This post is part of The Basics series, where we talk about the basics of our faith in Jesus Christ.
Last night I woke up after having one long, extended nightmare, full of all the difficult relationships I have been through in the last several years. It felt like in the dream, I was being pulled apart. I wanted the freedom to choose things for myself, but several people kept demanding that I do what they said I should do with my life. The dream bothered me so much because it was based on real conflict I have had, some of it recent, some not so recent. It’s embarrassing to admit that I am finally beginning to understand that I can’t please everyone. But that’s what grace is for.
I’m what you would call compliant. That was my coping mechanism for growing up in a verbally abusive environment. What does compliant mean? Let’s look it up:
compliant: adj. complying; obeying, obliging, or yielding, especially in a submissive way.
That sounds right. Compliant people often approach uncomfortable situations out of fear, because in the past their honest feelings have been met with anger or rejection. These three quotes from “Boundaries” by Henry Cloud and John Townsend do a great job of explaining why compliant people, like me, avoid setting healthy boundaries in their lives.
“Because of these fears, we try to have secret boundaries. We withdraw passively and quietly, instead of communicating an honest no to someone we love. We secretly resent instead of telling someone that we are angry about how they have hurt us.”
“Jesus refers to it as the ‘narrow gate.’ It is always easier to go through the ‘broad gate of destruction’ and continue to not set boundaries where we need to. But, the result is always the same: destruction. Only the honest, purposeful life leads to good fruit. Deciding to set boundaries is difficult because it requires decision making and confrontation, which, in turn, may cause pain to someone you love.”
“We can’t manipulate people into swallowing our boundaries by sugarcoating them. Boundaries are a ‘litmus test’ for the quality of our relationships. Those people in our lives who can respect our boundaries will love our wills, our opinions, our separateness. Those who can’t respect our boundaries are telling us that they don’t love our no. They only love our yes, our compliance.”
Boundaries and Rejection
That last quote describes me exactly. I have let other people cross every boundary in my life because I didn’t want to say no. I didn’t want to risk more confrontation. I wanted to please everyone else, and left my family open to abuse because of that. A lack of setting healthy boundaries has proved to be a destructive pattern in my life that I don’t want to continue. But setting boundaries is really, really hard. Once you set the boundary, you have no control over how the other person will react. Here are two more quotes that illustrate why it is difficult to establish boundaries with others, but why it is extremely important.
“Setting limits has to do with telling the truth. The Bible clearly distinguishes between those who love truth and those who don’t. First, there is the person who welcomes your boundaries. Who accepts them. Who listens to them. Who says, ‘I’m glad you have a separate opinion. It makes me a better person.’ This person is called wise, or righteous. The second type hates limits. Resents your difference. Tries to manipulate you into giving up your treasures. Try our ‘litmus test’ experiment with your significant relationships. Tell them no in some area. You’ll either come out with increased intimacy—or learn that there was very little to begin with.”
“A common scenario is this: one spouse doesn’t have good emotional boundaries with the family he grew up in—his family of origin. Then when he has contact with them by phone or in person, he becomes depressed, argumentative, self-critical, perfectionistic, angry, combative, or withdrawn. It is as though he ‘catches’ something from his family of origin and passes it on to his immediate family. His family of origin has the power to affect his new family in a trickle-down effect. One sure sign of boundary problems is when your relationship with one person has the power to affect your relationships with others. You are giving one person way too much power in your life.”
It is depressing to find out that relationships you treasure are not as intimate as you hoped. The feelings of rejection associated with having your boundaries rejected hurts. The pain can be almost unbearable. Thankfully we have Jesus, and He can relate to us in our feelings of rejection because He also was rejected by the very people He was sent to minister to. People He loved dearly. When He went to Nazareth to share that He had come to fulfill the promises in Isaiah 61, their response was rejection.
“So all those in the synagogue, when they heard these things, were filled with wrath, and rose up and thrust Him out of the city; and they led Him to the brow of the hill on which their city was built, that they might throw Him down over the cliff. Then passing through the midst of them, He went His way.” -Luke 4:28-30
I Can’t Please Everyone
Jesus accepted the fact that He couldn’t please everyone. For me, that is a difficult thing to accept, especially if the other person is a Christian. My thought process goes something like this: Well, they read the same Bible I do, they love the same God I love, that means they will be able to respect that I am trying to please God, not them, doesn’t it? But it isn’t that simple. I have to decide right now, who am I more interested in pleasing? Is it others? Is it my own flesh? Or is it actually God? And if it’s God, then what boundaries do I need to establish in my relationships with others so that I can communicate clearly what it is that God wants me to do? That doesn’t mean I impose my convictions on others, but that I expect them not to constantly argue to change what my convictions or non-sinful choices are. If I am in sin, I want to be rebuked, but if one person in my life constantly rebukes me for every choice I make (whether those choices are sinful or not) it is very unlikely that I will actually be able to feel conviction if they are warning me about a specific sin I have committed. My friend Joy (she’s amazing!) described it to me this way, “The best thing to do whenever you are accused of something is to take it straight to the Lord and ask Him if it is true. Always respond in humility. The second thing you need to do after praying is evaluate who it is that has rebuked you. Is this person regularly involved in your life? Do they know what is going on day to day with you? Has anyone else (or several people) talked to you about the same sinful behavior? These are important things to consider when you are trying to figure out what is true when people accuse you of sin. If we start with the assumption that it is very possible we have committed that sin, and then take it to the Lord, it saves so much time and heartache.” I told you she’s amazing. God has really gifted her with helping people understand what is righteous, and what is not.
So there you go, that’s where I am right now in my journey to establishing healthy boundaries in my relationships. It’s not fun, but I know it’s necessary. And now when I encourage other people to create healthy boundaries in their own lives, I understand how difficult it is, and I can be a better support person for them. God is good, and He is so patient with me as I learn how to better glorify Him with my life.
What are some ways that you can establish healthy boundaries in your relationships? Need some ideas? Check out this book for yourself. There is a reason “Boundaries: When To Say Yes, How to Say No” is a best seller, and it’s not because it is full of unhelpful fluff that makes people feel good to read (like so many other books on the market right now). The principles in this book are life-changing because they are based on the Bible.
Dear Heavenly Father,
Thank you for Your Word. Thank you for people that write books to help us understand Your Word better. Thank you that You have a plan for each of our lives, and that those plans are not dependent on us making others happy. Please help us to be righteous, and to please You above anyone else (including us). Thank You that Jesus understands us when we feel rejected, and that You always love us.
I’m praying for you, dear reader! May the Lord strengthen you and encourage you as you seek to do His will.