(Boundaries: Home for the Holidays Part 1)

The holiday season is both excitedly anticipated for its joys and infamous for it’s struggles. Difficult family gatherings are the specific struggle I have in mind, so for the next month we will learn how to live out healthy interpersonal boundaries in preparation for the festivities and family visits.

At Emotion Culture I write a lot about internal (or intrapersonal, if you want the fancy term) boundaries. Learning how to lead our emotions instead of being led by them is a prime example of a healthy boundary within ourselves. But what about healthy boundaries with other people (interpersonal boundaries)? How do we know what’s healthy and what crosses the line? What does the Bible have to say about healthy boundaries and healthy spirituality? How can we use this information to help us navigate holiday gatherings, expectations, and demands?

What are interpersonal boundaries anyway?
Steven and I live in a rent house, and the house next door to us is also a rent house. When we first moved in there was a tree grown right into the fence between the two houses. Have you ever seen one of those trees completely enmeshed with the fence running through it? That’s what I’m talking about here. Well, within a year of us moving in a very strong windstorm blew the tree over at about 3 AM. It fell into the neighbor’s yard, which was downhill from ours, and narrowly missed the corner bedroom where their son slept.
Since the tree had literally grown through the property line our respective landlords had a challenging time deciding who would be responsible for the removal of the downed tree and repair to the fence. Steven and I, and our neighbors, were not stressed about it since neither property belonged to us so it was not our responsibility. What a relief to not have to take on responsibility for something that didn’t belong to us! And, what a joy to have landlords who take their responsibilities seriously and don’t try to shove the financial burden upon their tenants!

Interpersonal boundaries are like property lines which separate your responsibilities from another’s.
Healthy boundaries are when everyone is taking responsibility for their own “stuff”.
Unhealthy boundaries are when you, and/or the people around you, are either:
a. trying to take responsibility for someone else’s “stuff” or
b. trying to give responsibility for your “stuff” away to someone else
You’re probably more familiar with unhealthy boundaries as “family drama”.
Oohhhhhh, yeah. That.

So, what “stuff” are we responsible for?
Each of us is responsible for our own:

  • Beliefs
  • Thoughts
  • Emotions
  • Actions

Healthy boundaries are about making space for obedience to God.
They are not mean, angry, “tough love”, or the “last straw”.
One of the fruits of the Spirit listed in Galatians 5:23 is self-control. You cannot practice self-control when you are controlled by others, or trying to be in control of others.
You cannot love others well without self-control.

“Like a city whose walls are broken through is a person who lacks self-control.”

Proverbs 25:28 NIV

A city whose walls are broken through is defenseless; out of control of who and what comes in and goes out. We usually imagine a person who lacks self-control as acting out against others, but according to Proverbs such a person is also defenseless against destructive input.
You can have a boundary problem even if you are not a loud and angry person.

Imagine your heart, mind, and soul as a house.
What does your house look like?
What does the front door look like, the windows?
How about the property line? Is there a white picket fence with a gate?
Or maybe there’s a 20 foot tall wall with razor wire at the top and a moat full of alligators…
Maybe there isn’t anything to mark the property line at all. You don’t have a clue where it is.
Perhaps your “soul house” looks like mine did when I was a teenager: strong and obvious defenses in the front, but gaping holes behind the house that allowed evil to sneak in and vandalize my heart and mind.

That’s enough for this post. In Part 2 we will look at several different examples of healthy boundaries from Jesus’ own life!
Yes, Jesus had to set and maintain healthy boundaries with himself and the people around him. How fascinating is that?
In the meantime, I’d love to know what your “soul house” and property look like! You can send me a message through the contact page, or leave a comment below!
Maybe you could share this series with some of your family members and enjoy a refreshingly drama free holiday together!

Published by Sara Hall

Hi! My name is Sara. I'm a minister, author, and counselor in Oklahoma. I help people overcome the emotional barriers that prevent them from having their best possible relationships with God and others by helping people discover practical ways to apply Scripture to their everyday lives. My husband, Steven, and I have been married 15 years and we have two sons. We also own and operate a company called ModScenes.com which serves churches and businesses with modular stage backdrops for their services and events!

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