Boundary transgressors come in all shapes, sizes, situations, overt and covert, both subtle and belligerent and all manner between. If we take Jesus seriously in living a life devoted to speaking truth in love, we will need boundaries for many kinds of people and scenarios. Sure, none of this is easy, but it is all imperative.
Boundary transgressions happen to us in the supermarket, in schools and colleges, on sporting fields, and, hazard to say this, even in our own homes! (Who would have thought?)
Actually, they happen in our own homes most of all; within our families and rippling out from our closest friendships to our least acknowledged acquaintances.
You know that feeling of having been used, don’t you? Sure, you do. We all do. Unless that is, we’re a ‘use-ee’. Here’s an everyday, minor example: it’s the friend request from the person who, the moment we accept, bombs us with page and group suggestions without even a hint of, “Hey, I’m so-and-so.” It’s just another way of being spammed. We let it go. There are, however, far more despicable transgressions we need boundaries for.
Speaking the truth in love requires courage but be encouraged; if it’s doing God’s will that motivates you, you’ll love executing boundaries.
Boundaries are a loving way to say, “Ah, wait a minute; no you don’t!” You see, it’s loving to not let people get away with pushing us around. It’s called being assertive, and biblically there’s a name for it. It’s called peacemaking. Not peacekeeping! PeaceMAKING.
When we make peace, we do what we need to do to make peace occur in our living situations. We insist that our peace is something we wish to retain. We cannot exude peace if someone causes us to lose our peace. We must retain our peace, then, to be of any good effect in others’ lives.
Making peace with others who disrespect us is done through boundaries. When we execute a boundary by saying, “Umm, no!” we invite the other person to learn what would be preferable. It’s not our fault if they reject our invitation. But if they take us up, our invitation has given them an opportunity to learn what is reasonable in terms of the status quo between us. We’re on a journey of creating peace between us.
But if someone insists we’re being unreasonable by stating what we think is reasonable we have a bigger problem on our hands. The relationship as it stands is untenable. We may need to check that we have spoken the truth in love—that it was communicated calmly and gently though clearly and firmly. We might seek clarification over what we did wrong in communicating our requirement; did it hurt their feelings, for instance?
If it hurt their feelings (or that they were angry) and we were being gentle with them, we have another bigger problem. We may need to communicate that we’re puzzled as to why they would be hurt (or angry) when we were merely communicating clearly and calmly. The conversation itself is a boundary conversation. Grown people should be able to negotiate without threatening each other.
For those who insist on doing what they want, when and how they want, despite what we might feel, our mere raising of boundaries may send them into shock and flurry. Be prepared for it. We hold our ground in humility and courage.
So, here’s the test of whether you’re relating with a narcissist or not. A narcissist will not take kindly to our assertive request that a boundary be honoured. It will either be greeted with anger and rage or a simmering vengeful discontent will fill them; watch out for this latter response! “Expect it when you least expect it,” might well be their modus operandi.
We understand that we have a role in their discipleship. When we understand our lives in the context of the glory of God, we understand that God requires of us to deal maturely in all manner of our lives, including, as it pertains to this, how we interact with others. We must speak the truth in love.
So, having taken our responsibilities seriously in loving others appropriately, for to love is appropriate, we commit to doing and saying what must be done and said. Even, especially even, when it causes conflict. How will they know what we need otherwise?
We take counsel of these words, too, in our own lives. We learn that when others speak the truth in love that they’re to be honoured, even when it feels challenging for us in the moment; when their boundary is reasonable, and it requires change of us. How can we expect them to respect our boundaries if we flout theirs?
Boundaries are beautiful. They give us a frame for relating with others. They help reinforce respect, and where respect thrives trust survives. Boundaries breathe freedom into relationships, for when we know the boundaries, we can respect them and be blessed by those who appreciate our respect.