Drawing the Line: 5 Loving Reasons to Say "No"

Two weeks ago, I was sent into an emotional tailspin by something that had nothing to do with me.

I kept asking myself, "Why does this bother me so much? How can I make it stop?"

I talked to my husband about it, he gave me some sage advice (because he's a wise guy--I say that in the best, most loving sense), and then he remembered a book he had in his stash that he thought might help me.

Boy, was he ever right. (See? Wise. Told you.)

He handed me the book Boundaries by Drs. Cloud and Townsend, and I read the thing in less than three days. Some of what was in there I already knew, and some of it was like the light going on for the first time. It was exactly what I needed.

Before I go any further, I want to make something perfectly clear:

This book was written for a Christian audience.

I believe that non-Christians can benefit from this book, too, because I believe that the principles are universal as to how we are designed to operate as human beings (because obviously, I also believe God created us and that his principles work for everyone whether you believe it or not).

That being said, the authors are definitely speaking to someone who accepts the authority of Scripture, and in many cases, they assume that the reader is familiar with parables and stories in the Bible. References are often given for their examples, but not always. Sometimes, they just assume you know.

This single-minded audience focus is a good thing. Because within the Christian subculture, there are a lot of misconceptions about healthy boundaries, often reinforced by Scripture used out of context or without consideration of the principles meant to be illustrated within it. So to convince Christians who believe that letting their boundaries be violated (or that violating others' boundaries) is the Christian thing to do, the authors had to prove beyond a doubt that God disagrees. Heartily.

Now that that's out of the way, here are the top five lessons that I gleaned from this book. (There are many, many more applications of lessons on boundaries found in this book. These were the five I needed to hear most.)

  1. Setting boundaries means taking control. 
    This might seem like a no-brainer, but many of us have lives that are completely out of control, and it's because we don't know what we are or are not responsible for. This has been me at various points in the past, and it is something I am still learning. By necessity, I have had a crash course in setting boundaries over the last four years. As time goes on, I find that I'm "clearing the clutter"--not just from my house, but from my schedule, my priorities, and my career. I have less stress in my life than I have in years, possibly even ever, and it is because I have started to learn when to say no to both others and myself.
  2. Setting boundaries means releasing control. 
    Knowing where your limits are, and taking charge of the areas that pertain to you, means you can let go of the things that don't. You no longer need to micromanage your entire environment--which is a manifestation of fear of being out of control. I only have limited time and energy, and I don't want to spend it fearing what may or may not happen. So saying "no" to trying to control things which are impossible to control anyways means saying "yes" to peace, tranquility, and more time and energy doing things I love with people I love to be with (and who will love being with me more, since I'm not trying to control them).
  3. Setting boundaries means taking appropriate responsibility, and allowing others to do the same. 
    This was the big one for me--knowing what I was and was not responsible for in other people's lives (thus, the reason for my anxiety over something that didn't even affect me.) Even though I knew that I can only control myself, I was still letting myself get sucked into others' drama, or losing sleep over what other people may or may not do. Honestly, this is a lesson I have been learning by degrees for the last twenty years, but it was only with this recent crisis I saw how damaging my over-emotional involvement was to me and to them, and the book helped me understand why. Everyone's reasons are different. Read the book if you feel this is something you struggle with.
  4. Setting boundaries means loving others better. 
    In the book, the authors pointed out that resentment and anger are often the result of disappointed expectations. I used to feel resentful and guilty if I actually had to tell others "no" because I actually feared their anger and disappointment. In fact, even though I've set some pretty important boundaries over the last few years, I still felt guilty about it. After reading the book, I saw how setting those boundaries was the right thing to do, and actually allowed the people on the other side the opportunity to correct some destructive behaviours (if they existed, so it depended on the circumstance). My guilt stemmed from my early conditioning. Seeing how setting those boundaries was actually the most loving thing to do, even though it was difficult, has begun to set me free from that guilt. The simple and life-giving realization that their anger is their anger and does not need to affect me also helped. I can choose how I react, and if I do not let their anger give them power over me, they have none. And I'm happier. Also, when I choose to do something for someone, it is from a joyful heart instead of a resentful one.
  5. Setting boundaries means loving myself better.
    All of these points are intertwined, because obviously I've already talked about how boundaries help you be happier and healthier. But this one is also meant on a more personal level--setting boundaries with yourself. This includes saying "no" to things that are harmful for you, such as food, people, and activities. For me lately, it's even gone as far as saying "no" to the ways I pressure myself through my environment--clothes that no longer fit, projects I don't really want to finish, decor that clutters instead of calms. I'm learning to say "no" to all sorts of things that I don't need in my life. And every time I let something go (which I was probably only holding onto out of fear, anyway), I feel lighter.

Setting boundaries, and maintaining them, is the loving thing to do. In fact, it is the only loving thing to do.

God is a god of boundaries. He maintains some pretty strong boundaries with us, and since he IS love, it holds that if we are to truly love, we will set and respect boundaries, too.

It is not loving to "turn the other cheek" out of fear or because one is being manipulated. When Jesus advocated doing that, it was as a conscious decision to be proactive in love rather than react in fear--to give of yourself by choice and to maintain control of your own emotions. "Perfect love casts out fear." And when one knows where your own boundaries are, you can finally, truthfully be a "cheerful giver"--of your time, talents, and affections. Because for the first time, the choice is yours.

What about you? Where do you struggle with knowing how to draw the line? Where have you had victories and why?

I love hearing from you! Please comment below. I answer every comment I receive.

May you approach this day with love, gratitude, and self-control, friend.