I remember really questioning the idea of boundaries early in my adult life. Is it really biblical to have and assert boundaries as a Christian? Did Jesus model boundaries? I thought of the scripture in Matthew where he said, “If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well” (NIV, Matthew 5:39-40). What does it look like as a Christian to have a strong “No” when our model for living is to give the shirt off our back?
So, first of all, what do we really mean when we talk about having strong boundaries? Developmentally, having strong boundaries means that we have a strong sense of who we are and what we stand for. It’s a result of the early developmental stage, individuation, that directly follows attachment. In this way, we develop a strong foundation for life through safe, meaningful relationships right before we begin to understand and assert who we are as an independent, separate being from others.
God designed our lives to be this way. He calls us first to a life of meaningful connections (with Him and others) that are stabilizing, energizing, enriching, and growth-producing. Secondly, He actually does call us to a life of boundaries. We are designed to know who we are and what we stand for. God wants us to be rooted securely in Him and who He has made us to be. The more secure we are in our identity and beliefs as an individual, the less we are like an infant, “tossed back and forth by the waves” (Ephesians 4:14). To live a life of faithful following, we must know who we are apart from others. To not be conformed to the patterns of the world (Romans 12:2) means that we are rooted securely in our identity as children of God.
I think that if we are letting everyone slap us on the cheek and take the shirts off of our backs as a pattern in our lives, there might be an indication of poor boundaries. But I also think it’s clear that that was not Christ’s example. So, I realize now that giving the shirt off of our backs can actually be the most boundaried thing we could do. If I’m secure in who I am, then others’ actions don’t define me. I give because I am giving. I love because God first loved me. I sacrifice because I’ve been a recipient of the ultimate sacrifice.
If you’ve ever wondered what it means to have boundaries as a Christian or even just in general, I challenge you to lean in and explore this identity piece. Who are you as a separate person from others? What defines you? How do decide when to give freely out of a place of love and when it’s the right time to say “no,” also out of a place of love?
-Mike Haarer, MA, LMHC
Compass Rose Academy VP & Executive Director