. Do it for yourself and for those who love you.