The Reason I'm all about boundaries.
-Pastor Melissa Fain-
What I’m about to share is the truth. It's an old truth. I don’t share it to garner sympathy, although there was a time I used it for that purpose. I don’t share it to rally people against anyone else. Woundedness breaks, always. I share to teach. I want everyone to know that I know the consequence because I was the consequence once.
When I was a child my dad and mom divorced. I’m not here to discuss whether or not divorce is an acceptable boundary to break, but my short answer is, it can be. In a perfect world, the contract one makes to unite as a family should be unbreakable. No one would enter into such an agreement without fully understanding the ramifications. That’s just not the case. People create bad marriage contracts all the time, making promises they either can’t keep or don’t plan to keep. Bad contracts need to be broken. That’s simplified. It deserves its own post, and maybe I’ll give it in the near(ish) future.
When they divorced, it was decided by the judge that mom’s were better caregivers, so my mother won custody of my sister and myself. That was the judge’s belief; not law. I’m not here to discuss whether or not using one's personal feelings to rule is just. The short answer in my case, was no. At the time of the ruling, my mother was a broken individual, and from more than just the divorce. Brokenness, when left alone, breaks others. Always. My mother needed to process and heal, not take care of two children by herself. Even this deserves its own post, and I’m not going to write it anytime soon.
My mother found her next husband at a bar. I don’t even know if he’s still alive! I just know, he was a piece of work. He’s still the most selfish adult I have ever met. Back in April of 2014, I wrote about the difference between selfishness and self-centeredness. It was in regards to the Common English Bible, and one of the times I disagreed with the translation. I’m not going to spend this time re-hashing what has already been hashed. (You can click the link for that.) Here’s the summary: We are born entirely self-centered. We can’t understand the world around us, only ourselves. As we grow up, there comes a point when we finally understand and see others. It is at that point we can begin to become other-centered, selfless, or selfish. Any of these can be good or bad. My stepdad was completely and totally selfish.
He could see what others needed, and then use their need to get what he wanted. For example, he needed a place to stay, so he pretended to care about my mom. Once he was in the house the hitting started. He wanted to spend the child support money on himself, so he told my dad he could just take us and avoid the lawyers if he just kept paying the payments. This human mentally and emotionally scared myself and my sister to get the things he wants.
I’m not even talking about him, even if he crossed some very clear boundaries to get what he wanted. I need to talk about the “innocent” boundaries we think are just a-o-kay to cross.
The Reasons Boundary Training Really Exists.
Boundary training, first and foremost, exists to protect those who can’t protect themselves. It’s like a giant net, meant to help people understand where something dangerous could happen, and catch it before it happens.
Boundary training is also a way to pass the blame down. I know that’s a horrible take, but it’s a true one. A corporation doesn’t want to be sued for something an employee or volunteer did, and easily got away with during their time and space. Boundary training is a warning to the people taking them. A corporation will blame the people around the person hurt by broken boundaries. After all, they were trained and taught how to avoid those kinds of dangers. I hate that people will allow someone to get hurt until their own wellbeing is on the line too, but there it is. Most of us are more selfish than we wish to realize.
Boundary training, in VERY RARE CIRCUMSTANCES can be breached. Consider space. I mean space space. Like, what’s beyond Earth. Our atmosphere is a boundary. Staying within it, allows us to do neat things, like breath. There are a very select few that breach that boundary to explore. These people go through intense training, and create individual boundaries (i.e. spaceships) to remain safe when Earth’s boundary is breached. Human boundaries should require the same level of care. You can’t just say, “Well, I’ll keep an eye on it. It’s not fair that having this boundary keeps some people from participating. SPACE for EVERYONE!!!” Thinking about it in relation to space, you realize how dangerous it really can be. For me, if I have to make the choice between someone being able to participate with the possibility of a lifetime of trauma being handed to someone, and not allowing that someone to participate… not a difficult choice. I’ll leave boundary breaking alone.
Boundary training, when followed, makes those who will break the rules stay away. Here’s a big truth: There will always be people who try to break boundaries in order to take advantage of others. My stepdad for one. Boundary breakers don’t want to work at breaking boundaries. If your lines are set, and immovable, people who want to cross them will stay away. You will make your space safer. Then, when you get a boundary breaker in your group, solid boundaries make it easier to see they are trying to do something against the rules and catch them.
What Boundaries have done for me.
There was one statement that changed my life when it comes to boundaries. Years ago, I was certified in Mental Health First Aid. One of the presenters basically said this:
“If you meet someone struggling to stay within the boundaries your organization chose to keep, don’t move the boundary for them. That’s like meeting someone who can’t walk straight and keeps running into the handrail, so you remove the handrail so they don’t hit it. That handrail is the very thing they need to make it to their destination. That boundary is for their safety. When you take away mental boundaries, no matter why they are there, you are making it more difficult for those who already struggle, not less.”
It helped me see…
Boundaries are an act of love.
That above sentence is a life changing one.
I have found the more explicit I am about my boundaries, the more healthy relationships I have around me. It’s because they know what to expect, and my limitations to those expectations.
At the same time, I have found the key to being strict while being loved. (Let’s not forget, I’m a substitute teacher.) Even being in the same school everyday, there are kids who think a sub means I don’t have boundaries. The kid’s know subs who want to survive move the boundaries so they can get through the day. Those subs are doing it for them. The ones who want to take advantage of breaking the rules, are the ones who love those subs. The sub gets easy love, and an easy day. (Don’t think I’m holding it against them. Many districts don’t care about their subsystems the way they should, and I don’t hold it against these subs that are being thrown into systems.)
When I tell the kids I follow the school boundaries, they learn that it is for them. It’s not easy to set boundaries. When you draw the line, you must be ready to follow through when a kid crosses it. When you have very explicit boundaries, suddenly they can move within them. I might be the strictest sub in Paulding County Georgia, but I still get kids that are excited I’m their sub. They like me! That’s because, since they know where I stand, they know when they can show me what they created, or joke around a little. It takes so much work to give them that gift, but in giving them strict boundaries, I eventually gain something back.
That goes for everything! I’m acting in love when I am clear about boundaries in all things. When I say, “No,” I’m following God’s example in Job when talking about the oceans:
“Who enclosed the Sea behind doors when it burst forth from the womb, when I made the clouds its garment, the dense clouds its wrap, when I imposed my limit for it, put on a bar and doors and said, “You may come this far, no farther; here your proud waves stop”?
Job 38:8-11 CEB
Therefore, please realize I know the destructive power of breaking boundaries (because I was once the target of its breach), and the ultimate act of love in following them. That’s my systematic theology. Love.