Today we are continuing with our conversation through QUESTIONS. We asked what topics you would like us to talk about, and one that came up as a pattern in what was submitted was boundaries.
As we jump into our conversation, we are going to take a moment to wrap our heads around the capacity we have in this moment. We all know that life has moments! Moments of ease or stress or anxiety, of lots happening or nothing happening, of pain or happiness or sadness…
We are going to take a moment to get a score, using the Holmes and Rahe stress scale. This will not be to share your results but to build a foundation to a dialogue question. Using this list, and thinking through the last 12 months, circle all that apply to you and add up your total.
150 or less is low, 150-300 is moderate, and over 300 is high. Is your score what you expected? Are you doing pretty well considering your score, or maybe struggling more than your score would suggest? But here are the questions we’re actually going to talk about:
What tends to happen to you internally and externally as your score rises?
How does your score rising and lowering impact how you connect with, relate to, and/or help others?
Today we are talking about boundaries: responsibility in what to do, boundaries in what not to do. How to help, and when not to help. As we process this question and this topic, let's start by wrapping our heads around the extremes.
I think it is obvious that the extremes are not what we are aiming for. But as we process responsibility and boundaries, I think we can build into the process by seeing the extremes.
The first extreme: Do all, be all. I am responsible for everyone and everything. It is all up to me. If I don’t, no one will.
Let me poorly use some scripture for a moment. Maybe this is what you’ve heard, seen, or felt growing up in the church. Paul said:
I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me. (Phillippians 4:13 KJV)
Okay, Paul, I get it–I have to do it all!
The author of Hebrews said:
And do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased. (Hebrews 13:16)
Okay, I get it. I have to suffer in order to please God.
I hear John’s words in 1 John:
If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person? (1 John 3:17)
Oh no. Oh No!!!! God’s love must not be in me. God doesn’t love me. I have to do all and be all or God hates me!!!
I hear the words of Jesus as He told the parable: When I was hungry you fed me, when I was thirsty you gave me something to drink, when I was lonely you visited me. WHEN, JESUS? When you did it unto the least, you did it unto me.
For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me. (Matthew 25:42-43)
Now remember that we were using these passages poorly. But a dangerous “poorly” will have an element of truth.
So, we are called to help, to meet needs, to be generous, to serve, to step in, to not look away. But this calling is not just to make us feel inferior (or superior), worthless, or like a continual failure. It is not to make us feel like we are hated by God or like we are a disappointment to God.
I want you, for a moment, to feel the pressure of having to be all and do all! Let’s process two sides of this:
How does it impact a person when he/she feels responsible for everything and everyone?
Feeling pressure to be and do all can quickly move us towards burnout. Think for a moment–when have you felt like there’s no end in sight? The danger is that burnout replaces hope.
If you feel like you have to solve all your family’s problems, when you realize you can't do it all, you start to lose any hope of things ever changing. Apathy starts to set in. Congratulations, you’ve arrived at burnout. “Burnout can happen anywhere. It is the result of overwhelming demands or responsibilities, either placed on us by others or by ourselves, that we simply cannot bear.”
Those moments that hope is fleeting, we need to remember Jesus words:
“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.” (Matthew 11:28-30 MSG)
Another question for us to ponder: where's the line between sacrificing for Christ and burning out for Christ?
Burnout exists where your effectiveness ceases. We are taking on responsibilities that we have no right taking. We are only doing things out of guilt and shame instead of love and hope. The motive matters. Burnout exists in moments of poor boundaries. Boundaries are a tool we use to define who we are. Healthy boundaries should give us hope.
So be content with who you are, and don’t put on airs. God’s strong hand is on you; he’ll promote you at the right time. Live carefree before God; he is most careful with you. (1 Peter 5:6-7 MSG)
There is personal impact–OF COURSE. But what about the impact of being all and doing all on those that are on the receiving end?
What is the impact of being on the receiving end of someone who is responsible for everything and everyone?
Now let's go to the other extreme: Do nothing.
Again, let me use some scripture poorly for a moment. I hear what Paul is saying in 1 Corinthians:
Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies. (1 Corinthians 6:19-20)
My body is a temple. I must guard it at all cost. I must listen to it and not do anything that puts it under strain.
I hear the words of Jesus, calling me:
“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30)
Cool–follow Jesus and everything will be easy and restful. Follow Jesus and nothing will be hard or difficult. He promised!
