Don’t burn out, you are not the savior.
Most who will read this blog are serving as a vocational or lay leader in ministry, or maybe a helping profession. If that is your role you know all too well there is much work to be done. Jesus tells his disciples in Luke 10:2 “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few.” It can truly feel this way in ministry leadership. Women, you often feel heavily the weight of the work, the details, the burden of compassion and caring. In ministry leadership you may find yourself self-sacrificing, people-pleasing, and have difficulty acknowledging your own needs. Many of you will not be unfamiliar with burnout. Burnout a state of mental exhaustion where you are devoid of motivation and beyond caring. Burnout is a sense of being “all dried up”.
Healthy boundaries are important to help us take good care of what God has entrusted to us: the calling, the ministry, the work, the vocation, the household, the child-rearing, etc. He has made us in his image and we are both valuable and worth protecting. Boundaries help protect us from being taken advantage of, abused, as well as from experiencing burnout.
Are boundaries biblical?
It is easy and natural for us to pour ourselves out for others as we follow the example of Jesus and his disciples. In Galatians 6:2, we are instructed to “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ”. It is also important for us to understand verse 5, “For each will have to bear his own load”. This is just one of many scriptures that show us that there are limits to what we do for others. In fact, God himself is boundaries in his very essence: He is three distinct persons, all interconnected, all fully God yet each unique. God desires this same kind of relationship between us and others. He clearly teaches us that we are to be one, yet he has created us all unique with distinct characteristics, skills, abilities, personalities and roles.
God sets the boundaries for his relationship with us as well. He gives us work and purpose, unique to each of us (Romans 12:4-8). God sets a boundary with Adam and Eve about what they can and cannot eat in the garden. And the Gospel shows us the limits of our nature and behavior, the consequence of sin and the payment required to make it right.
Jesus, our earthly example of God, displayed his own boundaries of self-care. He accepted his personal/human limits by eating regularly, taking naps, and he was rarely in a rush as he went about his ministry. Jesus lived in a rhythm of life that kept him connected with the Father and proactive in seeking that time with him. For example, many times in Mark 6, in the midst of ministering to the crowds, Jesus entreats the disciples to come away and rest. No doubt this was to be with the Father and to refuel both body and spirit.
So what exactly are boundaries?
Just like property boundaries, personal boundaries create definition. They let us know who we are and who we are not, what is our role and what is someone else’s. They also define responsibility. This could be the most common use of personal boundaries, to determine what belongs to us and what belongs to someone else. We put boundaries around things worth protecting; these could be physical, time, spiritual, or emotional.
Our identity in Him is worth protecting from the enemy: “the thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy” (John 10:10). The mission and purpose that God has given us is worth protecting as well. We need to be protected from being taken advantage of or abused. We need protection from burnout or extreme stress. Boundaries help us take care of all of these good gifts that God has given us. Boundaries prepare and sustain in the battle to push back darkness and usher in the Light of Life.
Boundaries are an established set of limits over your physical and emotional well-being which you expect others to respect in their relationship to you. Boundaries can look like emotional and/or physical space between you and another person. You may need this in order to allow yourself to be authentically you, without pressure to be something that you are not. Boundaries could be a limit or line over which you will not allow anyone to cross because of negative past experiences. Boundaries can be clearly defined limits for the actions of others that you are willing to accept or in order to maintain your freedom to think, feel or act the way you need.
How do I know if my boundaries have been breached?
First, it must be clear that that any abuse that is in nature physical, emotional, verbal, spiritual or financial is a major breach of boundaries and should not be allowed to continue. Seek wise counsel and/or professional help in these situations.
Other behaviors that can point out lack of or breach of boundaries include:
- Entitlement- a person tells you that you owe them or they are entitled to what they are demanding of you
- Unrealistic Expectations- when you are asked to fulfill a role that is not yours or outside your ability
- Baiting/Game Playing/Entrapment
- Enmeshment- requiring that everyone in a group to everything together or think, feel, act in the same way where autonomy is discouraged
- Untreated addiction
- Using scripture against you to try to modify your behavior or get what they want
Feelings can be good indicators that something is not right in a relationship or situation. Feelings can alert us to the need for evaluation with discernment. We may feel a lack of privacy or feel overwhelmed. We may feel a lack of freedom or feel violated or used. If our boundaries have been subtly breached over time, we will tend to feel resentful, bitter, or even angry. Another indicator could be isolation or turning inside so that people cannot see how you are really feeling or what you are thinking. Listen to your feelings, evaluate them, try to find the root and ask the Lord to bring into the light what is really happening.
How do I put healthy boundaries into place?
It would be wise to evaluate your own use of the above. Sometimes we deal with people who breach our boundaries, and sometimes we can be the one breaching the boundaries of others. The first step to creating healthy boundaries for yourself is to rid yourself of boundary-breaching behaviors. Be an example of healthy boundaries through the way you relate to others.
When you need to establish a boundary with someone, make sure you that are able to clearly state the boundary first to yourself and then to the other person. Make sure you have been thoughtful about the boundary issue and clearly state what behavior is acceptable and what is unacceptable for you. Matthew 5:37 “Let what you say be simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’”. When a stated boundary is crossed or violated, remind the individual directly of your boundary and ask for his/her help in maintaining it. If the person continues to violate your boundary, firmly and kindly ask for the behavior to stop and indicate the consequence if the boundary continues to be violated. Consequences can be varied and could include removing yourself from the situation, soliciting help from a superior or mentor, or creating distance physically or emotionally from the person. You can be both respectful and firm. You can speak the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15).
Boundaries can feel awkward and people may see them as unloving. When people push back against your boundaries, It is helpful to remember that you are responsible FOR your own thoughts, feeling and behaviors, but not for those of others. You are responsible TO others: to be kind, respectful, compassionate, communicative, and honest.
For more information and study on boundaries, see Boundaries: When to say yes and how to say no by Dr. Henry Cloud & Dr. John Townsend
Written by Rebecca Maxwell, Licensed Family and Marriage Therapist