Is "boundaries" a buzz word this year, or have I been hiding under a rock my whole life? I never even heard the word before last year when my world exploded. But it turns out that a lack of boundaries can make your world explode. Haha! So I'm learning now. It's uphill work: imposing boundaries typically makes me feel un-Christlike because I've internalized some ideas about the Savior that aren't quite right. The best antidote I have found to this unhealthy sense of shame is a study of Christ's life and teachings.
What are Boundaries?
Simply stated, my boundaries define my own knowledge of who I am and what kind of treatment I will accept within a relationship. Boundaries do not dictate others' actions, but guide my own in providing safety for myself when others fail to show respect.
Within a relationship we issue invitations to interact in ways that work for us. When our loved ones can respect our boundaries and help us feel healthy and safe within the relationship, those boundaries can move in a little. When they refuse to respect those boundaries, the boundary moves out to provide protection.
Boundaries often get the bad rap of killing intimacy, while really it is the fertilizer that grows closeness. For example, say my best friend knows that trust is a basic principle for me within a relationship. I let her know that it's important she doesn't share anything confidential with others. If she honors that need and can keep a secret, I feel safe letting her see more and more of me, hence the boundary moves in toward greater closeness. If she chooses not to honor that boundary, it moves out and I no longer feel safe sharing personal things with her. I find a safe place in the relationship either way. The quality of the relationship, the closeness and intimacy are determined by both members knowing and respecting each other's boundaries.
Does Christ Have Boundaries?
In Christ's mortal ministry, he demonstrated boundaries in his daily life and taught them in precept. Christ knew who he was and did not allow others to define him. Christ knew his personal mission on the earth did not extend in every direction, and so focused his efforts where he knew they should be.
Christ took time to rest physically, ate when he was hungry, and took time to be alone when he was tired or heartsick. Christ didn't comply with unreasonable demands.
Christ's teachings are replete with these principles, too. I would copy Matthew 18 word for word here, but for the sake of brevity, consider these (and read the rest as soon as you can!)
But whoso shall offend one of these little ones which believe in me, it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea.My translation? Relationships are important, but only insofar as they promote our health, happiness, and progression back to Heavenly Father's presence.
Woe unto the world because of offences! for it must needs be that offences come; but woe to that man by whom the offence cometh!
Wherefore if they hand or thy foot offend thee, cut them off, and cast them from thee: it is better for thee to enter into life halt or maimed, rather than having two hands or two feet to be cast into everlasting fire.
The ultimate example of Christ's boundaries is that he has decreed only those who love him will enter into his presence. This very simple concept is the basis for a healthy life for us as well.
There is a little devil on every covenant woman's shoulder, telling her to be "Christlike" whenever she starts to establish boundaries. Search the scriptures carefully and see Christ for who he really is, not who he is painted to be. True disciples of Christ must emulate his example in kindness towards themselves before they can ever minister to anyone else.
If you desire to be a blessing in the lives of those around you, start by becoming the happy, loved woman God created you to be. Only from a full heart can flow those acts of genuine kindness and those principles of truth that will lift the world each day. Only from healthy relationships founded on Christ's teachings can come the light we are commanded to shine.
I had a very tender experience recently as the Lord set about to teach me what boundaries are about. I had felt some pressure to let down a boundary in order to see family members who have recently hurt me very much, had held firm to protect myself (yay!) and had felt immediately guilty about it (boo!) I took my problem to the Lord and he asked me if I would ever force my 10-year-old self to participate in a family gathering with people who had been mean to her and most likely would do so again. My mind recoiled at the thought of forcing a child to be with people who make her uncomfortable, and the Lord told me, "that's how I feel about you." I felt a flood of peace and love from the Savior, and perhaps just as important, for myself.
That honest, kind, nurturing love toward myself has been a lifetime in coming. It swells when I listen carefully to my own feelings and honor them as I would a tender child. Because I am safe and loved, I have a lot more love and tenderness to share with those around me. But I must resist the impulse to say that is the whole point--that kind of martyr attitude hurts after awhile. While the ability to minister to others certainly increases with a true sense of self, the point for me is that I can feel the love of my Heavenly Father.
Christ did and does have boundaries. He provided them for us not to keep us out, but to draw us ever farther in toward the center of his love by making us more like him. As we allow his love to refine us and feel it burn more brightly, we will guard that light from the winds around us so that those who want to, can draw closer and feel it, too.
PS: After you've read Matthew 18 (for real), you should really take a look at this article, which details many instances of the Lord showing a healthy sense of his boundaries. It greatly influenced my progress and helped me to write this post!