In the physical world, boundaries are easy to see. Fences, signs, walls, moats with alligators and hedges are all physical boundaries.
In their different appearances, they give the same message: this is where the property/right begin/end. The owner of the property is legally responsible for what happens on his or her property. Non-owners are not responsible for the property.
Physical boundaries mark a visible property line that someone holds the deed to. You can go to the country courthouse and find exactly where those boundaries of responsibility are and whom to call if you have business there.
In the spiritual world, boundaries are just as real. In reality, these boundaries define your soul, and they help you to guard it and maintain it (Prov 4:23).
Boundaries define us. They define what is me and what is not me.
A boundary shows me where I end and someone else begins, leading me to a sense of ownership. Knowing what I am to own and take responsibility for gives me freedom. If I know where my yard begins and ends, I am free to do with it what I like.
Taking responsibility for my life opens up many different options. However, if I do not “own” my life, my choices and options become very limited.
For example, it would be confusing if someone told you to “guard this property diligently because I will hold you responsible for what happens here”, and then did not tell you the boundaries of the property. Or they did not give you the means with which to protect the property. This would be confusing but also dangerous.
We have to deal with what is in our souls, and boundaries help us to define what that is. If we are not shown the parameters or are taught the wrong parameters, we are in for much pain.
Boundaries help us to define what we are responsible for, boundaries help us to define what is not on our property and what we are not responsible for. We are not, for example, responsible for other people.
Nowhere are we commanded to have “other-control”, although we spend a lot of time and energy trying to get it. Even the Bible tells us clearly what our parameters are and how to protect them, but often our families or other past relationships confuse us about our parameters.
We are responsible to others and for ourselves “carry each other’s burdens” says Galatians 6:2, “and in this way, you will fulfil the law of Christ”. This verse shows our responsibility to one another.
Many a time, others have “burdens” that are too big to bear. They do not have enough strength, resources, or knowledge to carry the load, and they need help. Denying ourselves to do for others what they cannot do for themselves is showing the sacrificial love of Christ. This is being responsible “to”.
On the other hand, Galatians 6:5 says that “each one should carry their load”. Everyone has responsibilities that only he or she can carry. These things are our own particular “load” that we need to take daily responsibility for and work out. No one can do certain things for us. We have to take ownership of certain aspects of life that are our own “load”. We are expected to deal with our feelings, attitudes and behaviours, as well as responsibilities.
Boundaries, therefore, help us to distinguish our property to know that we can take care of it. They help us to guard our hearts “with all diligence” (Prov 4:23 NASB). We need to keep things that will nurture us under our fences and keep things that will harm us outside.
In short, boundaries will help us keep the good in and the bad out. They guard our treasures (Matt. 6:19-20) so that people will not steal them.
In short, boundaries are not walls. We must not be “walled off” from others we are to be “one with them”.
But in every community, all members have their own space and property. Often, when people are abused while growing up, they reserve the function of boundaries and keep the bad in and the good out.
Generally, trespassing on other people’s property carries consequences. “No trespassing” signs carry a threat of prosecution if someone steps over the boundaries.
Other examples are, “if you don’t stop drinking, I will leave until you get some treatment”.
Consequences give some good “barbs” to fences. They let people know the seriousness of the trespass and the seriousness of our respect for ourselves.
The story of the good Samaritan is a model of correct behaviour in many dimensions. It is a good illustration of boundaries – when they should be both observed and violated. Imagine for a moment how the story might read if the Samaritan was a boundless person.
A man travelling from Jerusalem to Jericho was mugged. The robbers stripped him and beat him, leaving him half dead. The priest and Levite passed the hurt man, but a Samaritan took pity on him, he bandaged his wounds brought him to an inn and took care of him.
The next day the Samaritan gave the innkeeper some money and said: “Look after him, and when I return I will reimburse you for any extra expenses you may have (Luke 10:35).
Let’s depart from the familiar story here. Suppose the injured man wakes up at this point in the story and says:
“What? You’re leaving”
“Yes, I am. I have some business in Jericho I have to attend to”, the Samaritan replies.
“Don’t you think you’re being selfish? I’m in pretty bad shape here. I am going to need someone to talk to. You’re not even acting like a Christian abandoning me like this in my time of need!”.
“Why I guess you’re right”, the Samaritan says. “That would be uncaring of me to leave you here alone, I should do more. I will postpone my trip for a few days”.
So, he stays with the man for three days, talking to him and making sure that he is happy and content. On the afternoon of the third day, there’s a knock at the door and a messenger comes in. He hands the Samaritan a message from his business contacts in Jericho: “Waited as long as we could. However, decided to sell camels to another party. Our next herd will be here in six months”.
“How could you do this to me?”, the Samaritan screams at the recovering man, waving the message in the air. “Look what you’ve done now. You’ve caused me to lose these camels that I needed for my business, now I can’t deliver my goods. This may put me out of business! How could you do this to me?”.
At some level, this story may be familiar to all of us. We may be moved with compassion to give to someone in need, but then this person manipulates us into giving more than we want to give.
We end up resentful and angry, having missed something we needed in our own life. Or we want more from someone else, and we pressure them until they give in.
They give not out of their hearts and free will, but out of compliance, and they resent us for what they give. Neither one of us comes out ahead.
The moral of the story: “learn how to say ‘no’. Don’t let your mouth overlook your back” (Emanuel James Rohn – American entrepreneur and author).
In conclusion, we need to take responsibility for all the areas of our life. These lie within our boundaries.
Taking care of what lies within our boundaries isn’t easy, neither is allowing other people to take care of what lies within their boundaries.
Setting boundaries (like behaviours, our ‘no’ and our ‘yes’, choices, values, limits, resources and gifts etc.) and maintaining them is hard work but worthy.