I am up to my elbows in life lessons about relationships right now. Whether it’s my kids’ pediatrician, a close friend, an acquaintance, or my mom, I’ve had conversations that felt like a bridge was just burned. Why is (fill in the blank) so rude, clingy, overpowering, bossy, passive-aggressive, manipulative, fake, (or fill in the blank)? I’ve felt stretched thin. I’ve blamed others for my stress. And I’ve definitely avoided people as an easy escape. Recently, I felt challenged to start to draw lines, or boundaries, in my heart. It all came to a head when I finally stopped to change the faltering locks on the front door of my home. The strange thing was, as I began to set boundaries, I realized they were more about who I let in my heart than who I was trying to keep at a distance. Maybe you’re also wondering how you can start setting boundaries that let people in. Here are a few thoughts that helped me begin that process.
It’s probably good to understand the word boundary. It basically means a line that marks the limits of an area. You are the “area” we’re talking about, so what are your limits? What values do you hold dear to your heart? What things won’t you stand for? The more familiar you are with your own limits, values, and desires, the easier it may be to voice them when they’re challenged by others. It was revelational to me to hear what Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend had to say about it in their book called Boundaries. (Awesome news: They also have a Bible Plan you can start for free today!) They talk about how most of us want to put up a wall, but healthy boundaries are actually more like a gate. Each of us decides and learns how our own gate will function to keep some things out and allow others in. Should I keep inviting the super clingy friend? Will I answer the phone call from a relative while I’m mid homework session with my son? Is it okay to say “no” to extra work hours when people are counting on me?
We can actually start to view the people in our lives in a healthy light when we are setting healthy boundaries. All of a sudden, I saw that the “bossy” advice coming from another mom was her way of caring. I didn’t have to be manipulated into making my decisions based on hers, but I could call her caring. Speaking up in the moment was a good way for me to let people know if they had reached an uncrossable line. You might find yourself able to shrug off and separate your heart from some annoyances over time, too. It’s incredibly freeing to know you don’t have to kick certain people out of your life; you can decide how you let people in.
When I started praying about how to pinpoint my own values and make my own decisions in my relationships, let me tell you, the right people called, texted, or bumped into me that week. I had so much opportunity to practice. I had just found out we were having another child, and the offensive responses from some people I care for led me to start with them. Summer break came, along with requests from the children about their snack and entertainment plans for our days. If my kids seem demanding, taking 10 minutes to hide in the quiet somewhere brings a much more peaceful hour that follows. It may take practice for your heart to let people in, in a healthy way.
If you just flat-out feel like you want to kick someone out of your life, that might be the person to try setting boundaries with. Can you limit the time you spend with certain people, without succumbing to guilty feelings or blaming them? Are you able to decide and say “yes” and “no” unapologetically? Your personal boundaries may help you to even encourage that person in your life who comes across as arrogant or fake, but is really just insecure deep down. With some prayer, you may even see God is asking you to welcome someone different into your world. I can embrace differences, grow, and let people in. When setting boundaries in my heart, I may become more loving toward myself and the grumpy waitress, my overbearing boss, or the weird next-door neighbor.
So, back to the day everything crystallized for me. There I was, sitting on the floor at my front door, finally changing the locks. I had some difficulty getting a few screws out, had to start over once or twice, but I knew it was important to have a door that locked by the end of the day. I was getting impatient with the process when I realized my heavenly Father was whispering to me to change the locks in my heart, too. I knew I had to grease those hinges of the gate that lets people and their comments in and out of my heart. I knew I had to keep fine-tuning my response to offensive words from good people. It’s been worth every choice. Not only am I experiencing more peace, but more love and compassion. Change the locks on the gate of your heart today, too.
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