“I can make it through anything.” Philippians 4:12 TM
Flexible boundaries. Rigid boundaries cause you to shut other people out and live unprepared and ill equipped for the give-and-take that healthy relationships require. Permeable boundaries leave you defenseless against “users” who feel entitled to manipulate you and who expect to be taken care of at your expense. But flexible boundary people are competent for living their own life, yet with a balanced and healthy interest in others. They can be generous in sharing their time, compassion and resources, without becoming overly responsible, or betraying their God-given duty to be the unique person He made them, just to please others. They say, “I can be in relationship with you, without giving up being me!” They don’t let you violate their boundaries, and they know how to keep from violating yours. Unlike rigid people, they bend and adjust as circumstances require, without becoming overwhelmed, defensive, resentful, blaming or reactive. In tough situations they roll with the punches, stay focused, and draw on a well of inner strength which God provides. Paul was such a person: “I’ve learned…to be…content whatever my circumstances…I can make it through (adjust to) anything in the One who makes me who I am” (vv.12-13 TM). People and circumstances don’t control them; they flex, and let God take charge. They are helpful, but they don’t feel guilty because they can’t “fix” everybody. Their boundaries enable them to adjust to circumstances. They practice the principle, “Bear one another’s burdens” (Gal 6:2), without over-functioning or being responsible for others.
“Like a city with broken-down walls.” Proverbs 25:28 NLT
Permeable boundaries. Well-adjusted people find the right balance between protecting their personal space, and allowing others to infiltrate, manipulate and dominate them. They know how to say yes to what’s healthy and no to what’s not. Permeable boundary people, on the other hand, allow others to permeate their lives at will, siphon off their time and energy, dictate their options, and deprive them of other important relationships. Unable to say no, they permit others to make them feel guilty, obligated, uncaring, or even “unchristian” if they withhold what’s demanded. They inconvenience themselves, their families and their friendships to facilitate the endless demands of the seemingly helpless, disempowered, irresponsible user, believing they are being kind and helpful. The “helper’s” toll is immense, often leading to emotional, physical, social and spiritual overload, while the “helpee” feels increasingly dependent, irresponsible and entitled, not appreciating, and sometimes even resenting the helper’s efforts. Permeable boundary people are unaware that their “open” sign is always illuminated, attracting a deluge of other people’s needs they feel personally responsible for. They carry the weight of much that’s wrong in the world, feeling exhausted, anxious, inadequate and guilty, taking it personally that they can’t do more and fix things. And it leaves them feeling “used.” “A person without self-control is like a city with broken-down walls.” Understand this: You can’t take charge of your own life while you’re overwhelmed feeling responsible for other people’s lives. Set some boundaries, and live the life God gave you to live!
“Its parts should have equal concern for each other.” 1 Corinthians 12:25 NIV
When you buy a house, you need clearly marked boundary lines to let you know what’s yours and what’s not. Good boundaries make good neighbors. The Bible says, “Seldom set foot in your neighbor’s house—too much of you, and they will hate you” (Pr 25:17 NIV). So, how close is too close? Let’s look at three kinds of boundaries we establish between ourselves and others. Rigid boundaries. These are designed to keep others at arms’ length and protect your private, self-absorbed world. Without saying a word, your attitude says: “Keep out, trespassers will be prosecuted!” Why do we create such boundaries? Fear! We fear being known, controlled, hurt, or feeling inadequate and inferior. And our rigidity prevents intimacy. Our unwillingness to be vulnerable or to compromise leaves us defensive, isolated and lonely. Closeness and intimacy are things we long for, yet fear and avoid. We think, “You can’t hurt me if I keep you at a safe distance.” But it doesn’t work. God designed us to share life’s victories and defeats, not to live in isolation. We are to “have equal concern for each other. If one part [person] suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it” (1Co 12:25-26 NIV). Rigid boundaries rob you of life-enriching relationships. “So what’s the answer?” you ask. Reach out! You were created to give to others, and to receive what they have to give back to you. In giving you are fulfilled, and in receiving you are made complete. Anything less is just existing.
