My daughter has been on fall break for the past week, so her backpack has been idle. I had a few things to send back to school with her when school resumes. I unzipped the bag, and realized I had taken a break from looking through her backpack. Among the papers, I found grid paper used for long division practice. I looked at those faint lines, and how they were helping my daughter keep the digits in the right place, thereby making the process of solving the problem easier.
The grid paper reminded me of how boundaries serve the same purpose in our lives. Three summers ago, under the shade of mature trees in a park a few blocks from work, I read a book that introduced me to the idea of boundaries. As I read on, I heard myself say, “Oh gosh. That’s the next thing to tackle. I don’t have any boundaries.” And so with the help of my counselor, I set out to course correct.
That epiphany that came under the shade of those big trees was one of many little directional signs that dropped into my life and pointed me in a new direction.
Boundaries form the invisible lines that mark an individual’s emotional territory. They are the rules, expectations, and protocol of human interaction. Healthy boundaries create space for us to use our energy appropriately and to protect us from toxic interactions and circumstances. Healthy boundaries make navigating the complexities of life much easier.
Rob Bell discussed boundaries in a recent podcast. I cannot recommend the episode highly enough. I’ve listened to it twice. The second time I took notes. Here are some of the highlights:
- “Part of spiritual growth is growing a spine.” That’s what I’ve been doing.
- Setting boundaries is like building muscle. The muscle grows stronger as you do the work.
- Boundaries protect our divine spark—that essence that bears the image of the divine that we all possess.
- Having boundaries is a stewardship of self.
- Jesus had strong boundaries. He told his disciples, If the village rejects you, shake the dust off your feet and leave. (He also cites other scriptures where Jesus demonstrates strong boundaries. This was a brand-new consideration for me.
- When you begin setting boundaries, you may feel like you’re being mean, but you’re not. “You’re starting to be kind with yourself, which feel counterintuitive if you’ve allowed yourself to be walked on for years. You are growing a spine.
- “Boundaries make us more loving and compassionate.”
While I was fascinated to hear Rob’s explanations, I was delighted to realize that much of what he was saying felt like review. I have put boundaries in place in the past three years—in all aspects of life—personally and professionally.
My life has improved vastly since that afternoon on the park bench. I no longer feel so overwhelmed by social interactions. I have a better understanding of how to maximize my energies to accomplish what I want and need to in daily living. I understand my limits in relationships, and as a result I have more of myself to give when the time and circumstances are right.