I am so thankful for what Paul said in Ephesians:
After all, no one ever hated their own body, but they feed and care for their body, just as Christ does the church— (Ephesians 5:29)
I need to take care of me and me first. It is all about me. I am just caring for me.
Again–context is so important to scripture!!! But feel and process this other extreme:
How does it impact a person when he/she feels zero responsibility for anything or anyone outside of themselves?
Selfish. Something that Greg has brought up several times in this week's preparation, but also in other contexts over the years: self care without self sacrifice is simply self indulgence.
While it is not just selfish self help, it is also not just sacrificing self, hurting self, giving self. One of the best things you can do for the people around you is to take responsibility for and care for yourself first and foremost. It's much more difficult to help when you are also in a place of struggle.
Let’s process the external impact for a moment.
What is the impact of being on the receiving end of someone who takes zero responsibility for anything or anyone?
Abandoned. There are short-term immediate consequences to being abandoned. There are long-term sometimes quite severe consequences to being abandoned. The degree of effort needed to heal from being abandoned is proportional to the degree abandonment felt. It will not just disappear, not in yourself, not in others.
Let’s bring Jesus into our processing. We can learn a lot by seeking to be more like Jesus. Paul said:
Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ. (1 Corinthians 11:1)
As a pastoral team, as we prepared, we talked quite a bit about how hard-and-fast rules would be nice in boundaries, but that is not how it works. Each person is different. Each situation is different. What is okay in one moment for a person may not be okay for them in a different moment. What is not okay in one moment for a person may be okay for them in a different moment. And that is just half of the equation. There is also the need and all of its uniqueness.
A simplistic and incomplete perspective can be one that says we should be responsible for everything and everyone just like Jesus did. But let’s feel the complexities of Jesus’ boundaries, the way he lived out His responsibility in different moments.
First, the rich young ruler. A rich young guy comes up to Jesus and asks, ‘What good thing must I do to get eternal life?” Wow, that’s a loaded question–not just because of the question, but the heart behind the question. Jesus responds with a call to keep the commands. Okay, which ones? Jesus quotes from Exodus and Deuteronomy. I do those–what still am I lacking? A loaded statement–what is happening within?
Jesus answered, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” When the young man heard this, he went away sad, because he had great wealth. (Matthew 19:21-22)
Jesus let him walk away.
Second, the sending out of the seventy two. He appointed 72 of his followers to go out to the places that He is about to go. He gives them some clear instructions, including this:
Heal the sick who are there and tell them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you.’ (Luke 10:9)
Cool. There probably was some real intense training or some massive tool kit to bring or some overwhelming plan that was known inside and out, right? Well…
After this the Lord appointed seventy-two others and sent them two by two ahead of him to every town and place where he was about to go. He told them, “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field. Go! I am sending you out like lambs among wolves. Do not take a purse or bag or sandals; and do not greet anyone on the road. (Luke 10:1-4)
Jesus did not micromanage. He sent them out and entrusted them. Jesus saw them as trustworthy.
Third, the calming of the storm. In Matthew 8, Jesus and His disciples get into a boat and set off. A storm comes. It is wild. They are fearing for their lives, yet Jesus was resting–SLEEPING–during this storm.
The disciples went and woke him, saying, “Lord, save us! We’re going to drown!” He replied, “You of little faith, why are you so afraid?” Then he got up and rebuked the winds and the waves, and it was completely calm. The men were amazed and asked, “What kind of man is this? Even the winds and the waves obey him!” (Matthew 8:25-27)
Jesus did question them about their fear AND Jesus did calm the storm. Feel this: Jesus did ask them the hard question AND Jesus did calm the storm as well.
Fourth, the two blind men. In Matthew 20. Jesus was walking with His disciples, and a massive crowd followed and crowded in. Two blind men heard and felt the massive crowd building. They found that Jesus was the cause–the center of the crowd passing by. So what did they do? They started screaming: Son of David, have mercy on us!!!! Again and again, Son of David, have mercy on us!!!!
The people in the crowd scolded them and told them to stop, but they yelled all the more: Son of David, have mercy on us!!!! And Jesus, in the mass of humanity, came to them:
Jesus stopped and called them. “What do you want me to do for you?” he asked. “Lord,” they answered, “we want our sight.” Jesus had compassion on them and touched their eyes. Immediately they received their sight and followed him. (Matthew 20:32-34)
It’s shocking to me that the first thing Jesus did was ask a question, one He probably already knew the answer to. He asked them to define what they needed. Their perspective and opinions mattered to Jesus.
