Setting Boundaries As A Christian
We all deal with boundaries in our lives: crosswalks, warning signs, lane lines for highways, fences, gates, property lines, and so on.
But, that is not the type of boundaries we are writing about today. What sort of boundaries are we talking about? Let us define what boundaries are and why they can be helpful (or detrimental, if there is a lack) in pursuing your God-given mission.
Many people, especially within the church for believers, do not have boundaries placed and set for their lives. In reality, most believers feel guilty and selfish to set boundaries as if they always have to be there for people and have to “deny themselves”, like Jesus did.
This is a sad case because that is not the heart of God at all. He never wants for us to be burned out for the sake of serving and loving others. He calls for us to give with a cheerful heart, not out of compulsion, or in this case, out of guilt. (see 2 Corinthians 9:7)
We were incredibly inspired to write this post because David read the book, Boundaries by Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend. And, one of the biggest myth that David read about setting boundaries as Christians is this:
“Setting boundaries is a selfish thing to do.”
In our research for this post, we found this great resource that highlights and pinpoints that boundaries is a godly, not selfish, act to do. How? Jesus Christ did in His lifetime.
See more from this article here.
The article shared many insights in which we agree in the terms of what boundaries are – it is a limit or space between you and another individual and the purpose of a boundary is to protect and take care of yourself. Seems a bit selfish, when you read that, huh? Well, keep reading!
If Jesus Christ Himself set boundaries for himself and others, then can’t we do the same?
It is recounted in the Gospels over and over again how He often withdrew from crowds to find rest, solitude, and prayer to His Father. He needed this in order to give and serve well and with quality. The thing is with Jesus: He was not a people-pleaser. He often offended people with his words and actions.
But, hold on, read this carefully. He never spoke out of line or incorrectly according to each situation He faced. It is said that He came full of grace and truth. He was gracious with His words but also truthful. (see John 1:14)
Full of Grace & Truth is Key
Jesus often spoke the truth, but it was never spoken without love and grace. Grace and truth go hand-in-hand; if you are speaking love and grace without truth, then it is all fluff, fake, everyone likes you, but the relationships never become deep.
But, if you are speaking truth without love and grace, then people may avoid you, because it’s harsh and deeply critical, often leading to legalism. Setting boundaries at any point in life means to get confrontational with truth and grace with people and maybe yourself.
Boundaries are supposed to protect ourselves.
We are living our lives in boundaries already; we just did not know it. We have boundaries within the crosswalks and walk on it whenever the walk sign is on, so that we do not get hit by vehicles. Why? Because the boundary protects us and basically keeps us alive and breathing.
It is the same thing in our lives, where we set boundaries in every aspects. But, if we do not have boundaries in place, we end up frazzled, low in energy, stressed, burned out, lose interest or forget our why, lose ourselves and forget our identity in Christ for the sake of “being there for others”.
There is a saying, “You cannot pour from an empty cup,” and I would like to add to that with this: “You cannot pour into others if you have not filled up your cup.” This longer-version saying ties into the concept for Christians in the church community, of always being there, taking care, serving, helping, volunteering, and working for others.
I think Christians within the church get it twisted in the attitude and perspective of serving, that if you have extra time in your schedules, you have to serve. However, this is not the case; if you are spending all your time serving others, but the relationships, family, and work in your life are suffering, then there is a lack of boundaries. Disclaimer: it is okay if you long to serve and you do have the time to do so as long as your relationships in your life is not suffering but flourishing.
It is good to set boundaries in order to have freedom and potential in following God’s mission and to better serve others.
Before we jump into our own experiences, we want to remind you that we are far from perfect and the experiences we write here are our own and serve as examples for this post that may be relatable for you. Our journey of setting boundaries is still ongoing, but we wanted to share what we learned thus far, and how you can get started on setting boundaries.
Lack Of Boundaries – Church
This is not an easy situation for me (Lianna) to bring up in this post, but this is something that happened a really long time ago and I’ve since moved on and learned much from it.
