reconciling things

“Allow it all to happen: beauty and terror…” Rilke

I think about boundaries a lot. I talk about boundaries fairly often. I wouldn’t say I am obsessed with boundaries, but some people have accused me of being so. Maybe because I didn’t discover this concept until so late in life that it has taken a decade to get the riff-raff out of my yard and off my lawn, like hungover frat boys the morning after a house party. All these people, things, ideas, soul-ties and such really had overstayed their welcome. It has been a massive clean-up effort, during which I have also been trying to repair the boundary lines—like putting the fences back up. Or maybe it is like getting a property re-surveyed to discover what is really yours and what belongs to the neighbors.

The conversation, at least on social media, surrounding boundaries is so muddy though. People have all kinds of ideas around what it means to have and keep boundaries. Of course you can read some great books by Danny Silk or Henry Cloud, but who has the time? (I mean, I do. Because I am “obsessed”….but whatevs.) So, I thought I would just do a little brain dump of some thoughts about boundaries. I know this is the content you are here for.

What I don’t mean when I talk about boundaries:

  • Boundaries are about freedom, not restriction. If you remember nothing else, please remember this. Freedom. It is about being free to choose how to live your life, without encroaching on someone else’s. And it is about making sure that those around you are free to choose to interact in engage in your life that makes both parties feel safe. If your boundaries are restricting your God-given freedom (to express yourself appropriately, to own your feelings and your process, to like the things you like and dislike the things you dislike, to always tell the truth) or restricting others in your life (so that they feel like they cannot safely express themselves appropriately, to have feelings/processes/opinions different from your own, to tell the truth) then that is not a boundary. That is a barbed-wire fence and you have created a prison.
  • Boundaries are not about dominance. They are not about establishing who is most powerful. As Danny Silk continually says, it takes two powerful people to have a healthy relationship. I know women who say that if a man (even a good one) tries to hug them (like a brotherly, kind, and appropriately affectionate hug) they will break his arm. They call this a boundary. It’s not. It is woundedness masking itself as empowerment. It’s fear of being dominated therefore (pre)matching energy. I don’t have time to match energy. I am about bringing my energy—which is positive and loving and open.
  • Boundaries are not to keep people out. Rather, they are about showing people how and where to enter your life. They are not walls without windows. They are more like fences and gates that open and close. What would a house be like with no doors? The door is the appropriate way to enter the house, also the appropriate way to leave. Boundaries let people in and out. You get to be the doorman of your life. However, you can no more seal the door of your emotional house than you can your physical house without locking yourself in too.

What I do mean when I talk about boundaries:

  • Boundaries are me stating what I will or am willing to do—without telling you what you can or cannot do. For example, someone recently asked to use my house as a stopping place for a weekend of hiking. I was in the process of grieving that weekend and I had my process set aside and planned. I could have rearranged my plans and put off the hard interior work I needed to do in order to entertain guests. But, I knew that 1) I didn’t want to and 2) that wasn’t what God was asking of me. So, instead, I replied, “Yes, of course you can. I will give you the code to get in. Do not plan to see me. My plans don’t include leaving my room. I have some important things to attend to. But there will be coffee and snacks set out for you. Make yourself at home.” Initially the person was taken aback by what they perceived as a lack of hospitality. But, refer to the point above—I showed them where the gate was and how to participate. The choice to enter and play by the rules was wholly up to them. I owned my actions. Theirs belonged to them. Ultimately they decided not to come. That was a win-win for everyone, because the boundaries were clear and loving, open and appropriate. No surprises. No resentment.
  • Boundaries are about telling the truth. I have spent most of my life not telling the truth, under the guise of being accommodating and agreeable. In my marriage I never picked the restaurant, the movie, the vacation destination, or the color of paint for the living room. I never had a strong opinion about nearly anything that was “not that important.” In the larger scheme of things it is not that important what we eat for dinner—until 20 years later you have never been out to Mexican food even once because one person’s happiness always trumped the other’s. I don’t blame this on my ex-husband, though. I own that. When asked, “What do you want to eat?” My reply was always, “Whatever you want is fine.” This was my modus operandi my whole life….probably until I found Jesus hidden in a tiny white Host in a monstrance in a little Adoration Chapel. I never rocked the boat until I found something (or rather Someone!) that was worth the risk. And I probably confused or pissed off a lot of people. Since then, the last decade really, I have been learning to tell the truth. Truth in small things. Truth in big things. Truth about everything. This is respecting the boundaries of my own soul. And it gives others the freedom to relate to me in truth.
  • Boundaries are ultimately about love. They are about loving God, myself, and others the way all things deserved to be loved. Boundaries are about learning to see people and things through the eyes of God, because only in this way will we be able to love them as they should be loved and treated as they should be treated. Everything and everyone has an innate dignity and should be appreciated, used, loved, treated according to its (or their) design. Seeing the value of each and then relating accordingly, that is the essence of a boundary. This takes work. This takes being self-aware. This takes intention. And it takes humility. Sometimes I have to step back and say, “Well, I really fucked that up. I didn’t see your value and I treated you outside your dignity. I am so sorry.” That’s the loving work of repairing a fence—even one I took part in breaking—and clearing the path to the door.

“Just give me time and I’ll love the things as no one ever did, until they have all become wide and worthy of you.” (Rilke)

Lack of consent is what has led to so much brokenness in the world. And we perpetuate it, just wearing different names. It’s time though to take a massive step toward walking in truth, tearing down walls, building proper fences, and showing people where the door is and how to knock. It’s loving. It’s powerful. It’s time. (For me at least and my boundary obsessed perspective.)

4 thoughts on “Boundaries: Doors and Walls

  1. This: “Everything and everyone has an innate dignity and should be appreciated, used, loved, treated according to its (or their) design. Seeing the value of each and then relating accordingly, that is the essence of a boundary.”

    A lack of boundaries leaves us paralyzed. I think it was Madeleine L’Engle who wrote about an experiment in which the fence around a schoolyard was taken down. Instead of running around and playing at recess, as they had always done, the schoolchildren all huddled together in the middle of the yard, unsure and afraid.

    If it was Madeleine, it was from “Walking on Water: Reflections on Faith and Art,” a very important book for me.


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