I worry about how often we like to get on our high horse and pretend to know exactly what “those [insert any people group]” people need.
Okay, one more: the woman with terminal bleeding. We see a woman in Mark 5 who had been suffering with terminal bleeding for 12 years. She tried everything, but nothing helped. She heard that Jesus was passing by, and so she resolved to get to Him and touch Him as He passed by. She believed that if she could just touch Him, she would be healed. She fought the crowd. She pushed her way through and was able to touch the edge of Jesus’ garment as He went by, and she was healed immediately.
Jesus responded with a question, another question He already probably knew the answer to–a repeated question–Who touched Me? The disciples were so confused by the question, because in the crowd so many people were touching them and Jesus, yet He persisted:
But Jesus kept looking around to see who had done it. Then the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came and fell at his feet and, trembling with fear, told him the whole truth. He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace and be freed from your suffering.” (Mark 5:32-34)
Jesus let the rich young ruler walk away. Jesus trusted the 72 and didn’t micromanage them. Jesus questioned the disciples’ fear and calmed the storm. Jesus wasn’t presumptuous as to what the two blind men wanted. Jesus helped the woman even without a deliberate action. And these are just a few of the stories of Jesus helping people. There are complexities and similarities and differences. With these stories in mind:
What does it mean to be Christlike in our responsibility to situations and people?
We have covered a lot of ground today. Our goal in this series has been to dig down to the foundations under the questions and topics we are addressing.
Today we looked at our stress score and talked about its impact on us and on how we connect, relate, and even help others. We talked about the extremes in responsibility–doing everything and its impact on us and others, and doing nothing and its impact on us and others. We looked at Jesus and asked the complicated question of what Christlikeness in our responsibilities looks like.
And now to the foundation: What is the why behind your responsibility? What is the why behind your boundary? Sometimes we have life experiences that cause us to react in certain ways to establishing and keeping boundaries. These might be our families of origin, past or current unhealthy relationships, learned behavior, or traumatic events. Our reactions tend to be either fight (confront the threat), flight (run away from the threat), freeze (shut down to block out the threat), or fawn (appease the threat).
Some of us are people-pleasers. People pleasing kept us safe, kept everyone happy, and prevented certain people from being angry with us. We try to set boundaries, but we don’t hold tight to the boundaries we set. We roll over as soon as there is any pushback, compromising the boundaries we set, letting go of the things we hold valuable to us. We have this internal message that we don’t want to rock the boat. It’s our job to keep everyone happy.
Or maybe someone pushes our boundaries and we just freeze. We don’t respond at all. We avoid, avoid, avoid. Or we find the fastest escape. Maybe we say yes to a commitment but find ourselves abandoning it.
Or we go the opposite direction–we become unmovable. We allow no flexibility in our boundaries and push other people’s boundaries to submit to ours: “What I say goes.” We try to control the circumstances around us, and everyone around us is trying to keep us happy.
We’re just trying to keep ourselves safe. We all have different ways we respond to difficult life experiences, trauma or stress–we fight, we run, we freeze, we appease. And these responses in our body affect our relationships, how we set boundaries, and our ability to set boundaries.
And these responses are meant to keep us safe–initially, in stress or trauma or difficult circumstances. But they can become the lens we look through in defining our behaviors in our relationships, the stories we tell ourselves: I can’t say no; they’ll think I’m selfish. I can’t say no; that will make them angry. I can’t say yes; they’ll take advantage of me. I’ll just never answer my phone so I don’t have to have that conversation.
When we look at our past, when we look at our response to stress, when we look at the things that make us feel vulnerable–what do you see as the motivations behind your response to boundaries?
What might help you better understand the motives behind your response to boundaries?
How might that understanding impact your responsibilities and boundaries?
Take It Deeper Questions
- Read Matthew 20:20-34.
- There are fewer than 15 weeks until Christmas. What will be on your Christmas list this year?
- Jesus asks the mom and the blind men, “What do you want?” What is the difference between these two scenarios?
- Why does Jesus respond as He does to the mom’s request?
- Why does Jesus respond as He does to the blind men’s request?
- Were both requests selfish?
- How were they similar? How were they different?
- What is the why behind Jesus’ responses in these two stories?
- How does this text encourage, frustrate, focus, and/or confuse?
Bible Reading Plan
- 2 Kings 21
- 2 Kings 22
- 2 Kings 23
- 2 Kings 24
- 2 Kings 25