Saturday, July 2, 2011

Setting Boundaries, Finding Freedom

For many of us, the concept of boundaries is not something that we think about. Ideally, it shouldn't be that difficult to know which behaviors, feelings and thought belong to us, and which belong to others. We embrace the concept of boundaries in many other areas of our lives. The boundaries of our properties or yards are clearly marked out by fences, hedges, driveways, and streets. Parking lot designers mark the boundaries of each parking space with painted lines, and most people react negatively to the odd driver who uses up more than his or her allotted space, essentially violating the boundaries of the parking lot. Fences around school yards show children where the boundaries of their play space lies and walls and doors make clear which room is mine and which room isn't mine. We would all agree that boundaries are an important part of society, enabling us to provide and maintain peace in our social and familial relationships.

And yet, where boundaries are arguably the most important, they are also the most difficult to recognize and maintain. Much of our relational angst lies in the fact that we too often deny responsibility for that which is ours, and accept responsibility for that which isn't ours.

Think about it. When was the last time you said, or even thought, "That person makes me so mad"? Have you ever reasoned that a behavior that you would normally consider inappropriate would become appropriate if it was in response to someone else's behavior? Have you ever used anger or sadness in hopes that someone will change their behavior because of your expression of your feelings? Do you change your behavior in response to the anger or sadness of others? It all seems so benign, so normal. Yet many of us are watching relationships with our dearest people slide into the sea because of these seemingly benign issues. Without even thinking about it, we cajole, manipulate, intimidate, threaten and whine until we get our own way. And in the face of the emotional pressure from others, we cave into things that we don't want, feeling used and abused and not knowing what to do about it.

How extreme can it get? I was in a relationship once where my loved one announced to me that I was only allowed to be "sad" for three days, maximum. After that, if I wanted to remain in the relationship, I was to behave "normally". I had come through a time of serious, traumatic loss and was finding myself having times of deep sorrow. There was no weeping, wailing or gnashing of teeth going on. In my sad times, I just became quiet and contemplative, not my usual bouncy, talkative self. This person told me that when I was down, he felt down, and he didn't like it. The solution, in his mind, was to limit the amount of time I was allowed to be down.

Sounds ridiculous, doesn't it? Is it sad that while I felt hurt and trapped by his proclamation, I didn't recognize how inappropriate it was right away? I took a few moments to pray about it, and God brought to my remembrance the many times I had offered support to friends and loved ones who were depressed, some seriously. God asked me, "Would I ever have allowed you to put such a limitation on any one of these dear people?"

The light came on for me when I realized that I would have been in serious trouble from God if I had tried such a thing. I was as precious to God as any of the people in my life, and if it was wrong for me to make such a demand, it was also wrong for someone else to demand it of me. I turned to my loved one and told him what God had showed me. I told him that it was inappropriate for him to expect what he was asking, and that it was his responsibility to deal with his feels about my reality.

Of course, more fighting ensued and I was not schooled enough in the area of boundaries to effectively handle the hurtful words and demands that were being piled on top of my own pain. This event marked the beginning, though, of my understanding of boundaries, and of healthy, godly relationships. I learned to accept my loved one's refusal to take responsibility for his own feelings and actions, and to detach from the chaos that usually surrounds those who see the entire world as responsible for making them happy. In other words, I grew up.

Life is not kind to those who refuse to take responsibility for themselves. Even when they seem to be getting everything that they want, they are still miserable. They are slaves to those they depend on, and seem to constantly be fighting to get the one more thing that will make them happy. They miss out on the joy of truly loving another, because love is not selfish or self-serving. They mistake desire for love, and fall out of love quickly when what is desired does not or cannot come to pass. They cannot commit, to jobs, relationships, even pet ownership because all of these things involve times of hardship and self-denial.

The message of responsibility may seem like a boring old buzz-kill. The truth is, for those who have chosen the freedom that comes with being responsible for their own thoughts, feelings and actions, there is nothing attractive about the slavery that comes from losing oneself and spending one's life fighting to get the world to adapt and behave in ways that enable them to be happy.


Pastor Paul said...

Well said. A number of us need to grow up.

Kelly said...

Thanks, Pastor Paul. :)

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