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Setting Boundaries

It’s one thing to learn how to deal with the thoughts and feelings you experience yourself in a healthy manner, but what should you do when another person is a significant factor in the situations which are causing your frustrations? In Setting Boundaries, Derek and the Lives Transforming panel explore how to set boundaries in a healthy, Biblically sound manner so you can protect yourself without having to live with the stress of trying to control others.

God does not try to manipulate us into doing what He wants us to do. Rather, He created the world with a set of universal principles. When we run afoul of those universal principles, we experience discomfort until we return to Him. This discomfort is natural and, in fact, good, because it draws us back to God.

Unfortunately, many of us have difficulty separating ourselves from the situations others find themselves in enough to allow them to go through the process of feeling the discomfort of being outside of God’s boundaries. We often find ourselves trying to help God out by placing our own boundaries on others, especially those who are closest to us.

If laying down the law worked, that would be great. The only problem is, it doesn’t. Even if we manage to get others to comply with our wishes, we create a situation in which they experience resentment and the desire to get out of the cage we put them in and we experience the needless stress of trying to keep them inside the boundaries we feel they should live within.

In Setting Boundaries, we are shown how to look at those around us through a different lens. We learn that the Bible instructs us not to try to control others (as if we could). Instead, we set healthy boundaries around ourselves, learning to control the only person God has given us the right to control.

We are encouraged in the teaching to look at God’s boundaries as being much like an invisible dog fence. When a dog stays within the boundaries set out for him, he is free to move about and enjoy himself. As he begins to get close to the boundary lines, he hears a warning beep that helps him to realize he is about to experience discomfort if he continues to flirt with the boundaries. If the dog continues, he feels increasing discomfort as the invisible fence gives him a shock.

The purpose of the fence, much like the purpose of God’s boundaries, is not to hurt the dog. It is to keep him in the yard where he will be safe. Outside of the boundaries, the dog can get lost, hit by a car, or otherwise harmed. In much the same way, when we (or others around us) violate God’s principles, we feel a natural discomfort. This is designed to draw us back to God. Martin Luther referred to this as “the delicious despair.”

When we get lay down the law with others, whether we are dealing with a cheating spouse, an errant teen, or any number of situations which cause us to desire to control others, we not only don’t generally get any real compliance, but we also tend to get in the way of what God is doing in that person’s life. God doesn’t need our help to get someone’s attention when they are straying.

This doesn’t mean that we should live completely without boundaries. What it does mean is that we learn to set appropriate and healthy boundaries around ourselves. We recognize that we can’t control other people and that even if we could, it would create an unhealthy situation. By doing this, we are free to step back and care enough about the person to let God do what He wants to do in the person’s life.

We further learn how to appropriately care for people who are making poor choices around us. This necessitates becoming very secure in who we are in Christ and understanding that our value and worth comes from God and God alone. When we begin to move beyond what we want others to do, we are free to live and act in compason towards them, creating a situation in which we become safe for them to turn as they do turn back to Christ.