“All you need to say is simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’.” Matthew 5:37 NIV
When does “a good thing” become “too much?” Can I help you, without hurting me? Can we share our lives, without me giving up mine? When do you truly need my help? When do I need to let go, and let you and God handle it? Finding the balance between “enough” and “too much” in relationships is a constant challenge and isn’t easy. Especially when your role tends to be, “all things, at all times, to all people,” and theirs is, “I’m helpless, you owe me, take care of me”; when you have no “no” and they have no “yes.” Needing to be needed by needy people who always want someone to take care of them, puts the needy person in the driver’s seat—and puts you over the edge. They are never happy, whatever you do. So you do more to make them feel happier and yourself feel less guilty, and you end up in a double bind. They resent you for not giving enough, and you resent them for not appreciating what you give. Yet neither of you knows how to break the cycle. So the relationship becomes what counselors call a “more-of-the-same” tangle where both parties resent and devalue the other, feeling stuck in a life-dominating trap you both fear to jettison. Marriages, families, friendships, workplaces, churches and social groups get trapped in this “victim-rescuer” pattern where needy people and fixers become lock-stepped in a mutual dance they both “love to hate,” but won’t stop doing! Recognize yourself? If so, you’re moving toward a healthier, less toxic relationship.
“Pure…religion before God…is this.” James 1:27 NKJV
Jesus said about every act of kindness you show toward someone who’s hurting or in need: “You did it to Me” (Mt 25:40 NKJV). Wow! Maybe next time you’re too busy to show concern, that’ll make you stop and think. In answer to the question, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus told one man, “Sell what you have and give it to the poor…[then] follow Me” (Mt 19:21 NKJV). This man could have blessed many others, and even been numbered among Christ’s disciples, but it didn’t happen because he was self-focused. Jesus told another story about a rich man who died and went to hell. Now, he didn’t go there because he was rich. The only sin he was charged with was selfishness. He allowed a poor man to sit on his doorstep with his wounds untended, his body ill-clad, his stomach empty, and did nothing about it (See Lk 16:19-31). On the other hand, Zacchaeus, who overcharged others in order to enrich himself, saw the folly of his ways, renounced selfishness and made a decision to follow Jesus (See Lk 19:1-10). The story’s told of an angel visiting a wealthy man who happened to be on his deathbed. After the man listed all the things he’d like to take to heaven with him, the angel informed him, “You can only take what you have given away.” Don’t wait until the eve of your departure to give; experience the joy and reward of it—now. “Pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their trouble.” So today, practice pure religion!
“Son…all that I have is yours.” Luke 15:31 NKJV
In the parable of the prodigal son Jesus is talking to two different groups: regular people, and religious leaders who complain that Jesus “receives sinners” (Lk 15:2 NKJV). We all know the story. The Prodigal Son “blew it” and ended up in a pigpen. Later, when he returned home, his father threw a big party. But his older brother wouldn’t attend. Here was his reason: “‘These many years I have been serving you…yet you never gave me a young goat that I might make merry with my friends. But as soon as this son of yours came, who has devoured your livelihood with harlots, you killed the fatted calf for him.’ And [his father] said to him, ‘Son…all that I have is yours’” (Lk 15:29-31 NKJV). It’s the kind of thing you hear in church from people who lift themselves up by putting others down. Both sons spent time in the pigpen: one in the pigpen of rebellion, the other in the pigpen of resentment. One came home to a welcome, the other stayed home and wallowed in self-righteousness. Because of his judgmentalism, the older son ended up losing more than the younger one: (1) He forfeited the joy of knowing how much he was loved by his father. (2) As the oldest son he was entitled to twice as much of his father’s estate, yet he wasn’t able to enjoy a moment of it. (3) His younger brother was lost and hurting. What an opportunity to forgive, show grace, help to restore him and have a life-enriching relationship with him. But he forfeited it all because he was judgmental. Don’t be an older brother!