I used to be a leader in youth starting from early high school up until early college (I went to college in the same town, so I never moved away). This is something that I did not realize was going on until I felt overwhelming pressure and my mom had to be up-front and honest with me. I do not want to give too many details in order to ensure the privacy of everyone.
The leader of all the young leaders basically would use words and created a culture of fear to make people do what they wanted, and the thing is it was not an easy thing to point out. This happened gradually over time.
When I felt pressured to be at a certain place every time by a certain time or I was not a good leader.
When I was pestered into serving more than I had time for, and it was always “in the name of Jesus Christ”.
When I was supposed to give all of my free time up in order to be “a good leader”, it was not good if I wanted to have some downtime to be by myself or hang out with family or friends, or to catch up with schoolwork.
Being pressured to always do more than what I am required to do as a volunteer leader, when the main leader was supposed to do most of these things because it was his/her job.
Being a part of a culture run by fear, rather than love.
After a while, being in college, I just had enough. I was starting to not have as much time to do my college work because I was putting my “duties” as a leader first. I was beginning to want to run away and not attend church. But, my mom definitely helped me so much with this. She sat me down and said that it is okay if I wanted to walk away from being a leader but encouraged me to stay in church.
At first, I was in shock because the leader and his attitude made it seem like there was never an option to back out and walk away.
This leader made me feel like there was no in or out, as if I was in for life. The culture of fear that I mentioned here, though this might be heartbreaking for you to read, it was real. This leader had us running the show exactly the way they wanted it. There were no boundaries set for us to enjoy the life that God has gifted to us, not just the life inside of being a leader.
For a very long time, I was burned out on serving. I was burned out on doing anything other than being a leader for Christ. And I struggled with trusting people and the experience made me become cynical.
It’s not all their fault. I had to own up my mistakes.
I thought that to be a leader, you have to suffer like Christ. But, I know better now than I did back then. I also just want to share that this was not ALL of this person or the other leaders’ faults. I am a recovering people-pleaser and this is an issue that I still deal with from time to time, but I know what it looks like if it springs up like a weed.
I’ve had a difficult time saying no in the past because I feared any negative feedback, backlash, bad opinion, and their view of me. And, I can’t believe I am bringing this up, but this people-pleasing habit went deep even through serving in church.
I would say yes to every event, every time I was scheduled to serve in the nursery or toddlers’ rooms, while still serving in the youth group every week and attending leaders’ meetings and the youths’ games, activities and hangouts, outside of church.
I feared missing out and what everyone thought of me. But, ironically, I was so busy with curating and cultivating this perfect image of myself and people’s perceptions of me, my personal life was in complete disarray and my anxiety was at an all-time high, which I did not know was “anxiety” at the time.
My Outside & Inside Signals
As you might be reading this, you might be wondering how you can identify the areas in your life which need boundaries set. Everything that the person said and did to me and the other leaders are all OUTSIDE Signals that there is a lack of boundaries.
However, what I was going through, having the people-pleasing tendencies and not wanting to miss out due to how people may view me, those are all INSIDE Signals that there is a lack of boundaries. But, this will all be addressed and explained further down in the post!
Looking at the outside and inside signals, in hindsight, I had to learn that it is okay to set boundaries, and it is not a selfish activity to do. If people do not respect those boundaries, it is also okay to distance yourself and still love them anyways, especially if they are part of the Outside Signals or until they have learned that they cannot demand, manipulate, control, or guilt-trip you anymore.
It is a true reflection on their part that reveals who they truly are and it is up to them to decide what to do about it, to change their bad habits or to be stuck in their ways.
Set Boundaries Created Intentionality In My Life
Recently, I began serving again, and the reason I had not done this in quite a while is because I wanted to be in prayer with God, talk with my husband, and truly seek out an area in ministry at church that God has called me to.
Instead of serving everywhere and getting burned out, I know that I am serving in an area that God has placed me in, now in the media team which I used to serve before.
