Doctor Henry Cloud and Doctor John Townsend wrote a book called Boundaries. In it, they help Christians understand that boundaries are a biblical and necessary way of living. It is important to make sure people do not take advantage of you and mistreat you simply because you are a Christian. This is true for both believers and non-believers. Some Christians believe simply staying silent or allowing other people to mistreat us and simply saying “that's OK” in response is being gracious. It is only a form of cowardice that allowed us to avoid our responsibility to speak into each other's lives so that we may be better people for it. There are five practical ways to set boundaries:
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1. Tailor Communication
If you find someone is toxic in their communication, it might be best to simply cut off communication. While Scripture is clear that reconciliation must be sought after first, Romans 12:18 says, “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.” We can only do so much to live at peace with others. If we have done all we can to achieve peace and the other person chooses not to reconcile, we have abided by Scripture to follow what is right. Curb your communication through e-mail or social media to reflect this new change in your relationship. This is not meant to hurt the other, but merely let them know they cannot speak to you in a way that does not honor both parties in the relationship.
2. Speak the Truth in Love
Ephesians 4:15 says,“ Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ.” Truth and love in this verse are linked. If we claim to “speak the truth to someone,” when we instead speak harshly or assassinate someone's character, it’s not always the truth. Jesus does not want us to assassinate someone's character but rather speak gently to correct behavior so that they may display a more Christlike character. Although there are times when plainly speaking the truth is essential, we must season our conversations with grace and salt, only occasionally giving a hard but respectful word to someone in the hopes they will become more like Jesus in the end.
3. Teach People How to Treat You
When we interact with people, we teach them by our responses how we will treat them as well as everyone in our lives. When we enable people by keeping silent or not speaking up when we are hurt or offended, this will cause other people to use us and abuse us in ways that are not God’s intention. Stand up for yourself when speaking to someone who tends to manipulate or control. Use "I" statements and communicate your feelings in a firm yet loving way. When people see you stand up for yourself when it comes to people mistreating you, or even stand up to do the right thing, people will realize they can't walk all over you. Grace is not meant to make a doormat of people. You need to communicate your feelings when things are too overwhelming for you to handle.
4. Set a Curfew
We often think of boundaries as with people. While that's true, we may also need to set boundaries in the excessive use of possessions, which includes social media, computers cell phones, etc. If you find you're having difficulty with using these things too much, consider setting a time boundary. Set a time when you will no longer use devices. Put down cell phones, computers, and any other screens as of 7:00 or 8:00 PM. This will help your body have time to wind down and rest before getting some sleep. If you don't build time to wind down in your schedule, you may find you are up all hours of the night because your body does not relax after looking at a screen because your senses are too stimulated. Setting a time boundary for your devices will help you spend time with people you love and spend more time in nature and doing fun activities that don't require a screen.
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5. Know When to Stop Communication
If you find you are avoiding having a conversation with someone because of the way they speak to you, it might be time to set a boundary in your communication. It may not be necessary to cut off all communication, but rather, interrupt the person and let them know what they are saying is not appropriate. For example, there are people in your life who only come to you so they can complain and be heard. They don't want advice or to fix the problem, just for you to agree with them. If you find this is the case, as they complain, calmly stop them when there is a level in the conversation and simply say to them, “It is best I don’t listen to this. Have you gone to the person directly?” People may choose to gossip to avoid dealing with the situation. Yet, it is important that we as Christians not participate in gossip whether we merely listen to it, or whether we join in on it.
If a person has spoken to you, encourage them to go to the person directly. If they choose not to, tell them you cannot listen to their complaints. Those who gossip to you will gossip about you. It is important to guard yourself against a person like that and not allow yourself to hear gossip, or else you are as guilty as the person doing the gossiping.
But, when all else fails and the person simply does not want to stop mistreating you, manipulating you, or using you, it is time to cut ties with the relationship completely. This may require a heart-to-heart conversation, letting them know that although you love them, you can no longer have a relationship with them unless their behavior changes. You specifically let them know how they can change their behavior to reconcile the relationship. If they refuse, it is best to simply cut off communication. However, if they choose to change, give them the benefit of the doubt.
The Soul Work of Boundaries and Forgiveness
If you must cut off communication, it is still important for you to do the soul work of forgiving that person. We often believe that cutting off communication with a toxic person or unhealthy relationship means we've dealt with the situation in a healthy, complete manner. But there may be unresolved issues that need to be addressed but are standing in the way of you finding freedom in Christ, leaving you bitter, distrusting, or full of hatred. Forgiveness is not only mandated by Scripture, but it is also a tool to set you free from emotional bondage. Do whatever you need to do to forgive that person so you can move on with your life. If the person truly repents and comes back desiring restoration, your emotional well-being will be ready to accept that person back into your life.
Setting boundaries, whether it be with relationships, time, social media, or other areas of your life that feel out of hand, is a great tool to restore healthy control of your life. Do what you can to follow Scripture, confront people directly, and give them chances to change. However, if the time comes when you've extended several chances and the person is not willing to change, boundaries are a great way to allow yourself to remove toxic relationships from your life but also give the person the opportunity to change. By putting the boundary in place, they may change and become someone who exhibits more of the Fruits of the Spirit.
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Originally published Friday, 17 March 2023.