Sunday, March 4, 2007

Boundary Myths


Before we jump into our study this morning, I want to ask if anybody has a question about what we have looked at up to this point. (Teacher’s pause for responses, also consider seeking any application of boundaries a class member may have made due to something learned, possibly even a small victory)

In today’s lesson we will look at some of the common misconceptions we have about boundaries. I am going to use the general outline of Chapter 6 of our “Boundaries” book, if you want to follow along. Each of the eight cases we are going to look at have some characteristics in common.

· They are not accurate, but they can sound so true.
· People without good boundaries will speak them to us.
· Individuals without good boundaries believe them to be true.
· Those with decent boundaries sometimes believe some of them.
· Misunderstandings of Scripture can lead to these misconceptions.

Well; now let’s jump right into the meat of the lesson.

Myth #1 – If I Set Boundaries, I’m Being Selfish (Pr 11:15)

What do you think this myth means? (Ask class to take a stab at this, there could be several good answers come out of this question). OK, now let’s look at a Scripture I chose to identify the problem and God’s perspective.

He who is guarantor for a stranger will surely suffer for it, but he who hates being a guarantor is secure. NASU

At first glance this verse seems to be a warning about lending money to someone we don’t really know, and it does indeed have that application. However, let us go a little deeper into what this could mean in reference to our myth. What other things that we own could we lend out?

Let me illustrate the deep spiritual significance of this verse. Suppose your parents gave you a large sum of money with the simple instruction “take care of this until I come to get it”. What would you do? Would you lend it out, or let somebody else use it for a while? Of course not, unless you have either no love for your parents, or chose to not obey the “take care of” instruction. Let us now turn this into a deeper issue.

What has your heavenly Father given you, and also every other human being, to “take care of until He comes for it”? (Pause here for the class to respond) One thing and one thing only, your soul!

From our first lesson we learned that one of the functions of boundaries is to protect our soul. In fact it is an imperative from God that we do so, let us take a look at Pr 4:23, what does it say? In the Hebrew way of understanding our innermost being, the heart, mind, strength, will and soul are often used interchangeably. This implies that they are all connected and interdependent, and yet we know they have different functions. In Pr 4:23, God is expressing to us that we need to take care of our hearts (souls), because that is where our “life” flows from. If we don’t take care of our souls by having poor boundaries we won’t be able to experience life fully.

It is not selfish to have good boundaries, it is life giving, it is spirit filled; it is an exercise in self-control. God does not prohibit us from lowering our defenses to “strangers”, but He does advise against it.

Myth#2 – Boundaries Are A Sign Of Disobedience (Dt 5:29)

I have one thing to say about this, “What a crock”! If God didn’t want us to have good boundaries, he would not have established the Ten Commandments, which we identified in our first lesson as the Ten Boundaries.

God gave out the TC’s twice, the second time is recorded in Deuteronomy 5, let us take a look at part of what He said after this second law-giving in verse 29.

Oh that they had such a heart in them, that they would fear Me and keep all My commandments always, that it may be well with them and with their sons forever! NASU

Does that sound like a God who thinks that setting up clear limits is not a smart thing to do? No, He gave us limits, in part to teach us obedience! That is all I want to say on this.

Myth #3 – If I Begin Setting Boundaries I Will Be Hurt By Others (Pr 4:6)

This is a difficult one, there seems to be a huge element of truth to it. After all, when you start setting up boundaries, there is going to be some form of response, and it will almost certainly be negative. Why can I say this?

I see the problem here as one of “stinking thinking”, meaning that we are perceiving things from the wrong perspective. Allow me to lay out the situation we sometimes find ourselves in.

The myth states “If I Begin Setting Boundaries”. This clearly identifies the real issue; we have one of the following situations:

· No Boundaries
· Fuzzy Boundaries
· Weak Boundaries

Any person in one of these three situations is already being hurt by others, and often by those close to us. Somebody with strong boundaries might get hurt occasionally, but it will almost always be temporary, as this person is secure in who they are.

Our problem is therefore not really about hurt. It is about change. When we start putting in stronger boundaries the old hurts begin to diminish. New hurts may appear, but as we adjust our boundaries, keeping them strong, to meet our needs, these new hurts are less and less difficult to deal with over time.

The bottom line is that I might agree some new hurt may arrive by setting boundaries, given time and appropriate adjustments, these hurts will become easier to deal with.

Myth #4 – If I Set Boundaries, I Will Hurt Others (Eph 6:10-17)

What is the primary misunderstanding involved with this myth? (Pause for responses)

The reason that this myth is not accurate goes back to our first lesson. One of the “Boundary Principles” we established is that “Good boundaries keep good in and keep bad out.” This clearly identifies that good boundaries are defensive in nature!

Let us take a look at a set of boundaries established by God that vividly illustrates this point. Could someone please read Ephesians 6:10-17. What are the six “boundaries” that the author identifies, and can we also say how they defend us?

· Belt of Truth – Helps to understand reality.
· Breastplate of Righteousness – Helps protect our hearts.
· Shoes of Peace – Helps us with our anxieties.
· Shield of Faith – Helps us to fend off attacks from enemies.
· Helmet of Salvation – Helps us to be secure in who we are.
· Sword of the Spirit – Helps us to filter and test what is thrown at us.

It is true that the last item on the list can be used as an offensive weapon, but in the context of boundaries it could not be. If Scripture is used to attack someone it is no longer a boundary, it is a brick from a wall that someone is throwing.