I know that it is okay to set boundaries, to say “I’m sorry, I won’t be able to make it that day,” or “I am only available on these days…” and so forth. If I begin to see signs of my Inside Signal of people-pleasing or feeling guilty because I can’t make it to something or did not do something right, then I know that my boundaries are lacking and I need to work on it again. It’s never a concrete or a one and done type of deal, for setting boundaries is a constant journey.
Lack of Boundaries – Work & Marriage
This blog is probably one of the most in real-time post you all will get to read so far. We are writing this not to show that we have mastered the art to setting boundaries. Nope, this is just the beginning of a long journey and we are still learning.
On Christmas morning of 2020, Lianna and I (David) decided to open our stocking stuffers first, usually containing fun items that can be useful or not. As I was opening my stocking stuffers (if you do not know what those are… I’m sorry!) I saw a neatly wrapped package and started tearing off the paper and to my amazement, it was a book. I was really excited, as I turned the pages you can imagine the smell of a fresh newly printed book.
As I read the title it was very simple: Boundaries. After reading through the table of contents, I was amazed by the amount of information I was ready to soak up. Before 2021, I started to read this book and my eyes were opened to this new world of boundaries. I never really understood that I had set boundaries in my own life without realizing it. All I knew is that when I set boundaries, my life and our marriage improved, stress was reduced, and many other great qualities spawned from it.
One of the first boundaries that I can think of that Lianna and I set into place early on in our marriage, putting our phones out of our bedroom and getting an actual alarm clock. Before we made this drastic move of the phone location, we did our research and it turns out that having the phone next to your bed will cause many many problems down the road with yourself and in your relationships.
Within a few days of doing so we slept much better, our room turned into our private sanctuary, and our love life was ten times more fulfilling. The distracting buzz or ring tone was out of sight and we were in each other’s mind. The common phrase out of sight out of mind, literally came to life. Since then, it has been over a year of practicing this boundary and I can say, we enjoy plugging in our phones in another room, leaving them be, and whisking off to our bedroom free of distractions.
I want to shift over the topics a little bit and write about boundaries in the workplace. There are so many different scenarios and situations and not one person’s workplace is the same as the other. So here are a few examples of how I set boundaries in my workplace this year and maybe by reading this, you will be inspired to set some of your own.
When the workday is done (set a reasonable time or hours) the work is finished for the day.
That means email, texting or talking to your co-workers all comes to halt. That includes weekends as well if you are not scheduled to work weekends. Then leave the work phone alone and do not pick it up until the next workday.
In the past, I would check on emails late at night, answer texts and get stressed out when I was supposed to be winding down from the day. The time that I was spending working, should have been spent with my wife, family or friends. Our body and our minds can only take so much before they start shutting down in different ways.
I started to gain weight, I was not making time for health and fitness, I was not going to bed relaxed, my sleep habits were off. The phone kept buzzing….
Maybe I am explaining what is currently going on in your workplace. Maybe you are feeling burned out, used and overworked. Start today by setting a small boundary and grow from there.
Because of these simple bad habits I began to resent my job and I did not know why. It was the weirdest thing. I had let my full-time career take control of almost every aspect of my life and quite honestly, the lives of loved ones. I was not liking it.
So I recently decided to take action and set a small boundary and life has been so much better. The feeling like I am missing out or going to leave someone unread (or on read) doesn’t affect me like it used to. Yes, the people on the other side of the phone or computer may get offended but you know what? It is okay. Ever since I set the simple boundary in my workplace, I have really enjoyed working with my bosses, peers and employees.
Why do I need to set boundaries?
We figured we needed to have a section of a list of why we should and we need to set boundaries, in case you haven’t been fully convinced up until this point. If you are wondering why you need to set boundaries, here are some solid reasons below that may change your mind:
Setting boundaries actually brings more quality into your relationships that you care about.
- When is the last time you’ve opened up your physical Bible and read more than a verse or two? Have you been in worship or prayer? Had good Bible study time? God wants you and your devotion.
