Healthy Boundaries and Christianity

The word “boundary” can conjure up images of fences, no trespassing signs and general distancing.  Recently, with the COVID-19 pandemic, boundaries were created by distancing at least 6 feet apart.  Wearing masks felt like a boundary in itself, as it became very difficult to see facial expressions and therefore make relational connections.

The book, Boundaries: When to Say Yes, How to Say No to Take Control of Your Life by Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend uses both Christian faith and contemporary psychology to create a strong argument for why healthy boundaries are essential for your emotional and spiritual health. The back cover reads, “Christians often focus so much on being loving and giving that they forget their own limits and limitations. Have you ever found yourself wondering – Can I set limits and still be a loving person? How do I answer someone who wants my time, love, energy or money? Why do I feel guilty when I consider setting boundaries?”

Many Christians seem to have adopted the idea that boundaries are negative. Somehow Christianity has come to define love as having no boundaries.  As a Christian, our source of truth comes from the Word of God.  Let’s look in the Bible for demonstrations of healthy boundaries.

The Life of Jesus

John 2:23-25 23 “Now while he was in Jerusalem at the Passover Festival, many people saw the signs he was performing and believed in his name.24 But Jesus would not entrust himself to them, for he knew all people. 25 He did not need any testimony about mankind, for he knew what was in each person.”

Here, we see Jesus setting a healthy boundary of non-trust with some of the people at the Passover Festival, as he knew their true intentions.  A commentary by Matthew Henry says “Our Lord knew all men, their nature, dispositions, affections, designs, so as we do not know any man, not even ourselves. We know what is done by men; Christ knows what is in them, he tries the heart.” 1

Mark 1:35 “Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed.”

Luke 9:18 “Once when Jesus was praying in private and his disciples were with him, he asked them, “Who do the crowds say I am?”

Matthew 14:23 NIV “After he had dismissed them, he went up on a mountainside by himself to pray.”

If Jesus felt the need to meet everyone’s expectation of him, he would never have had time to be alone with God.  As a Christian, it is tempting to get so caught up in “good doing” that we become too busy to pray.  This scenario allows the enemy to steal the communication with our Father that is crucial to the Christian life.  Martin Luther is quoted as saying that he prayed two hours a day unless he was busy, then he would pray for three hours.   Setting a healthy boundary around alone time with God decreases stress and burnout, allowing us to experience the joy of the Lord.

Relationships

Proverbs 25:17 “Seldom set foot in your neighbor’s house— too much of you, and they will hate you.”

Not only do we need to set healthy boundaries for ourselves, but it is also important to respect the boundaries of those who you are in relationship, whether it is a family member or neighbor.   In other words, don’t wear out your welcome.

Proverbs 26:4 “Do not answer a fool according to his folly, or you yourself will be just like him.”

Christians must protect themselves by setting healthy boundaries from those constantly want to argue and speak poorly of others, as our engagement in these conversations can quickly lead to hardness of the heart. We should not feel guilty about distancing ourselves from those that have a negative influence on us.

Saying No

James 5:12 “But above all, my brothers, do not swear, either by heaven or by earth or by any other oath, but let your “yes” be yes and your “no” be no, so that you may not fall under condemnation.”

It can be easier to say “yes” than “no” to keep from hurting someone’s feelings.  Sometimes saying “no” is the answer that is the healthiest for you (and many times, the other person). Learning to say “no” when it is appropriate is the start of setting healthy boundaries.

Consequences

Proverbs 19:19 “A hot-tempered person must pay the penalty; rescue them, and you will have to do it again.”

2 Corinthians 7:8-10 “Even if I caused you sorrow by my letter, I do not regret it. Though I did regret it—I see that my letter hurt you, but only for a little while— yet now I am happy, not because you were made sorry, but because your sorrow led you to repentance. For you became sorrowful as God intended and so were not harmed in any way by us.”

Someone who does not respect the boundaries of others must see the consequences of their behavior before they feel the need to repent.  Having healthy boundaries means that you no longer feel the need to rescue people from paying consequences.

Summary

These examples from the Bible demonstrate areas in our life where we need to experience healthy boundaries.  Healthy boundaries are like protective guardrails, keeping us safe from harm and leading us in the right direction.

Medical Ambassadors International (MAI)

At Medical Ambassadors International (MAI) we build relationships with the world’s most vulnerable people and together we work to heal communities both physically and spiritually. At present MAI works in 2,582 communities around the world impacting a population of over 2.56 million people in 75 countries. In many of the areas served by MAI, woman and girls experience physical and/or sexual intimate partner violence or non-partner sexual violence. Creating change in the cultural norms of these areas requires tackling religious, social, and economic issues. Teaching about healthy boundaries in these communities is crucial to decrease the trauma often felt by affected woman.

References:

  1. https://biblehub.com/commentaries/john/2-25.htm