“Epaphroditus…ministered to my need.” Philippians 2:25 NKJV
When people are hurting, they need your support until they can get back on their feet again. Medical researchers have developed a bone-bonding compound that illustrates this. It looks like toothpaste. Once injected into the body it hardens in ten minutes. In twelve hours it reaches the compression strength of natural bone. A study in the journal, Science, found the compound virtually identical to natural bone crystals. It so closely resembles real bone that the body doesn’t reject it. Weeks after being injected into the body, the cement is replaced by real bone. According to the Associated Press, clinical trials “show the material has allowed patients to discard casts early—or altogether—and to resume walking more quickly and with less pain.” Epaphroditus is introduced by Paul as “my brother, fellow worker, and fellow soldier…and the one who ministered to my need…Receive him therefore in the Lord with all gladness, and hold such men in esteem; because for the work of Christ he came close to death, not regarding his life, to supply what was lacking in your service toward me” (vv.25-30 NKJV). You ask, “What was Paul lacking?” Encouragement! And who brought it? “Epaphroditus, a brother, a fellow worker, and a soldier.” Epaphroditus worked side by side with Paul and he fought for him. What an asset he was! We look for such people in times of crisis because they lift us. So today ask God to make you an encourager whose words and actions bring comfort and support to others. There is no greater calling!
“[There is] a time to be silent and a time to speak.” Ecclesiastes 3:7 NAS
Teach your child to ask: (1) “Is this the best time to make this decision?” Decisions made in haste are often regretted. “There is a time to be silent and a time to speak.” Poor decisions are situationally driven, caused by momentary stress, peer pressure, mood swings and temporary emotions like loneliness, etc. When the situation changes, our feelings change and our decisions often look doubtful. Can the decision be made later, reducing or eliminating the risk? Pressuring children often increases their desperation and leads to premature decisions, but assuring them that time is on their side lowers their reactivity and the likelihood of future regret. Helping them see that God “has made everything appropriate in its time” (Ecc 3:11 NAS) offers them space to think wisely about their options, allowing for God’s guidance. (2) “If I were advising a friend (John or Susie), would I suggest they take this same option?” Shifting perspective often broadens the perceptions of our options. When emotionally influenced, our children often narrow their perspective, excluding many important possibilities. Often adults press logical, rational thinking on them, meeting resistance. But by bringing “John” or “Susie” into the equation we open their perspective up. And one more thought: it’s beneficial to “debrief” with your child, helping them to evaluate the effectiveness of their decision-making process. Talk through how they handled the situation. Ask, “How do you feel about that result?” If they’re pleased, compliment them; if not, say, “I’m sorry about that. Any ideas what you’ll change next time?” Instead of judging their failure, reward their success.
“Your thoughts…are the source of true life.” Proverbs 4:23 CEV
Teach your child to ask themselves these two questions: (1) “How will I feel afterwards?” What outlasts our decisions are the subsequent feelings of self-respect versus shame, and positive self-worth versus negative self-worth. Our actions ultimately become history, but our thoughts about them continue to shape our future. “Carefully guard your thoughts because they are the source of true life.” Kids with self-respect are much less likely to indulge in promiscuous sex, drugs, drinking, antisocial and illegal behaviors. Self-respect and self-worth are internal standards we are loath to violate. Giving in to selfish choices is like abandoning the moral core of our being—the sacred soul God gave us. (2) “How will the people I value feel about me after this decision?” The trust and respect of others is always needed to succeed. Reputation trumps money, even in the secular marketplace. “Choose a good reputation over great riches; being held in high esteem is better than silver or gold” (Pr 22:1 NLT). Poor decision making can earn us a reputation that’ll haunt our prospects indefinitely. “A person who plans (chooses) evil will get a reputation as a troublemaker” (Pr 24:8 NLT). When you get a negative reputation it’s hard to recover from it (See Pr 25:10 NLT). The short-term benefits of making poor decisions lead to long-term losses and regrets. The person God blesses must “exercise self-control, live wisely, and have a good reputation” (1Ti 3:2 NLT).
