Unless you live under a rock, on a desert island, or have committed yourself to a life of complete solitude; you’re bound to have at least one person in your life who loves to push the envelope. Sometimes you don’t even realize what is happening until you get to a point where it seems everything bugs you until that one thing sets you over the edge and you’re pretty much done for the day.
As Christians, we always want to do the “right” thing. We don’t want to let others down. We don’t want others to think badly about us. We don’t want to let GOD down. We don’t want to feel guilty, etc. We get so caught up in the “do-right” (not to be confused with doo-wop), that we forget that there is a difference between the “right” thing and the correct thing.
God did not create us to be doormats. He said Himself to “guard our hearts more than anything else because the source of our lives flow from it” (Proverbs 4:23). If we are not filled up first, we have nothing available to give. We let people come and take and take and take until we are nothing but dry wells, useless to others and useless to God.
We must learn to discern what is a need we are meant to fill and what is a distraction disguised as a want. (“But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil.” – Hebrews 5:14)
When we look at Jesus’ life, we see healthy social boundaries. They may not be obvious at first. One may even argue that Jesus gave all of Himself to everyone at all times…no, he didn’t. Don’t believe me? Look at scripture.
- “After he had dismissed them, he went up on a mountainside by himself to pray. Later that night, he was there alone.” – Matt. 14:23
- “Yet He often withdrew to deserted places and prayed.” – Luke 5:16
- “Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed.” – Mark 1:35
- “One of those days Jesus went out to a mountainside to pray, and spent the night praying to God.” – Luke 6:12
Are you beginning to see a pattern here? Jesus knew when to say “yes”, when to say “no” and when to say “yes, but not right now”. Jesus knew when to stay and when to leave. He knew the importance of seeking moments of solitude that worked alongside to strengthen his ministry to and with others. Because it was in those moments of solitude that he received His counsel and discernment from God.
“So Jesus explained, “I tell you the truth, the Son can do nothing by himself. He does only what he sees the Father doing. Whatever the Father does, the Son also does”. – John 5:19 That scripture implies a boundary by the sheer fact that he only did what he saw the Father doing…meaning there must have been some things the Father did not do and therefore Jesus did not do them.
More specifically those boundaries are recognized more obviously as social circles:
- First you have the multitudes: notice you never see Jesus sharing his personal struggles here. You only see him ministering, teaching, and healing.
- Next you have the 12 (disciples): here we see him still loving, ministering and teaching, but you also begin to see him mentoring and sharing a deeper fellowship. (ref: Matthew 26:26)
- Then you have the 3 (Peter, James, and John): They went with Jesus almost everywhere. Healings, parties, teachings; they were there. They didn’t need Facebook to keep in touch. It’s at this level that we begin to get into the nitty-gritty. A bit deeper level of intimacy; they are the 3 that Jesus shared his trouble with in the garden of Gethsemane ( ref. Matthew 26:37-38)
- Then you have 1 (John): John (according to John) was Jesus’ BFF (ref: John 13 and 19). He comforted Jesus during the last supper, comforted Mary while Jesus hung on the cross and was called the son of Mary by Jesus himself just before his death. One can only gather from here that the closest of friendships must have been shared.
- Lastly, you have Jesus solo…except he wasn’t solo. God was with Him to witness the deepest outpouring and anguish of his heart in that fated garden.
The further you go down that list, the closer the circles get to you.
So, now that we have an idea of what boundaries look like, what does it look like when they are overstepped and what is the remedy?
We’ve all been there. We’ve given a person access to a circle closest to us and now realize that they don’t have the maturity or level of care and compassion to be responsible with it. It seems we are more often than not there for this person, or giving, loving, supporting, encouraging, helping, running errands, etc…but when it comes time for you to share, that person is suddenly nowhere to be found. The things that are important to you are often overlooked or belittled. A cry for help is brushed off. You share something that has been troubling you and it is either completely unacknowledged or better yet, what should be a loving response is replaced with a “hey, can you do this for me?”. The final straw is when you hear a personal thought, fear or issue that you have shared with this person come out of the mouth of someone whom you would never confide in…and they just happen to be friends with that person, too.