Your marriage or romantic relationship
- Have you gone on a physical date lately? Have you made the time to speak to them about their day, what they’re feeling, etc.? Have you gone out of your way to kiss them, hug them, say you appreciate them, etc.?
- When is the last time you saw or made time for your family? Have you talked to them recently for more than 2 minutes on the phone?
Friendships and Community
- Have you been in church lately? When was the last time you hung out or talked to a friend? Have you been plugged into or committed to be a part of ministry, community group, hangout session, game nights, etc.
Setting boundaries can help you to better allocate your time and energy in areas you care about.
Did you used to have time to do activities and hobbies that you loved? Like writing, drawing, riding horses, playing sports, going to the beach, being in nature, being active, and so much more.
Setting boundaries gives you freedom to follow your God-given mission.
Dream with God, dream with your spouse and your family, just DREAM. Be in constant prayer and worship with God, write out your insights from the Holy Spirit, get to know God and His heart in the Bible. I promise you, He will give you a new-found joy and peace for your life.
In time, He will reveal His mission for your life and His purpose for you is to love God and love others as yourself.
What Areas of Your Life Need Boundaries?
Now, you may be convinced to begin setting boundaries, but you are confused on where to begin or where to figure out if you do need boundaries. Some people have a difficult time seeing where they need to look at. Now, the list below can get you started, but it’s only from our points of view so we may have missed some. So, just add an area or two that may apply more to your lifestyle wherever needed.
Friendships & Community
Interaction w/ Opposite Sex
Social Media & Phone
TV & Streaming Services
Examples with budgeting/finances, alcohol/drugs, health, etc.
Signals That Indicates That Boundaries Need To Be Set
This is the section that will give insights and hints that you may need to make changes and add in boundaries in your life. We brainstormed and got ideas from the Boundaries book, but there is a chance that we have missed quite a few of them, so just use these signals as a starting point.
There may be more that you have observed or are experiencing right now that can be an Outside or Inside Signal. If you truly do not see any, that’s great. However, you can always pray for God to open your eyes and to reveal to you things that you may not have noticed before. He always wants to help you if you just ask Him.
Outside Signals are external factors like people, situations, and more.
- People show up at the door unannounced
- Feeling the need to avoid a certain person or their phone calls.
- Being guilt-tripped
- Talked to horribly
- Atmosphere of fear
- People getting angry when they don’t get their way
- When something occurs that’s inconvenient or costly that wasn’t asked of you ahead of time
- The excuse of tradition
Inside Signals are internal factors going inside of you
- Falling apart in some or every area of your life
- Never have “time” or too busy
- Not being able to say no
- People pleasing
- Social media/phone addiction.
- Broke or almost broke from money or debt
- Spiraling out of control
- Exhausted/tired/almost no sleep
- Say I am sorry a TON
Conclusion & Final Thoughts
Our life has improved dramatically since we started setting boundaries in our personal lives and in our marriage. We are much less stressed out as a couple, the time that we spend together is very intentional and we enjoy each other’s presence.
From a personal standpoint, we are both able to think clearer throughout the day to make better life decisions that may affect more people besides ourselves. We each are working on not letting the “small” stuff get in our heads and not allow it to control us because we can identify it and work it out much easier.
And, guess what? Boundaries are not permanent; you can change them anytime if you do not like it, if it is too rigid or you’re too lonely. And we are not here to tell you what to do; we only want to present the information, research, our experiences and insights, and the encouragement to pray and ask God about this.
Throughout the year, I am sure that we will be setting more appropriate boundaries. We are much more aware of boundaries now and we will continue to work on them in the near future. We are not perfect, but it is worth giving it a shot and seeing how it goes for you.
You never know what could happen. Just look to the example of Jesus and how he lived full of grace and truth, no backing down or bowing to the whims of people. He always put His full focus on God the Father, and that is where we should always begin.
Thank you for reading,