The Lord said to Moses, “Command the Israelites and say to them: ‘When you enter Canaan, the land that will be allotted to you as an inheritance is to have these boundaries: Your southern side will include some of the Desert of Zin along the border of Edom. Your southern boundary will start in the east from the southern end of the Dead Sea, cross south of Scorpion Pass, continue on to Zin and go south of Kadesh Barnea. Then it will go to Hazar Addar and over to Azmon, where it will turn, join the Wadi of Egypt and end at the Mediterranean Sea.'” Numbers 34: 1-5
This is very specific. There is no room for misunderstanding or negotiation. The same detail is given for the western boundary, the northern boundary and the eastern boundary, finishing up with the line –
This will be your land, with its boundaries on every side. Numbers 34:12
God will provide for his people exactly what they need – no more, no less. Those boundaries are to be fixed – not to be expanded or changed or moved back. Clear boundaries matter. Just think of all the wars and bloodshed in Europe over the years over the changing of boundaries. The people of Israel need to be clear about their identity as a nation and where their physical boundaries are to be drawn, as well as their cultural and religious and moral boundaries.
Which leads me on to think more widely about boundaries in our lives. Search the internet if this topic interests you. I did. There are a wealth of articles out there. I have just stumbled upon a few to help me put words to what is inside me, because this subject is very close to my heart. I am still learning about boundaries.
I was brought up to believe that being a good Christian was all about being entirely selfless. I was to matter less than everyone around me. I was always to put the needs of others before my own. I was to be wholly available to God and to other people. I was naturally a very happy, bubbly child and I was encouraged (used) to make the people around me happy. When my sister (who had a lot of difficult emotional issues in her teenage years) was in the depths of despair, this Little Miss Cheerful was sent upstairs to her room to cheer her up. I didn’t want to do it. I didn’t like doing it. The pressure was on me and yet I knew whatever I did, it would never work.
I carried this need to make everyone happy with me into the rest of my life. With a husband and five children, it was my job to make sure everyone was happy all of the time. I had to be everything to everyone. If anything was not right in their lives, it was my job to fix it. The same with my friends – if one of them was unhappy or ill, then I had to drop everything and be there for them. If anyone was lonely, I had to invite them round. My aim was to please everyone. Maybe that was why Christmas was always so hard – trying to fit in with and please all of our extended families was an impossibility, so whatever we did, we always felt guilty for letting someone else down.
And guess what? I couldn’t keep it up. I was exhausted most of the time. I was miserable most of the time. I felt guilty most of the time. I felt like a failure. I couldn’t fix everyone. I couldn’t make everyone happy all of the time. I couldn’t be there for everyone all of the time. Whatever I did, it was never enough. Whatever I tried, sometimes it would never work.
And I had absolutely no idea who I was and what I enjoyed and what my dreams were. My identity was drowning. I was sacrificing myself for others. I had no boundaries at all.
So gradually over the last ten years, I have learnt how to draw some boundaries. I have learnt how to take care of myself (I justified that at first by saying it made me better equipped to be there for other people!). I have learnt what I enjoy and how to express that. All of which was necessary for me to survive the domestic abuse that I have been through and just about survived. No, my husband did not hit me. But my child did. No, my husband did not threaten me or undermine me. But my child did.
Emotional abuse (with a bit of physical abuse thrown in) is hard for anyone to understand. Parental abuse (from a child to a parent) is even less widely talked about and understood. In the last five years, I have been lied to constantly, stolen from, pushed around, sworn at and called every name imaginable – by my daughter. I have had a bowl of soup thrown at me, shampoo tipped over my head, all my books knocked off the shelf. I have faced a torrent of abusive messages from morning til night about how pathetic I am and how I am a complete failure as a mother and how everyone would be better off without me and how they all hope I’ll end up dead in a ditch and how I am ruining everyone’s lives and how it is all my fault and how she wished she had never been adopted by me or met me and how I fail her and make her like she is………….And I have been expected to be available every second day or night to drop everything and sort out her messes because that is what a loving parent would do. I have been down on my knees scrubbing coleslaw off the wall or sweeping broken glass over the floor while she has stood over me swearing at me.
And I have been told that this is a natural outworking of her condition and that the best thing for her is for me to find a way to ride it out. That the fact that she is so horrible to me show how much she cares for me. That absolutely nothing I could do would make any difference – there was no solution – the ‘fix’ was not out there waiting to be discovered – I didn’t need to agonise if I was doing the right thing or not because everything would be twisted into being the wrong thing (and this erosion of hope was the hardest to deal with of all).
I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t carry on how the professionals wanted me too. My self esteem was in tatters. All my boundaries were being demolished. In July 2013, I was on the verge of an emotional breakdown. I was an emotional wreck. I could not get through another day. Yet somehow I managed to come back from the brink and started to create reasonable boundaries. This meant withdrawing emotionally from my daughter pretty much all of the time and realising that nothing I could do could fix her. I have no idea if I am getting it right or not. Maybe there is not a right. But I am happier and more fulfilled than I have ever been in my whole life. I have a stronger sense of identity and self esteem than ever before. My journey has led me through some pretty dark emotional territory and it is breaking my heart to see my husband now walking that path of parental abuse for himself and frustrating to watch on as he learns ro draw his own lines and create his own boundaries.
We all need boundaries. We all need to know how to protect ourselves from abuse and exploitation. We also need to know how to respect the boundaries of others. You may not agree with where I have drawn my lines and created my boundaries and I may not agree with yours. But each of us is made in the image of God and needs to protect and nurture the image of God within ourselves the best way we know how.
Let’s finish with a few quotes –
Personal boundaries are the limits we set in relationships that allow us to protect our selves from being manipulated by, or enmeshed with, emotionally needy others. John Stibbs
It’s all about protecting ourselves.
We are, all of us unique, and boundaries allow us to rejoice in our own uniqueness. John Stibbs
A big fat YES to that!
“As much I want you to be happy, I’m realizing that I can’t be responsible for your happiness.”
I had never spoken truer words in my life. Even as the tears flowed down my cheeks, I felt a profound sense of freedom and lightness. Alana Mbanza
Click on that link. It’s a very readable account and says everything much better than I just have.
Setting boundaries is not selfish. It’s self-love – and that is OK.
Yes, it’s hard. Of course it’s hard. But it is healthy.
It’s hard for codependents to set boundaries because:
They put others’ needs and feelings first;
They don’t know themselves;
They don’t feel they have rights;
They believe setting boundaries jeopardizes the relationship
They never learned to have healthy boundaries.
Boundaries are learned. If yours weren’t valued as a child, you didn’t learn you had them. Any kind of abuse violates personal boundaries, including teasing. For example, my brother ignored my pleas for him to stop tickling me until I could barely breathe. This made me feel powerless and that I didn’t have a right to say “stop” when I was uncomfortable. Darlene Lancer
As I said before, there is so much more out there. Your life is your journey. Thinking about and reflecting on and researching boundaries in your life could make a massive difference for you today.