I would like to speak to the issue of “Hurt”. It is true that when a strong boundary is presented, some individuals will respond out of “hurt”. Please listen to the following statements carefully. If someone you have presented an appropriate boundary to says they feel “hurt”, they most likely are telling the truth. Recognize that it is their “hurt”, it is their response and they have to own it. It is not your responsibility to “make it feel better”; it is their responsibility to deal with their feelings.

One last thing on this subject, how a person deals with their response to your boundaries is an outside indicator of their internal emotional condition. Immaturity can rear its ugly head at a time of new boundary setting.

Myth #5 – Boundaries Mean That I Am Angry (Eph 4:26)

This is another difficult one to understand, how could that statement (Boundaries mean that I am angry) seem to be true?

We need to be sure that we understand where anger and other feelings come from. Feelings were created by God to tell us something; they are a response to our environment. For example if we are in a pit of snakes we might feel fear, if we are in a loving embrace we might feel happy, or if our child is gets an F in school we might feel sad.

Sometimes we feel angry, but the problem with this is that it can be our response to many different situations. Anger is always a definite signal that something is wrong! In the context of boundaries, if our boundary is violated, we can respond with the feeling of anger. It is not the boundary that caused the anger, it is the violation.

When we have had our boundaries violated, our personal integrity is under attack in some way, anger is probably appropriate. As is always true with anger, it is not the feeling that is the problem; it is what you do with it. If an individual violates our boundaries, and we feel anger, we must choose to re-establish the boundary or improve it. When we do that, it might seem like we are projecting anger, we very possibly appear angry to an observer, especially the violator. BUT, it is not the boundary that has triggered the anger, it is the violation.

Once the new or re-established boundary is in force and operating well, the violation is likely to have stopped or at least reduced in its effect and any anger will actually become much reduced in intensity and/or frequency. Therefore it is true to say that good boundary habits will tend to lower anger levels. So as the book so wisely states:

· Don’t get mad, set a limit!

Myth #6 – When Others Set Boundaries It Injures Me (Gen 3:1-4)

How crazy is that? This myth fits right alongside myth #4 (If I set boundaries I will hurt others).

We have to make an assumption here, and that is that the boundary that has been set is an appropriate limit. (Ask for examples of inappropriate limits or boundaries) Let us look at Gen 3:1-4 for an example. What was the boundary? Was Eve injured? Was the boundary appropriate? Who was to blame, the boundary setter or the boundary violator?

From our example we can see that one can indeed get injured as a result of a boundary, but it is not the setting that causes the injury, it is the breaking.

As we respond to a boundary that has been set we must realize certain things:

· Our feeling of injury is part of our response to the boundary.
· We are responsible for the response.
· The boundary was set by the other party for their defense from something.
· The “Golden Rule” applies. (Mt 7:12)
· It is a “wake up” call.

Can we think of some real examples of boundaries we might set where someone we care about might feel injured? How about a curfew for a teenager, or taking away the credit cards from a spender, or throwing out the computer of a pornography addict.

Myth #7 – Boundaries Cause Feelings Of Guilt (2 Tim 1:14)

Do you ever get that guilty feeling when you begin to lay out a boundary? That you know you are about to do something that may “cause” others around you to respond negatively. Or that you have a sense that you could be disappointing somebody. We all have had that “guilty” moment, that time of placing ourselves in a quandary about what to do. It is these times that might seem to make this myth logical or true to us. Let me state quite clearly that boundaries do not cause feelings of guilt in the setter or the person viewing the situation.

When a non-existent or weak boundary is replaced with a new or improved limit in our lives, it is because we have made a choice to defend ourselves in a healthier way. We know, either consciously or not, that any person who this affects will react in some way. If that person is close to us, say a family member, we might even be able to predict how they are going to respond. Boundary knowledgeable people will be supportive and understanding. Others may not see things that way, we might experience reactions of hurt, frustration or disappointment, and maybe even anger to the point of raging.
This is where our sense of the guilt we may feel around boundaries becomes very important to clarify and understand. The guilt we feel at a time like this is inside our heart before the boundary is actually set and before others know about it. The guilt and the boundary do not have a causal relationship; they have an indirect bearing on one another. There is an entirely different reason for the guilt. It is caused by our understanding of others expectations of us. Let me repeat that in slightly different words:

· Our feelings of guilt are our response to what we believe others expect of us.

Can we come up with some examples of this in action? (See if somebody has an example)

· You are a newly wed husband, your mother comes over frequently and mentions that your new wife doesn’t seem to keep the house clean on most of her visits. Your wife feels hurt, so you come to the conclusion that you have to ask your mother to visit less and stop mentioning the house. But………you feel guilty. Why?

I do want to say a word about the person who feels guilty when they see a new or improved boundary presented to them. This is real guilt, and it is not caused by the boundary. It is the appropriate response to the realization that something I have been doing has resulted in this new boundary.

For my final word on this issue, let us read my selected verse, one of the all time great “boundary verses”, 2 Tim 1:14. If you believe as I do, that the word of God, the Bible, is completely true. Then you will always know that this verse says to protect your soul, as it is your greatest treasure, and only you can protect your own soul. It is a matter of obedience to God, for which there is no true guilt.

Myth #8 – Boundaries Are Permanent, And I’m Afraid Of Burning My Bridges

I’m just going to say “Not True” here. Boundaries belong to the person setting them, they are responsible for them and they can change them whenever they want. If a boundary violator changes their ways after running up against new and improved boundaries, we can change them back or soften our position. If the boundary violator does alter their behavior, the bridge needs to be burned! Let us look at 1 Cor 15:33 to see why.

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