These “friendships” often leave you feeling violated in some way, exhausted, hurt and taken advantage of. These people want access to you, but they don’t want or can’t handle the responsibility that goes along with it. They don’t honor you enough to be able to hold your heart like the precious vessel that it is.
Love is an action. Sure, we can tell a person we love them, but those words (if not backed up by actions) will soon fall on deaf ears.
I’m not talking about obligation either. I’m talking about genuine respect and care for the person who has given you the privilege of sharing a deeper glimpse into their life.
I’m not saying you should get to shunning all at the slightest sense of friction. Conflicts are a natural part of life. But when you have lovingly spoken your concerns to this person and they continue to choose to dishonor you, (and the most important thing to remember here is that if they are dishonoring others, it’s because they dishonor themselves…the quality of our interaction with others stems from how we see ourselves!)….so…
What do we do?
Before we get to the point where all Jesus goes flying out of the window, we lose our temper, and we tell the person off…“And another thing! I hate the way you chew your food!…no no no, that is not becoming of a lady…or as Jesus once said, “You’re doing it wrong”…how do we, in a godly way, handle it when a person cannot handle us?
Once we see that the person has no intentions of respecting the relationship or friendship, we can still love them, but at a distance. It is wise to work through conflict with a person who is equally interested in working through it with you…It is unwise to allow a person to continue to hurt, discourage, and abuse you to the point where you are repeatedly left feeling depressed and violated.
We as Christians are called to speak the Truth boldly in Love, not to be doormats. Jesus was the perfect example: Yes, he was abused, but he never agreed with his accusers. He constantly challenged the officials, Pharisees and high priests with God’s truth even to his death.
And we can do the same: ask God for the words, then tell the person how we feel as gently as we can. If we need a few days to cool down before we can attempt “gentle”, that’s okay; the issue will be ready when you are! And then sometimes we need to move that person out of that close circle and at a further distance until they are ready to respect the relationship. Sometimes..it may never happen. But to hold onto an abusive friendship or relationship out of loneliness is a many deadly prison..given enough time, we can die emotionally, spiritually, and in extreme cases physically. Boundaries can be life and freedom in so many ways.
A note on abusers:
Abuse can also be very subtle. In fact, it’s been proven in case studies that most abusers don’t realize that they are abusers and are often shocked or offended when confronted. That’s because it isn’t always obvious. Anything that causes hurt or suffering to another person whether intentional or unintentional is abuse. A snide remark, an insult. Often these things are said to “be funny”…but they are hurtful, degrading and sometimes humiliating. It’s unfortunate that we live in a culture where these types of remarks are so common that we are trained to take them and if we don’t we are labeled “sensitive”, “insecure”, or told, “oh, just lighten up”. But overtime something happens inside of us: we slowly become less responsive and even start to believe the abuser, we feel heavy, become beat down or in extreme cases, feel that we are going crazy from the constant put-downs or name-calling. We lose our hope and even our identity. We feel we “deserve” these remarks and really must be bad people…if the abuse is coming from a person we love deeply, those feelings are magnified intensely.
Forms of Subtle Abuse:
- “Friendly” Sarcasm: The abuser appears to be loving, but his remarks prove other wise saying things like, “Do you really like your hair like that?” and follows up with and “I’m just kidding!”
- Neglect: One day they are your best friend sharing a deep conversation, the next day they walk past you without saying a word. This can go on for days or even weeks. When they final come around to remembering your existence, they say things like, “What’s wrong?” or “Are you okay? You seem upset.” knowing full well they’ve purposely been ignoring you. This is often to gain power in the relationship or friendship.
- Users: They constantly are in need, mostly of their own doing, but when the tables are turned, they have no time for you, even when you are really hurting. Over time you feel depleted emotionally and angry at yourself for letting it go on.