“A man reaps what he sows.” Galatians 6:7 NIV
Somebody said, “Yard by yard life is hard, inch by inch life’s a cinch!” For their life to go right, your children must learn to think right. So teach them to ask: (1) “What are my options in this situation?” But do it with the right attitude. If your face is like a thundercloud when you talk to them, they’ll run for cover. Brainstorm with them, writing down every option that’s offered. Tell them that no answers are wrong and no idea will be judged silly; all suggestions are accepted and valued. You’re priming their creative pump, encouraging them to think for themselves. (2) “What benefits come from each option?” The goal is not to coerce them, but for them to discover and embrace the truth for themselves. And that comes through patience, not pressure. Have them list which benefits seem most important to them. (3) “What negative consequences come from each option?” Kids can be brutally honest. That’s okay, it’s just part of learning God’s cause-and-effect law of sowing and reaping. Indeed, many adult regrets could have been avoided by following this law. Don’t preach or rant about how terrible the consequences are. Teach them to question themselves, “Am I willing to accept the consequences? How would they change my life?” (4) “What personal values are involved in this decision?” Values-based decisions call us to the high road rather than the path of least resistance. Suggest some godly values as primers, such as truthfulness, trustworthiness, loyalty, responsibility, compassion, friendship, self-denial, courage, honor, faith, etc. Break it down small for younger kids, but don’t miss your opportunity.
Choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve.” Joshua 24:15 NIV
Good decision making is the key to a happy life. But good decision making is not a skill some of us are naturally blessed with, while poor decision making is a handicap others are born with. Courage, education, or the aging process don’t automatically produce better decision makers. Spending time with good decision makers is wise, but it doesn’t rub off on you. And the earlier you teach this skill to your children, the better (See Pr 22:6). So teach your children the following principles: (1) The consequences you get are the result of the choices you make. Let your children know it’s not their circumstances, but decisions they make about them, that govern their lives. You may think your kids know this, but they don’t. Their “wiring problem” makes “cause and effect” difficult to connect until their brain reaches later adolescence. Asking, “What were you thinking about?” will just invite the famous shoulder shrug and blank stare. They’re not stupid—they just need guidance. (2) You will always have options. Kids commonly feel powerless and hopeless when reacting to negative circumstances. They tend to be “either/or” thinkers, concluding that things are either all good or all bad. Teach them “both/and” thinking, because things can be bad yet you can choose to make good decisions about them. “Either/or” thinking frequently produces kids who become pessimistic, disempowered, easily manipulated, depressed adults. Knowing they always have good options prevents circumstances from dictating their lives.
“I make known the end from the beginning.” Isaiah 46:10 NIV
You are not a mistake your parents made in the heat of passion. What your parents did may have been illegitimate, but you are not. You may wonder: “God, is it possible that You have a reason for my conception? Am I called to do something great in life? Is there something so unique to my personality, so connected to my life experiences, so relative to my sphere of influence, so dependent upon my color and culture, so necessary to my needs and shortcomings that nobody can do it exactly the way You want it done but me?” Yes.
God says, “’I make known the end from the beginning…My purpose will stand.’” You are going to succeed because God has already determined your destiny. Before God establishes the procedure, He decides the purpose. When a builder is confused he refers back to the blueprint and checks with the architect. God is the architect and builder of your life. He never gets confused about what He’s planned or how it’s to be built. When He builds something, it’s built for maximum efficiency and optimal performance. We think, “Lord, why are You holding me back while others get to go forward? Why is it taking so long for my breakthrough to come?” God responds, “What does the blueprint say?” God is building a solid foundation under you so that you’ll be able to handle the pressures that accompany His blessing, and go through the storms of life without being moved or shaken. Anything that’s made well is made slowly. Anything that’s worth having is worth fighting for.
