I’m not sure how old I was when I first heard an older woman in my church talking at the younger ladies, informing them that the key to a successful marriage was keeping the house clean, preparing a four-course dinner every day, and making sure you were dressed in nice clothes with a full face of makeup when your husband came home from work at which time you would present him with the newspaper, get him a beverage, and usher him to his recliner so he could rest from his long day of work.
This makes me sigh out loud just rehashing it and typing it here.
My favorite addendum to this advice was the fact that your husband should never come home from work and find you in sweatpants.
That one actually makes me laugh out loud now considering I live my life in leggings and flannels, with my hair in a messy bun, sans makeup.
And, this was the 80s–not the 50s, 60s, or even 70s!!!
Even as a kid in the 80s, I saw this as antiquated, subservient, ridiculous behavior; however, if I’m being honest, some of those concepts sunk in a little too much for comfort.
While I didn’t prescribe to those ideals/beliefs about marriage and roles within marriage, there were little branches of those principles that took root in my mind and led to exceptionally unhealthy behaviors and a toxic, dysfunctional marriage.
See, at the heart of all those ideas is the principle that women and men have specific roles within the household. Even though it was the 80s and 90s when the majority of men and women were both working outside of the home, there were still these underlying rules regarding the expectations of men and women.
In this idealistic narrative, there was little room for balance or boundaries.
What that meant for me was that my entire marriage was out of balance.
I spent the majority of my marriage believing boundaries, asserting myself, and advocating for my needs were “unchristian.” When I did attempt to set boundaries, assert myself, and advocate for my needs, I was met with a detailed list of my shortcomings, the silent treatment, or gaslighting.
It was super healthy.
And very Jesus-like.
I could have titled this series “Confessions of a Recovering Doormat” if I’m being totally honest with you.
If you’ve been around here for a while, then you know that I grew up in a very legalistic evangelical verging on fundamental church, I married (the first time) very young. Through the process of leaving the evangelical church, deconstructing my beliefs, reconstructing my beliefs, and the chaos that is life, I’ve realized that Jesus does not want me to be a doormat.
That’s the furthest thing from who Jesus was or what he taught.
Jesus doesn’t want you to be a doormat either.
In fact, the more I’ve studied and lived, the more I’ve come to realize that boundaries aren’t just some man-made concept a psychologist came up with to punish people. They are the furthest thing from that when implemented well.
A critical eye allows us to see that God has actually been implementing boundaries since the beginning of time and Jesus continued that practice as well.
I can tell you that’s not a lesson I ever learned in Sunday School.
Or from the evangelical pulpit.
If you are struggling with the idea of boundaries today, friend, I pray you walk away today understanding that boundaries were part of God’s plan from the very beginning.
“Don’t Eat That”
I was getting pizza with my family last night (cauliflower crust–cause Keto), and I watched this little girl, probably 2 or 3, drop her sucker on the ground, and then pick it up, and promptly put it right back in her mouth.
My husband, Russ, cringed while my daughter, Kate, and I both laughed and shrugged–knowing full well that was a scene she had undoubtedly lived out in her childhood!
Regardless, we all three wanted to yell out “Don’t eat that!”
If you’re a parent, you’ve probably said that phrase more times than you can even count.
You know who else said that to his kids?
After God created the earth and man, he placed him in the middle of the Garden of Eden. Genesis 3 tells us:
God commanded the Man, “You can eat from any tree in the garden, except from the Tree-of-Knowledge-of-Good-and-Evil. Don’t eat from it. The moment you eat from that tree, you’re dead.”(Genesis 3:2-3 MSG)
If you’re like me and have been in the church forever, you’ve probably heard this story more times than you can count. Let’s look at this from the lens of a father, though.
God created a beautiful earth.
Then, he created man.
He places him in the amazing garden to take care of it.
He sets one boundary for him.
Don’t eat from that tree right there in the middle.
It’s easy to see this as a simple rule that Adam and Eve chose not to follow, right?
But, what if we look at this differently–not as a rule, but as a boundary?
This is kind of like the hot stove scenario we’ve all had with our own kids.
We tell them not to touch the hot stove because it will burn them.
We do that because we love our children and don’t want to see them hurting.
We do that for their protection.
We set a boundary.
God did the same thing for Adam.
He placed him in the garden and warned him, not about the hot stove that would burn him, but about the one piece of fruit that would kill him.
He set a boundary.
To protect Adam.
Unfortunately, we know the end of that story, though–Adam and Eve at the fruit anyway.
Then, what happened?
