Nations have borders. In war time those borders are especially guarded and in some cases even closed. In peace time those borders are watched and monitored. I cannot simply walk across the border from one nation to another. I must have permission. I must have a passport and I must pass customs and be permitted into that country. Not only that, but I can’t just cross over anywhere. I have to go to the places in that border specifically for the purpose of entering that nation. These borders are not just man’s idea, either. God set the borders for Israel in Canaan (Numbers 34 and 35).
So what is the purpose of borders? Well, obviously we have borders in our nations for protection against enemies. In Nehemiah the wall had to be rebuilt to protect from attack. But what about the boundaries that were set up between the tribes in Numbers? Why does the United States have separate states instead of just one big country? Borders don’t just protect us from enemies, they protect us from ourselves and from each other. On a smaller scale, for example, I might really like my next door neighbor but that doesn’t mean I want him to come into my home and shower in my bathroom and sleep in my bed. That would be crossing the border of my yard, my house and my personal space. If my neighbor wants to use my lawnmower, he can’t just waltz into my garage and take it. He is required to ask my permission, then wait for my answer, then I will let him into my garage so that he can get the mower. You might say “Well, that’s kind of selfish. Why don’t you just leave your garage unlocked so that your neighbor can just get the mower whenever he needs it?” That’s a great question! I’m so glad you asked! So- here’s the answer: If my garage is left unlocked, what’s to stop a thief? Then neither my neighbor nor I have a lawn mower we can use. Not only that, but what if I come home to find that my lawnmower is missing, so I go and ask my neighbor if he has it. If he says he doesn’t have it, I might be suspicious of my neighbor who knew my garage was unlocked. Boundaries are in place for a reason. Entrance past those boundaries must be gained by permission or safety is forfeit. John 10:1-3 says this “Most assuredly, I say to you, he who does not enter the sheepfold by the door, but climbs up some other way, the same is a thief and a robber. But he who enters by the door is the shepherd of the sheep. To him the doorkeeper opens, and the sheep hear his voice; and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out.”
Boundaries are there to help us to tell friend from foe. The bad guys don’t all wear white, and the good guys don’t all wear black. Its all about how respectful someone is of your boundaries. Notice that there is more than one way to enter, but only one door where the doorkeeper sits. A person who crosses your boundaries without your permission is not safe. Boundaries in relationships are exactly like this. The trouble is that many people don’t really know where their boundaries lie. For example, you may know that you don’t like to be yelled at (who does?), but you may think that the person yelling at you is somehow allowed to do so because of the position they hold in your life, such as a boss, a spouse, or a parent. Just because you don’t like to be yelled at, doesn’t make it a boundary. It’s only a boundary if you enforce it. If you say to the person “I am not yelling at you, and I would appreciate it if you didn’t yell at me. We can talk like adults.” Then you have just set the boundary. From that point on, if that person yells at you, then they have crossed your set boundary and you should be prepared to take action accordingly. Tell the person what will happen if the yelling continues… “I will hang up the phone” “I will report this to your supervisor” “I will walk away” Then do it. If it happens another time, be consistent and do it again. Eventually the person will realize that if they wish to get a word in edgewise, they will keep their tone at an appropriate volume.
Setting boundaries can seem scary, especially in the case of a long-standing dysfunctional relationship. But remember- if you have no boundaries then neither of you is safe in the relationship. A relationship where there are no boundaries is one without respect. How can I respect boundaries that do not exist? Shalom!