Back At You: Setting Limits With Ourselves
1 Thessalonians 4:4 – “Each of you should learn to control your own body in a way that is holy and honorable.”
Sarah had been working on major boundary issues in her therapy for a while now. She was seeing progress in resolving responsibility conflicts with her parents, her husband, and her kids. Yet today she introduced a new issue.
“I haven’t told you about this relationship before, though I guess I should have. I have tremendous boundary problems with this woman. She eats too much, and has an attacking tongue. She’s undependable — lets me down all the time. And she’s spent money of mine and hasn’t paid me back in years.”
“Why haven’t you mentioned her before?” I asked. “Because she’s me,” Sarah replied.
Sarah was echoing the conflict most of us have. We learn that boundaries are biblical. We begin setting limits on others. We begin moving from taking too much responsibility to taking just enough. But how do we begin to set limits on ourselves?
Instead of looking at the control and manipulation of others, we also need to be looking at our responsibility to control our internal boundary conflicts. This can get a little touchy. But, instead of a defensive posture, we are much better off to look humbly at ourselves. To ask for feedback from others. To listen to people we trust. And to confess, “I was wrong.”
Since the Fall, our instincts have been to withdraw from relationship when we’re in trouble, when we most need other people. (Remember how Adam and Eve hid from God after they ate the forbidden fruit?) Due to our lack of security, our loss of grace, our shame, and our pride, we turn inward, rather than outward, when we’re in trouble. And that’s a problem. As the Preacher in Ecclesiastes 4:10 puts it: “Woe to one who is alone and falls and does not have another to help”.
Such withdrawal happens in our program time after time. For the first time, hurting people come forth with their need for connection. Like a rose lifting its petals after a hard rain, they begin to relate and connect in the light of the grace of God and his people. Then an unexpected setback will occur. Instead of bringing the painful and frightening feelings and problems to their newfound relationships, these people will often retreat to work out the problem alone.
And yet the Bible doesn’t recognize any other answer to our problems. Grace must come from the outside of ourselves to be useful and healing. Just as the branch withers without the vine (John 15:1 – 6), we can sustain neither life nor emotional repair without bonding to God and others. God and his people are the fuel, the energy source from which any problem is addressed.
Whether our boundary issue is food, substances, sex, time, projects, the tongue, or money, we can’t solve it in a vacuum. If we could, we would. But the more we isolate ourselves, the harder our struggle becomes. Just like an untreated cancer can become life-threatening in a short time, self-boundary problems will worsen with increased aloneness. As Ephesians 4:16 says, we need to be “joined and held together by every supporting ligament” of the body of Christ to heal and to grow up.
This devotional is drawn from Boundaries, by John Townsend and Henry Cloud.