Personal boundaries are essential to all relationships; our relationship with our spouse, friends, co-workers, job, possessions, school, government, church and our God. Boundaries define the limits of our expectations, rights and responsibilities. Boundaries are necessary in relationships like skin is to our body. If I meet someone who claims to not have boundaries, who claims to have no rights and always shares everything, I run! Boundaries are an essential part of relationships.
Many popular psychology books have written on this topic but this topic is really ancient. In the Bible when God says, “You shall not,” this is a boundary. The concept of boundaries has received some bad press because of books that fail to teach the balance of self-care with self-sacrifice. And Christians may not appreciate teaching on boundaries because it seems opposed to Biblical emphasis on selfless sacrificial love. If we begin our study of boundaries with an understanding of God’s character and with common sense understanding of nature, we will see that God does have boundaries when he gives commands and that self-care is basic to all biological life.
Self-sacrifice and sacrificial giving is also an essential element of God’s character and of nature. We see sacrifice as an essential part of our physical world in many ways; every human child born into this world is born with the sacrifice of a woman who carried and gave birth to that child. When I watch birds care for their chicks there is an incredible amount of sacrifice involved to continually feed those hungry mouths. When a human parent goes to work every day to provide for his children there is sacrifice. We also see deep within our Creator the character of self-sacrifice, “For God so loved the world that he gave…” (John 3:16). Boundaries are compatible with both self-care and self-sacrifice.
Boundaries actually help to establish the balance between self-care and self-sacrifice because when we truly care for ourselves in a healthy way, then our giving is intentional. Many of us who grew up in families where boundaries were violated will spend a lifetime trying to learn healthy love. The first boundary is a physical one; do not touch me without my permission, and do not touch others without their permission. I believe sexual purity and physical boundaries are healthy. Emotional boundaries are less easy to define but very important. We must learn the difference between our own problems and those of others. In advising Christians how to love Paul says in Galatians, “Bear one another’s burdens and so fulfill the law of Christ…But each should also bear his own load” (6:2,5). This is a great balance passage teaching us what healthy love is.
Jesus as an example of balanced healthy love said, “No man takes away my life, but I lay it down of my own choice.” When our lives are being consumed by the demands of life we grow resentful. When others make demands upon us we grow resentful, we resist and we rebel. But when we truly love, we may choose to sacrifice. Most of the great things in life require self-sacrifice.