God set another boundary to protect them.
In Genesis 3, we hear God’s thoughts on this:
God said, “The Man has become like one of us, capable of knowing everything, ranging from good to evil. What if he now should reach out and take fruit from the Tree-of-Life and eat, and live forever? Never—this cannot happen!”
So God expelled them from the Garden of Eden and sent them to work the ground, the same dirt out of which they’d been made. He threw them out of the garden and stationed angel-cherubim and a revolving sword of fire east of it, guarding the path to the Tree-of-Life.
So often, we read this as punishment instead of protection.(Genesis 3: 21-24 MSG)
Let me encourage you to again read this from the perspective of a parent.
God had set a boundary to protect Adam and Eve.
They violated that boundary.
The result was sin.
What would have happened if God hadn’t removed Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden and they had eaten from the Tree of Life and lived forever?
In their sin?
Sin that separates them from God?
God didn’t kick them out of the garden and set an angel to guard it because he was being mean.
He set that boundary for their peace and protection.
This is behavior we see over and over again from God in his dealings with his people.
God consistently set boundaries for the Israelites’ protection and provision.
They consistently ignored them, whined about them, and violated them–typically with terrible consequences.
Boundaries can feel like that in our lives too–we set them to bring peace and protection, but others can’t always see that. They only see punishment and restrictions.
And, that’s a topic we’ll be discussing in the upcoming weeks!
Jesus and Boundaries
The older I get, the more I appreciate how Jesus cared for himself and interacted with others.
We spend a lot of time discussing Jesus’s parables, healings, etc, but we don’t talk enough about how Jesus actually interacted with people.
I love John’s observations here:
While Jesus was at the Passover Feast, the number of his followers began to grow, and many gave their allegiance to him because of all the miraculous signs they had seen him doing! But Jesus did not yet entrust himself to them, because he knew how fickle human hearts can be. He needed no one to tell him about human nature, for he fully understood what man was capable of doing.(John 2:23-25 TPT)
There’s a lot to unpack here, but let’s just focus on Jesus’s reaction to these followers.
He didn’t entrust himself to them.
Because he understood how fickle people are, what human nature looks like, and what man is capable of doing.
That, my friends, is a heck of a boundary!
God set boundaries in the Old Testament for the peace, protection, and provision of others, but Jesus set boundaries in the New Testament for his own peace and protection.
Did you get that?
He set boundaries for his own protection.
Because he knew people.
He didn’t stop there, though.
We also Jesus advocating for his own needs and setting boundaries when necessary.
Luke explains that:
But Jesus often withdrew to the wilderness for prayer.(Luke 5: 16 NIV).
Even when Jesus was immersed in ministry, in healing and teaching, he still paused to make sure his needs were met, his cup was full, and he was rested. There are several other places in the gospels where the writers note Jesus leaving to pray and rest, as well as telling his disciples to eat and rest.
The example we have in Jesus is not one of pouring himself out until his cup was empty.
The example we have in Jesus is of someone who understands his own needs and makes sure those needs are met–even when it means removing himself from a situation, saying no, resting, and taking the time to pray and revive.
The example we have in Jesus is one of balance and peace.
Boundaries that led to his balance and peace.
Peace and Protection
I hope this isn’t a new concept for you, but I want to take this opportunity to remind you that you deserve peace and protection in your life.
That’s what boundaries are for–it’s what they’ve been for since the beginning of time.
Somehow, though, we’ve lost sight of this or never been taught this in so many of our lives.
I know I missed that boat completely for so many years.
My husband and I were married in September, and one of his favorite sayings is “I have two hands.” Whenever I apologize for not getting something done around the house or forgetting to get something out of the freezer for dinner, that’s his go-to response.
Friend, if you are struggling with the idea of boundaries today, the biblical basis for boundaries, or implementing them in your own life, I hope this encourages you. I hope over the next several weeks, I can help you work toward balance, boundaries, and peace.
- What is your biggest hurdle when it comes to understanding boundaries?
- As you were reading today, what relationships came to mind?
- What are your needs in terms of boundaries?
Thanks for sharing on this subject, I’m pondering on boundaries. It is a difficult topic as a Christian woman of a certain age and background but it is all about balance and receiving that shift in our perspective that self-care is not selfishness… reflecting!
I can totally relate to what you said about telling yourself that you would not operate in the same unhealthy ways you’d seen only to find many of them seep in anyway. So glad you are in a healthier relationship now.
I like how you also show us that Jesus had boundaries. Thank you for sharing your wisdom in boundaries.