- Guilt-Trip: “You can’t do this oooone thing for me? But you’re not busy. Why not? You’re just being selfish!”. Yes, I’m not busy because I am taking time to RELAX! These people have no respect for your “no”, but have no problem saying “no to you” and will often use name-calling tactics to guilt you into what they want.
- Promise Maker: These people love to make promises, but rarely, if ever, deliver. You become hopeful, but overtime can sink into depression at promises unfulfilled..especially if they are close to the desire of your heart. the abuser that desires control will use this as a form of manipulation to get what they want from you, even if it’s just a reaction.
- Dangling: “Dinner was just…O-kay”, or “You sounded okay, but not powerful“…It’s a way to tear you down. These people often leave you feeling that nothing you do is ever good enough. Some withhold affection or warmth until you “get their clue” as to what would make them happy…which is often nothing!
- Defamation of Character: Whether behind your back or to your face, any negative accusation can sting and sometimes cause damage to your reputation. These abusers are often threatened and think the best way to get rid of their threat is to wipe it out…even with a lie. But this almost always ends up backfiring because Truth is always revealed.
- Victim: The goal of this abuser is to involve as many people in an incident as possible to bring pity to themselves and rejection to the other person. The root cause is insecurity.
- Withholding Information/Purposeful Exclusion: These abusers delude themselves into believing they will gain some type of advantage over you by withholding pertinent information or willfully excluding you just to hurt you. (Notice, I said “willful”. Not all lack of invites are forms of abuse. We are not entitled to every social event that may be in the works. The difference here is the abusers very conscious intent to be hurtful.)
- Dodge-Blaming: “Well, if you hadn’t acted this way, I wouldn’t have done what I did. It’s your fault!” These people can never take responsibility for themselves. In their eyes, everything is someone else’s fault. Again, this is a willful intent to displace blame. The goal is to take the attention off of whatever it is that they did or are doing to hurt you. The person on the receiving end is often confused, thrown and ends up believing the issue is their fault.
- Belittling: “Can’t you do anything right?” or “Gosh, you are so (stupid, selfish, slow, sensitive, etc.”). The goal here is to create a feeling of inferiority again so the abuser will not be challenged. The person on the receiving end (if they do not have a strong sense of who they are or know themselves) often ends up despondant and questioning themselves.
- Control: “You’re hanging out with that person?”…another tactic is to alienate the person they are in a friendship or relationship with. They don’t have enough confidence in themselves to allow the other person the freedom to experience other friendships because to the abuser, anyone who takes away from them is a threat. They are afraid to be alone. The goal here is to make the other person embarrassed of who they spend their time with, again relying on their insecurity to be compliant. This is also called a co-dependant relationship because it will only work if the other person is not secure enough in themselves to stand up to the other person to have the freedom to have different friendships.
These types of abuse are often over-looked because they fit so well into the world we live in and we can feel “itchy” if we confront them. But over time they cause so much damage. (Jennifer Degler wrote a great book on this!)
We often think of abusers as tyrants, but they really are terribly insecure. The common goal is always the same: control. And we as children of God have every right to confront or sometimes even remove these people from our lives. So, often we succumb to the worldly expectations of being a “nice” Christian and trade our freedom that Christ spilled his blood all over the cross to give us! “Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.” – 2 Corinthians 3:17
We have a responsibility to petition the Holy Spirit and fight for that freedom, even when it’s difficult. God said, “blessed are the peacemakers, not peace”keepers”. And abuse and imprisonment for the sake of being “easy to get along with” (read: controlled) ain’t no peace…ain’t nobody got time for that!
No one likes to be wounded. To feel that kiss of betrayal from a friend hurts even more. But finding that balance of healthy God-sought “yes’s” and “no’s” is essential to not only emotional, but spiritual health and a life that glorifies Him! And let’s face it..it’s not very glorifying to God to spend our lives in unnecessary pain and drama!