We All Need To Set Boundaries
When people are struggling to get along, often, it is because of the lack of boundaries.
How to Set Christian Boundaries in 4 Steps
When we practice boundaries, we take ownership of four things:
- Our thoughts
- Our feelings
- Our bodies
- Our decisions
Likewise, we let other people take ownership of their thoughts, feelings, bodies, and decisions, rather than taking responsibility for what really isn’t ours.
You can set up healthy Christian Boundaries in 4 basic steps.
1. Take a Brutally Honest, Prayerful Assessment
When dealing with a toxic relationship, the first thing you’ll want to do is pray about it. Be honest and tell God about your feelings (I recommend out loud or on paper). Ask for wisdom, as in James 1:5.
Here are some questions you could pray through to help you get gut-level honest.
- How are you feeling about the situation and why?
- What do you wish it could be different?
- Is the other person sinning against you? How?
You could also seek counsel about the situation, but be careful that you’re not gossiping or trying to turn people against the offender. Be discreet and seek to get input, not just vent your frustration.
2. Define Your Boundaries
Once you’ve gotten honest about the situation, it’s time to take ownership of what’s yours—and let go of what’s not. In this way, you’ll define your boundaries. Remember, you’re responsible for your thoughts, feelings, body, and decisions, no one else’s.
Continue to do this in prayer and with a trusted advisor, if possible.
Your hypothetical mother-in-law says you make her feel unappreciated and unloved. You know that you don’t own her feelings; she does. But she’s not following the same rules you are.
If this is a pattern, you could define boundaries in this way:
“When my mother-in-law starts blaming me for her feelings, I will apologize for anything I did that was sinful or disrespectful, but nothing more. I’ll tell her I’m trying my best and that I hope she forgives me. But beyond that, the conversation will be over.”
You might also have to explain your limits to others who are involved. In this scenario, you could say to your husband that you are not responsible for his mother’s feelings and neither is he. He might not get on board, but if you have good boundaries, that’s on him!
If you’re not sure what limits you should set, consider the following questions:
- Is someone blaming me for something that is their responsibility?
- What is reasonable for someone to ask of me, and what is not?
- What are my expectations of this person? Are those reasonable?
- What do I need to communicate so that my limits are understood?
3. Establish Consequences
Once you have defined your limits, you will also want to define consequences for when those limits are broken. If the other person continues to violate your boundaries, what then?
After all, it won’t do you any good to read all your favorite Christian websites, listen to tons of Christian podcasts and get great tons of awesome relationship advice if you don’t put what you’ve learned into practice in real life.
So, how do you do this, practically speaking?
This might mean removing yourself from an emotionally harmful situation. It can be a tricky line to walk, but I like to consider Jesus’ example. He said to turn the other cheek, but he also stood up to those who opposed him and walked away when he wanted to.
Consequences should be chosen prayerfully—and preferably ahead of time so that you’re not making a decision in the heat of the moment.
Let’s say your mother-in-law always gets in a huff whenever you go to her house because you don’t put her dishes away correctly. If she continues to harass you, you have the power to decide that you won’t be going to her house if she treats you that way. The family can meet elsewhere.
This is the step that can be painful and may also require courage. But it’s also the most powerful when done in a calm and respectful way.
And don’t forget—in order for consequences to work, you actually have to follow through with them! Once you’ve made a decision, stick to it.
A wise friend once told me that boundaries are like fences, not brick walls.
While it’s important to stick to the boundaries you’ve decided upon, you might not need to stick with them forever, and there may be exceptions.
Hopefully, once other people see that you’re serious, they might start changing their behavior.
For the sake of argument, imagine you go a year without incident with your hypothetical mother-in-law. At that point, you might consider adjusting your boundaries. Even if it doesn’t go perfectly, maybe you can be a little more flexible.
Figuring out boundaries as a Christian is hard, and you’re never really done with this process. As long as you have conflict with other people, you are dealing with boundaries.
The Term Set Boundaries Became Popular In The Mid ’80s
I can remember when I was growing up that I had problems with crossing over boundaries. It was not until it was explained to me that having boundaries go both ways and help people to get along in a peaceful and orderly way.
Without boundaries, a person can become overwhelmed with fatigue, stress, disrespect, and an overall lack of peace and contentment. We need to set limits of what we allow others to demand from us, as well as what we freely offer to do for others. (you may think it is a Christian thing to serve and sacrifice for others, and that is true, but we still need to guard our heart, mind, and body for overextending ourselves).
Personal boundaries are guidelines, rules, or limits that a person creates to identify reasonable, safe, and permissible ways for other people to behave towards them and how they will respond when someone passes those limits. This life skill has been widely referenced in self-help books and used in the counseling profession since the mid-1980s.
Set Boundaries Especially With Toxic People!
Jesus Taught How To Set Boundaries
- Personal Prayer Time: “But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen” (Matthew 6:6).
- Be Honest and Direct (Don’t Pressure People or Try to Get Them to Do Things): “Simply let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No,’ ‘No’; anything beyond this comes from the evil one” (Matthew 5:37).
- Set Priorities: “No servant can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other” (Luke 16:13).
- Please God, Not People: “How can you believe if you accept praise from one another, yet make no effort to obtain the praise that comes from the only God?” (John 5:44).
- Obey God: “What do you think? There was a man who had two sons. He went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work today in the vineyard.’ ‘I will not,’ he answered, but later he changed his mind and went. Then the father went to the other son and said the same thing. He answered, ‘I will, sir,’ but he did not go. Which of the two did what his father wanted?” ’The first,’ they answered” (Matthew 21:28-31).
Working Out Helpful Plans
When setting boundaries, it is wise to pray beforehand and think about the limitations you are placing.
- Set Healthy Boundaries. Yes, God’s word tells us to love one another, but there are times that we need to set proper boundaries in your relationships, which will help you keep things in perspective. You need to put these boundaries in place by saying “no” to work, loved ones, or activities that you don’t want to do or that harm you in some way. Doing too much to please others can lead you to feel overly sensitive when they do something that becomes upsetting to you. Even Jesus himself set boundaries when he turned the tables in the temple, making a statement that what the people were doing was wrong.
- Let It Go. Use a painful experience from your past to help make you who you are. Use it to give you strength, empathy, and character to become a better person. We all have something that has hurt us. Don’t let your weakness define who you are. Instead, through prayer, use it to become stronger and more Christ-like because of it.