Summary: Maintaining healthly boundaries begins with self-respect & core identity in Christ. Out of that flows the ability to set boundaries on ourselves by the grace of God. Then we are positioned to establish healthy boundaries in our relationships.
“God has a wonderful plan for your life, and so does everybody else.” That’s the problem we will address today. If you allow others to impose their plan on you, there is a very real danger you will not fulfill God’s plan for you.i Maintaining healthy boundaries in our relationships with other people: that is our subject this morning. Last week we moved toward that with a discussion about setting boundaries on our own behavior. We talked about self-discipline; we talked about managing our own emotions in a way that does no harm to others; we talked about respecting other people’s boundaries—not manipulating or controlling other people in our lives. If we won’t respect the boundaries others set toward us, it’s unrealistic and unfair to think they will respect the boundaries we set toward them. We addressed self-discipline because that significantly affects our ability to set firm boundaries toward others.
Our subject is vast and we will deal with it in a very limited time. Therefore, this message will be far from comprehensive. However, I would like to make a few observations about setting healthy boundaries in our relationships with other people.
(1) Boundaries are about asserting responsibility for our own behavior.
When we talk about setting boundaries toward other people, we are not saying that we set their boundaries on their behavior. Ultimately they must do that themselves. We are really saying that we set boundaries on what we will accept into the relationship. We make our own choices about what we will do about the specific behavior the other persons exercises.ii
For example, let’s say XYZ Company hires me to work 40 hours per week as an accountant for a salary of $ 600 a week. Six months down the road, I notice that I am only being paid $ 400 per week. So I go to my boss and point out the mistake. But he assures me there is no mistake. The company has been going through some tough financial times and has decided to pay me $ 400 per week instead of $ 600. To simplify the illustration and to keep us from going on a tangent, assume with me there is no term employment contract and no legal action that I can take.iii So I work another week and the paycheck is still $ 400 per week. I go to my boss again and explain my own financial situation and tell him that I need him to continue paying me the $ 600 per week. He says he can’t and won’t do that. Now I have to set a boundary in the relationship. How is that done? Do I make him pay me $ 600 per week? How would I do that? Would I yell at him? Probably wouldn’t make any positive difference. Do I take a gun and make him pay me the other $ 200; would probably just get myself in trouble with the law. What happens when I try to control his behavior? Probably a whole lot of negative things happen. He can decide that he will only pay his accountant $ 400 a week. But I can decide what I am going to do about “me”, given his choice. I could start looking for another job and continuing working for $ 400 until I find it. I could quit on the spot. I could suggest a new arrangement in which I work only three days a week instead of five for the $ 400 pay. Bottom line is this. He can decide what he is going to do; but I will decide for myself what I’m going to do. The boundary that I draw is about what is acceptable for me in the relationship. If it is acceptable to both parties for me to work three days a week for $ 400, then the relationship may continue on new terms acceptable to both parties. If his line is $ 400 per week for five days work, I may not see much of him from that day forward. I may go work for someone else. I don’t have to simply accept his new terms for the relationship.
I set boundaries on what is acceptable to me and I decide what I will do based on that. I don’t solve the problem by trying to control his behavior. I solve the problem by deciding what I will do. The consequence of his decision may be that I am no longer doing accounting work for him. The key principle is this: I have authority to make decisions about what I will do and I will make those decisions of my own freewill. I will not try to control or manipulate you; I may reason with you and try to find mutually acceptable terms of our relationship. But I will not try to control you and I will not allow you to control me.