Setting boundaries is essential for a happy and healthy life, but as a Christian, sometimes it can be hard to define those boundaries. As imperfect humans trying to follow a perfect God, we can sometimes find ourselves running on empty. We may feel it’s not very Jesus-like to say no or to be immoveable on some issues. But if we look closely at the life of Jesus, we see he was all for boundaries. More on that later.
What exactly are boundaries?
Boundaries are basically limitations. How far you will go and how far you will let other people go. Knowing what boundaries you need requires a certain level of self-awareness. If you know yourself, your beliefs, your values, your tendencies, your needs, and even your shortcomings, you will be able to set boundaries that benefit you and the people around you.
When we don’t have at least a clear-ish understanding of ourselves and why we respond the way we do, we attach ownership to other peoples’ issues and we create problems where there might not be any otherwise. Setting boundaries is taking responsibility for your thoughts, feelings, and decisions and allowing other people to take responsibility for theirs.
Boundaries are for your own health and for the health of others:
Boundaries are a clear line where one thing ends and another begins. If you take responsibility for someone else’s actions or emotional response, the line is blurred. It doesn’t help them and it doesn’t help you. Even if you are responsible for wrongdoing and owe amends, the other person’s response to your wrongdoing is completely their responsibility.
One of my favorite bible verses is Romans 12:18, “If possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.” If possible and as far as it depends on you. Those words clearly prove that we have personal responsibility in our actions but also have to set boundaries. In other words, we can only do so much.
Understanding the role of boundaries in your life
Christian boundaries should be focused on biblical principles – being at peace with others, being humble and unselfish, having something in your proverbial cup to pour from, etc. They are not meant to serve your selfish desires or make your life a cozy echo chamber. They shouldn’t wall you off to the world and prevent experiences of love and loss, joy and sadness, sacrifice and service. Boundaries are meant for a world that takes too much and gives too little (which we all tend to do). For impossible situations, the impasses we come to with those who refuse or unable to see things objectively.
How to set boundaries
Define your beliefs, values, needs, etc
Before you can apply boundaries to individual situations, you have to know what you’re protecting. What are your core beliefs, what do you value most, what do you need in order to be personally healthy and fulfilled as well as available in healthy ways for other people?
Assess the situation
Once you’ve defined what you’re protecting, you’ll need to assess each situation individually. Your boundaries will look a little different in each situation. Still, they will always stem from your core set of values, beliefs, and needs. When looking at a situation, you’ll apply a simple formula. If I want/need A, B, and C, I’ll have to draw lines at D, E, and F.
Remember to always approach this prayerfully, checking your heart and your motives at all times. It’s easy for boundaries to become a selfish approach to relationships.
Know when to set boundaries
Boundaries are better set upfront before anything comes into question. You can always make your values and beliefs clear from the beginning, but there are some instances where you won’t know you need a boundary until you need a boundary. This is where confidence in your mission and core beliefs will be important. When you’re faced with a situation where you have to draw a clear boundary, the sooner you do it, the better. Putting it off will only make the situation more difficult to handle.
Decide on consequences ahead of time
Boundaries are not useful without consequences for breaking them. These consequences are not meant to be harmful to others but protection for you and for them. For example, maybe you’ve set a boundary in a relationship. The consequence for crossing that boundary might need to be that you will remove yourself from the relationship. There are endless ways that different people may need to set different boundaries in their lives.
If possible, it’s best to decide ahead of time what the consequence will be. Deciding in the moment when emotions may be high will be more damaging than helpful. Although you may not be able to see every specific situation coming, knowing your core values and beliefs will help you have a foundation to stand on. If necessary, when the situation arises, just take some time to think things over before having the boundaries and consequences talk.
Get comfortable standing firm
Expressing your boundaries should be done in a kind, clear, calm, but firm way. If your boundaries really are in the best interest of everyone and if you’re taking responsibility for your own thoughts, feelings, and decisions, then you can feel confident in expressing your limitations. Many people feel guilt over boundaries, but again, a lack of boundaries will leave you drained and unable to have healthy relationships. There must be a line and you must stand firm about it being crossed.
Always go back to your core values and beliefs. Use practical thought, not feelings, to guide you through the process of setting and enforcing boundaries.
Jesus set boundaries
Throughout the gospels, you see the life of Jesus. He was very aware that in his humanity he had limitations and he showed no issue with setting boundaries. He retreated to be alone when he needed to and he was proactive in meeting his own needs while concerning himself with the needs of others. Jesus was nice to people, even though he didn’t give everyone what they wanted. And those who did get what they wanted were expected to do their part. He quickly shut down manipulation, entitlement, and abuse.
I purposely didn’t provide any references to scripture when I shared the ways Jesus set boundaries. It will be much more helpful for you to read through the life of Jesus yourself. You’ll find comfort in setting boundaries when you see that he paints a beautiful picture of how we can serve others and still stand firm in caring for ourselves.