Have you ever been rummaging through the apps on your tablet or phone and found something you forgot you had bought? That’s what happened to me recently and the discovery jolted me in a fabulous way that I want to share with you. One evening while touring my iPad, I decided to see what was lurking under my iBooks icon. Immediately, my eyes fell on a book that I bought and had started reading but the book somehow became lost in the shuffle of life. It is amazing to me how the Lord banks important readings for times when we will cherish the treasure of a book’s insights and be transformed by them rather than merely eeking out some small satisfaction for having finished another book.
The book is Boundaries, by Henry Cloud and John Townsend. Someone had recommended the book to me sometime back and I bought it. Now I highly recommend it because it addresses one of the most serious matters in life. As a matter of fact, if we all had a better concept of boundaries in our lives, our family relations, friendships, church connections and office associations would be far less contentious and much more satisfying. I won’t try to capture the volumes of material I found, but I will share a couple of key ideas that have helped me to have greater confidence and more peace during difficult stretches of life.
The first idea is this: Establishing boundaries is not about setting roadblocks to keep people out of your life; it is about determining who you are, what you are here for and letting this knowledge help you create limits that protect your purpose and your sense of self. Many of us have, at times, become victims of missing boundaries. Much of my life was boundaryless. We spend our lives saying yes to things that have NO written all over them and dreading interactions with people who seem to be controlling us. Taking the proper steps toward setting effective limits on our practices and interactions can give us that much needed sense of control the reduces stress in our lives.
We all can think of people we know who only do what they choose to do. If you ask them to do something that is not in their plan, They cheerfully say no with no guilt or regret. They never seem stressed–they have boundaries. It’s not that these people are mean or sadistic; They simply have a schedule and a purpose that limits the amount of random activity they allow. If what you ask does not fit their purpose or schedule, the answer is NO. Though hearing that NO jolts and embarrasses us, we secretly admire that level of control. We wonder how these folks can shut down burdensome requests with no appearance of remorse or regret. We sometimes feel horror at the very thought of saying no and find ourselves saying yes to stave off the pain of disapproval. Without boundaries, there is no limit to how much unexpected, unplanned responsibility we will allow the world to plop into our laps.
The second idea has to do with purpose as a way of establishing effective boundaries. This aspect of our effective boundaries provides a filter through which to gauge the worthiness of any request that comes to us. If I have a clear idea of why I exist; if I have a firm grasp on my mission in life then when requests come to me I can run them through that filter and say if it supports my mission and does not lessen my ability to fulfill my other mission commitments, I can do this. But many of us are so disorganized in our approach to life that we do everything in the moment and not strategically. What do I mean by this? We have an obligation of genuine love to move rapidly and deliberately toward organizing our activity in such a way that decision making is a result of coordinated, thoughtful planning and not emotion.
Let’s be honest: many of us say yes to requests without thinking because our missionless lives leave us making decisions based on our desire to be well thought of. With this at the top of our agenda, we revel in the emotional high that comes with seeing smiles and joy over our yes even if that yes in on a collision course with the last yes that is now obscured by the fog of our current euphoria. God is calling us to a higher level of service that transcends warm feelings of selfish gratification brought on by saying yes to everything. We owe the world a no that sets them free from the looming disappointment when we can’t deliver on our ill conceived promises. A firm mission, a clear mission-driven agenda for each day that carefully considers openings and potential conflicts in the schedule will allow us to deliver the effective service that we and the world need. A big part of that service is the effective boundary of NO.
This is the last point. There is a companion reason for not saying NO. That is “fear of their faces”. In Jeremiah 1:8 and in Ezekiel 2:8 God said that the prophets should not be afraid of the faces of the people when delivering their messages. Implied in this is the idea that we often are expected by God to deliver difficult messages to people that will engender a strong negative reaction. In our desire for pleasure and gratification in our interactions, we recoil from the potential pain of rejection and retaliation. We must believe God’s promises to his prophets that if we safeguard our mission by saying no to conflicting or off-mission requests, he will be with us. Moreover, our friends, family and coworkers will make it somehow, even though we said NO. We must learn to endure the faces. If we say yes to escape the sad or angry face, we will see it later when we disappoint due to being over-committed.This is just a small slice of the rich material to be found in the book Boundaries. I hope you get it and discover how to live a richer, fuller life where you have greater control and fulfillment.