The Courage to Maintain Boundaries at the Risk of Loss
Beneath every healthy or dysfunctional relationship, we’ll find boundaries at work. Healthy, God-honoring boundaries lead to increased health; Without them, people begin to hide, trust shatters, emotional intimacy decreases if not dies all together, and isolation grows.
When my daughter was younger, one of her friendships turned unhealthy and caused her considerable and consistent pain. She began justifying the poor behavior, telling herself the behavior didn’t, or perhaps more accurately, shouldn’t hurt and also that the other person couldn’t help it and therefore needed patience and grace. The problem is, apart from truth, grace isn’t grace. It’s enabling. As a result, over time, things became worse—the friend’s behavior, my daughter’s wounds, and the relational dysfunction.
And I struggled to see beyond the problem in that moment to all God was doing and was yet to do. Grieved by my daughter’s pain, I wanted to step in, to meddle, to fix. To control. To grasp and hold tight to things God wanted me to release—because I was afraid.
This is often my greatest challenge when setting boundaries, and honestly, this is a battle I continually fight. Many times, I know the right thing to do, but my heart struggles to comply. I don’t find it all that hard to take and maintain full responsibility for my behavior, emotions, and reactions. When I sleep in and miss a meeting, that’s on me. When I blow a deadline, that’s on me as well. When something angers me and I lose my temper? Me again.
I don’t like staying in my lane, however, when I know there’s a big old cavern up ahead in my loved one’s lane. When that occurs, I want to veer right and force them onto the shoulder or into a ditch, or perhaps rip their keys from their hands.
As ironic as this may sound, the greater my love, the harder boundaries become. The harder it is to not only realize but accept that I am not responsible for anyone else’s behavior, emotions, and reactions—nor should I attempt to make myself so. Living in that truth, however, takes courage, strength, surrender, and significant trust in Christ.
An old pastor from Louisiana used to say, “Don’t try to be the Holy Spirit in anyone’s life.”
So, what if we’re dealing with something more consequential than a hurtful friend? What if our loved one is heading toward serious self-destruction? What if their choices could, and likely will, destroy everything our relationship rests on, and thus, our relationship itself? I’m relatively certain those scenarios make us all a bit weak-kneed, because we know there’s a potential for deep, heart-breaking loss.
The greater the risk, the more challenging it is to set boundaries, which also means, the greater the potential for dysfunction.
I have to remind myself of this. When life becomes challenging, for me and those I love, all I can see are the danger signs directly attached to whatever behavior or choice concerns me. Choices I have zero control over—which may be why I’m so tempted to fight for control. To elevate the weakest, most deceptive, and often, destructive, god of all time—the god of self.
In short, I act as if God has somehow fallen down on the job and needs me to step in and meddle and fix and arrange.
When I reach this place, I need to get honest with myself, with my fears, and with God. Do I really believe everything I claim to be true about God? Do I believe that He’s all-knowing, all-seeing, all-loving, faithful and true? Do I believe that He has the power to change hearts—and that I don’t, no matter how much I argue, nag, pester, or cajole? Do I believe He has the power to bring order to mental chaos, clarity to confusion, and truth to deception—not only in the minds of those I’m worried about but within me as well?
Do I believe God has a plan in the mess, and that He’ll bring good through it? That He longs to use the situation, as painful as it might be, to grow us all and make us more like His Son?
My internal struggle reveals I likely don’t truly, deeply believe those things, therefore the first and greatest work God wants to do is within me. And so, I need to hit pause. I need to quiet myself before Him and ask Him some heart-probing, life-changing questions, like:
- What sin are You wanting to purge within me?
- What lie or lies are You revealing?
- What cracks in my faith do You need to mortar with truth?
- And just as importantly, how do You want me to model life, light, health, and faith through this situation?
The next time we land in this place, may God remind us who He is, who we are, and who we are not. What He’s assumed responsibility for, and what He has not conceded to us.
He is the initiator, redeemer, Savior, Counselor, Guide, Teacher, and Father. The One who knows all and sees all and is in all.
Scripture tells us:
- Convicts mankind regarding sin. (John 16:8)
- Has the power to change hearts. ( 11:19)
- Transforms lives. (Philippians 1:6)
Our role is to:
- Listen for His guidance.
- Speak truth.
- Honor God’s principle of sowing and reaping. (This means not attempting to shield others from the consequences for their actions.)
- Seek personal growth.
When do you find it most challenging to set and maintain healthy boundaries? Why do you think this might be? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below, because we can all learn from and encourage one another!
If you haven’t already done so, you may want to listen to the following podcast episodes:
On Faith Over Fear:
On my Thriving With Chronic Illness podcast:
You might also find Wholly Loved Bible reading plan, 20 Days of Relational Health, found on the YouVersion Bible plan. You can access it HERE.
Jennifer Slattery is a writer and speaker who hosts the Faith Over Fear podcast. She’s addressed women’s groups, Bible studies, and writers across the nation. She’s the author of Building a Family and numerous other titles and maintains a devotional blog at JenniferSlatteryLivesOutLoud.com.
As the founder of Wholly Loved Ministries, she’s passionate about helping women experience Christ’s freedom in all areas of their lives. Visit her online to learn more about her speaking or to book her for your next women’s event and sign up for her free quarterly newsletter HERE and make sure to connect with her on Facebook and Instagram.