“Be still, and know that I am God.” Psalms 46:10 NIV
Give God your whispering thoughts. Through the centuries Christians have learned the value of brief sentence prayers. These are prayers that can be whispered anywhere, in any setting. Frank Laubach sought unbroken communion with God by asking Him questions. Every two or three minutes he would pray, “Am I in your will, Lord? Am I pleasing you, Lord?” Imagine considering every moment as a potential time of communion with God. By the time your life is over you will have spent six months at stoplights, eight months opening junk mail, a year and a half looking for lost stuff, and a whopping five years standing waiting in various lines. Why don’t you give these moments to God? By giving Him your whispering thoughts, the common becomes uncommon. Simple phrases such as “Thank You, Father.” Or “I stand on Your Word,” “or “My desire is to please You,” can turn a commute into a pilgrimage. You needn’t leave your office or kneel in your kitchen. Just pray where you are. Let the kitchen become a cathedral and the classroom a chapel. Give God your waning thoughts. At the end of the day let your mind settle on Him. Conclude the day as you began it—talking to God. Thank Him for the good parts. Question Him about the hard parts. Seek His mercy. Seek His strength. As you close your eyes, take assurance in the promise, “He who watches over [you] will neither slumber nor sleep” (Ps 121:4 NIV). If you fall asleep as you pray, don’t worry. What better place to doze off than in the arms of your Father?
“Every morning, I tell you what I need, and I wait for your answer.” Psalms 5:3 NCV
It takes time, but eventually sheep grow familiar with the voice of their shepherd and learn to trust him for everything they need. So how can you become equally familiar with the voice of God? Here are a few ideas: (1) Give God your waking thoughts. With your head on your pillow and your eyes still closed, offer God the first seconds of your day. Say, “Thank You for a night’s rest. Today I belong to You.” C. S. Lewis wrote: “The moment you wake up each morning…all your wishes and hopes for the day rush at you like wild animals. And the first job each morning consists in shoving them all back; in listening to that other voice, taking that other point of view, letting that other, larger, stronger, quieter life come flowing in.” (2) Give God your waiting thoughts. The mature married couple has learned the treasure of shared silence; they don’t need to fill the air with constant chatter. Just being together is sufficient. Try being silent with God. “Be still, and know that I am God” (Ps 46:10 NIV). Awareness of God is the result of stillness before God. Jesus prayed, “That [they] may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe” (Jn 17:21 NIV). When are you most deeply aware of Christ’s presence “in you” as He promised? To what degree have you consciously invited Him to be more and more at home in your heart? How has your practice of intimacy with God developed in the last few years?
“You desire truth in the inward parts.” Psalms 51:6 NKJV
The Bible says, “Nor was any deceit in [Christ’s] mouth” (Isa 53:9 NIV). And if God has His way with us, none will be found in ours either. God doesn’t seek to minimize our deception, but to eliminate it altogether. He is blunt about dishonesty. “No one who is dishonest will live in my house” (Ps 101:7 NCV). Paul lists the types of people who will not inherit the kingdom of God—those who sin sexually, worship idols, get drunk, rob people, and—lie about others (See 1Co 6:9-10). “You mean my fibbing and flattering stir the same heavenly anger as adultery and aggravated assault?” Apparently so. God views fudging on income taxes the same way He views kneeling before idols. “The Lord hates those who tell lies but is pleased with those who keep their promises” (Pr 12:22 NCV). Why the tough stance? Because dishonesty is absolutely contrary to the character of God (Heb 6:18). It’s not that God won’t lie, or has chosen not to lie, but that He cannot lie. A dog can’t fly, a bird can’t bark, and God can’t lie. When He makes a covenant, He keeps it. When He makes a statement, He means it. When He proclaims the truth, we can believe it. Even, “If we are not faithful, [God] remains faithful, because he cannot be false to himself” (2Ti 2:13 GNT). With God, the truth is not a gray area, it’s black and white. So if you’re serious about walking with Him and pleasing Him, you must commit to “the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.”